Peter Rule lived with a secret for 44 years, then the truth came out.
It ended his distinguished career as a Royal New Zealand Air Force Officer. Twelve years later, he took his life.
Rule's secret is his no longer. Now the world knows this quiet, diligent servant of New Zealand was gay.
His quiet life and silent death are now commemorated through a new exhibition at the RNZAF museum at Wigram.
In doing so, the NZ Defence Force is confronting its history - and New Zealand's history - of persecution and rejection of those who loved in a way society decided then was wrong.
It's a step welcomed inside the force, and by those who knew and remember Rule, his life and sudden, unnecessary death.
Born 1931, Rule enlisted in 1954 and was out of service in 1975. It was a military career which came "inexplicably" to an end, says Stephen Park, a former partner of Rule's from the mid-1980s.
"He was a perfect officer and an accomplished pilot and was pushed out for nothing to do with his ability to serve."
Rule grew up in Gisborne, the eldest of three children. Sister Sonia Hardy (80) describes a post-depression home of careful austerity - rugs protecting lino floors from damage - and their mother's determination to dote on her first son.
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They conspired and had fun, brother and sister. He was eight years older and posted as babysitter on occasion. The relationship wasn't as close with middle child, Jim, who also later took his life.
Depression, she says, was in the family. Her brothers suffered, as did she until medication helped find a way.
Childhood, though, wasn't bedevilled by what came later. She recalls the pair playing piano together, and still sounds horrified that driving lessons with Rule included his insistence she learn to reverse on Gisborne's Kaiti Hill with its serpentine road.
Hardy also recalls Rule asking her along on beach trips when girls were involved. Odd, she thought, when it might cramp his style.
Looking back, so many things take on a different shade.
Fine and handsome, was Rule, lean and wiry. Work as a loader for a topdressing plane seems to be his first brush with aviation. Weeks away on remote farms, small crews, hard work among hearty people.
Rule escaped. Hardy recalls him leaving for a scouting jamboree in Switzerland, then for London. "He was there when Hilary climbed Everest, and at the time of the Coronation."
He returned in his early 20s. Military service was compulsory at the time, he chose the air force in 1954 and within three months he was chosen as a trainee pilot. In effect, the air force also chose him.
Wing Commander Stu Pearce, who heads NZDF's GLBTIQ guidance and support Overwatch group, studied Rule's personnel file for the Wigram exhibition.
"On every level, he was the perfect pilot," he says. "Well respected by contemporaries and superiors."
Rule, a flight lieutenant then, wasn't in the pilot's seat when he found himself stranded, alongside squadron leader Les Jeffs, in Antarctica in 1960. The flying pair's Beaver aircraft crashed near Beardmore Glacier, about 600 kilometres from Scott Base, setting New Zealand on edge as weather frustrated rescue attempts.
Barry Smith, who was at the Beardmore Depot, describes it as the most graceful of crashes. At the point where white out conditions rendered the sky inseparable from the rising ground, the aircraft met the glacier and slid upwards until it stopped and tipped.
Jeffs and Rule, having escaped the aircraft, dug a trench in which they erected a tent and sent a mayday call. Smith tells of the radio operator at the depot intercepting it, fizzing with excitement as it was his first mayday ever.
Two airmen, stranded in Antarctica, gripped the nation . "It was on [the news] every hour," recalls Hardy. "We were listening all the time."
It took a week before Rule was rescued, and weeks at the isolated depot before it was possible to arrange a flight to Scott Base.
An indication of Rule's rapid rise through the ranks can be seen through his posting in 1965 to the United Nations' military armistice commission in South Korea. It was here he would collect the porcelain art which would be sold, after his death, to fund the Rule Foundation, the trust which exists today to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex projects.
He returned to New Zealand at the rank of squadron leader 18 months later for a stint as an intelligence officer - a further recognition of his value to the air force - before another, extended tour of duty in Korea. This time his exemplary work was recognised with an MBE in 1972.
The commendation stated Rule had "served his Embassy and New Zealand to an extraordinary extent". Not only did Rule fulfil his own duties with distinction, he "devoted himself to the interests of New Zealand ... to an extent that went far beyond the call of duty".
"Throughout his service the officer has displayed qualities of loyalty, resourcefulness, enthusiasm and dedication to a high degree."
Rule's excellence abroad and developing diplomatic skills saw him posted to Syria on another United Nations mission with a focus on the Golan Heights, a mission to which New Zealand still contributes. Park describes him as "one of those Kiwi military diplomats who knew the game and played it well".
