The devastated family of a Bay man killed in a freak ride-on mower accident say he was a devoted family man who was extremely safety-conscious.
Michael Donald Fox, 58, known as "Foxy", came from a close-knit, large family and "family meant everything" to him, his widow Glenys Fox told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday.
Mr Fox was working at one of the couple's two family trust orchards in Maungarangi Rd near the couple's home when he was killed on Monday night.
Mrs Fox said she had expected her husband home for dinner about 6pm and when he did not arrive she went looking for him and found all the orchard sheds wide open.
She phoned neighbours for help and a search party formed. Close neighbours Wayne and Andrea Crawford eventually found Mr Fox about 9.40pm, pinned under the mower after it had rolled about 2.5m down a bank.
Mrs Fox said it was hard to accept her husband of 20 years, father of 31-year-old Natasha, and grandfather of 6-year-old Azalea, was gone.
"I just can't believe it, as Mike was such a safety-conscious sort of person," she said.
November 4 was Mr Fox's 58th birthday and this weekend a party gathering had been planned at the Aquatic Centre in Rotorua for the couple's grand-daughter Azalea who turns 7 on Friday, with about 30 children in attendance, including family members.
"Mike would have been leading the band and showing all the children how to swim or trying to beat them in swimming races. Kids loved him, and Azalea absolutely adored him," Mrs Fox said.
She had fallen in love with him after they met while working at his uncle's packhouse 20-odd years ago and had been inseparable since.
"Mike was my best friend and soulmate. He was an honest man, a hard worker and a really loving, generous man. Family meant everything to him and he was so kind-hearted he would help anyone in need ... "
Taupiri-born and educated, Mr Fox was the second-eldest child of a family of four boys and like brothers Nigel, Greg and Murray had taken his turn 50-50 sharemilking the family's Taupiri farm, before moving to the Western Bay.
His shocked parents, Allan and Rona Fox, yesterday visited the site of his death, and spoke of overwhelming grief at losing a "loving, generous wonderful son" and devoted family man.
Mr Fox snr, 84, said it appeared his son was killed while moving sheep.
"It's a terrible shock. Michael was so very safety-conscious so I just can't understand how this has happened, the bank he rolled down was not very steep," his father said.
Rona Fox, 81, said: "I can't accept it yet, as my brain keeps thinking he's still out working the orchard and he's going to walk in the door any moment."
She recalled another freak accident when her son was aged 4 at the Taupiri farm and had spent a week in hospital after he was run over by a tractor.
Wayne Crawford had known Mr Fox for at least eight years: " It's a terrible shock, a real tragedy. Mike was only 58 and the numbers are the wrong way round, he should have been 85.
"Glenys and Mike were a lovely couple and you could not have asked for better neighbours. Mike would do anything for anyone ... He was always busy working his orchard, his sheep, spending time with family, and doing something for one person or another, and rarely asked for help himself."
Mr Crawford also said Mr Fox was "extremely safety-conscious" and this accident was "so unlike him".
A farewell service will be held tomorrow at The Orchard Church, 20 McLoughlin Drive, Te Puke, at 1pm.