Whanganui's John O'Neill was a quiet, unassuming, thorough and dedicated man who put service before self, Barry Maughan says.

"He was a stickler for doing things correctly."

John's wife adds he was a kind and loving gentleman, a family man who had a strong faith.

John died on September 17, aged 91. He had lived with an ileostomy since 1966, had a long voluntary involvement with ostomy groups and was treasurer for the Whanganui one until his death.

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He was awarded a Queen's Service Medal in 1991, for his services to Wanganui County Council and to ostomy groups nationwide. His ostomy work became worldwide, and he was especially keen to get support for people in Third World countries who have ostomies.

An ostomy causes a change in the way urine or stool exits the body as a result of a surgical procedure. Bodily waste is rerouted from its usual path because of malfunctioning parts of the urinary or digestive system. An ostomy can be temporary or permanent.


John was born in Whanganui on November 22, 1926, the eldest of three boys.

He spent his first five years on the family's Makuku Farm on Field's Track, then moved into Whanganui to live with relatives. He went to the Villa Maria and Marist Brothers schools, then spent three years at St Patrick's College in Silverstream.

After school he went to work for stock and station agent Wright Stephenson, while studying accountancy at night school.

He qualified as an accountant in 1948, and in 1953 became the accountant at a new Wright Stephenson branch in Whangārei. In 1956, when his father needed him, John returned to the family farm.

In 1965 he became ill with ulcerative colitis and in 1966 had the ileostomy operation, which diverted waste from his small intestine into an external pouch. The operation cured the disease and also introduced him to a nurse, Jan Patterson.

The two married in 1970 and had two daughters, Caroline and Teresa. Meanwhile, John had also been voted on to Wanganui County Council. He was there 18 years, and was deputy chairman when he retired in 1986.

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His doctor, Leo McCarthy, urged John to start a Whanganui group for people with ostomies. He did, in 1975, and was its first president.

It began years of involvement with ostomy groups, first nationwide then worldwide. He was the president of the New Zealand Federation of Ostomies from 1982-84, its treasurer for 12 years and its patron for four years.

In 1985 he represented the South Pacific region at an international conference, and he was treasurer for the International Ostomy Association from 1991 to 2004.

During that time he went to conferences all over the world. He took the whole family to one in Paris in 1988, and at another in Puerto Rico in 2007 he received the Archie Vinitsky Award for services to ostomy.

He had helped set up new ostomy groups in Asia and the Pacific. He was the honorary auditor for 12 Whanganui organisations, receiving grateful gifts of whisky and book vouchers.

At 89 he could no longer drive, and he stopped going to the farm. He died at Kowhainui Rest Home.