Based in Damascus, he flatted with a Norwegian serving on the same mission which, Park believes, would eventually lead to his undoing.
The flatmate had planned to be away a few days at a time when a friend of Rule's was visiting from New Zealand. An early return by the Norwegian to the flat had him find Rule, and friend, asleep together.
"The Norwegian guy took in the scene, the penny dropped, he slammed the door and disappeared."
Rule's assumption, later, was the Norwegian had reported his discovery to someone and somehow the information found its way back to Wellington. "Not much to destroy a life," says Park.
Rule returned to New Zealand a short while later with no inkling his secret had been discovered. When summoned to meet with a senior commander - either the Chief of Air Force or Chief of Defence - he went with an apparent expectation his increasing diplomatic fluency would have him seconded to Foreign Affairs.
Instead, he was told he had been caught in a compromising situation. "How was it put to him? 'We don't see your career progressing' - that was code back in the day for telling you the game is up.
"Basically an invitation to honourably back out and goodbye."
On February 10 1975, the New Zealand Gazette records Rule as "transferred to the retired list".
Park: "He was so good at what he did but none of it mattered."
Rule stayed in Wellington. His eye for, and love of, arts saw him move into administration at the QE II Arts Council, a forerunner to Creative NZ. Author and jeweller Jenny Pattrick, 83, found a dear friendship with Rule as they worked to promote crafts domestically, then internationally at a world conference in Vienna.
And, out of uniform, he was more able to allow knowledge of his sexuality. Pattrick: "I don't think he ever said in so many words, 'I'm gay', but I knew, and he knew I knew. He wasn't out there - you couldn't be in those days."
Rule came out to his sister, as he had done to his mother before she died. "And I said, 'so what'."
And Vienna. It is perhaps idealising but Pattrick's recounting of the visit there - Rule's comfortable connection with an American man at the conference and his relative freedom to simply be himself - is a balm to the tragedy which followed.
"Gentle and gentlemanly," she describes him. "I remember in Vienna, dancing with him." They waltzed and "he was beautiful on his feet". He was her friend. "I loved him."
A depression settled on Rule in the years before his death. Friends at the Arts Council urged Pattrick to "look out for him, Jenny", which she did but always wonders if it was enough.
There were times when he came for dinner and was so obviously down, Pattrick wondered - or worried - he was on drugs. He wore dark glasses inside, was quieter than usual and clearly, "something wasn't right".
"I didn't realise he was as depressed as he was," she says.
Rule worried he wasn't coping with his work. His sister saw him bury his head in hands, wrestling with the agony of migraines.
Hardy visited a few weeks before his death. "I've been having a clear out," he told her, which made Hardy think at the time of their mother's hoarding tendencies. Later she realised he was preparing for someone else to carry out the final clear out.
In 1987, a year after the Homosexual Law Reform Act passed, Rule took his life. A friend of Rule's - someone he was close to at the time - returned from a weekend away to find him dead. The death certificate records his death as occurring between November 9 and 12 1987 - an intangible three-day-long question mark.
It wasn't an impulse but a plan. Hardy says: "He wrote me a letter, along with several other people, and he said he'd written that letter several times before."
Rule's will appointed Park an administrator of his estate. There's no direct mention in the document of his intention - even in death he was cautious in broaching his sexuality. It simply notes that the purpose of the proceeds has "outlined by me to them".
He did so in a letter which said his estate, which included his Korean porcelain, was "intended to assist in helping gay people".
"This may be towards those who have had difficulty in coming to terms with their lifestyle and the related feelings of isolation and loneliness, or may in other ways disadvantaged, or it may be equally useful to provide special opportunities for development."
For the first decade, despite the Homosexual Law Reform Act, the Rule Foundation operated in secret. It would be years before it became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality and Park recalls the concern the will might be contestable.
Then, carefully and without undue fuss, it has seeded funding into projects which have become Rule's legacy.
Last week's exhibition opening in Wigram further extended that legacy, although probably in a more overt manner than Rule ever sought. There were uniforms everywhere, the Chief of Air Force and a speech by associate arts and culture minister Grant Robertson.
Hardy attended, flown by the air force with husband Neville from Tauranga to Christchurch. To see her brother again in photographs, and to see his story embraced, took her breath away even as it brought back so many childhood memories.
"I think it's a story about New Zealand's past we should know and reflect on and never allow to happen again," says Robertson. "All he ever wanted to do was serve his country."
Fittingly, it was the 25th anniversary of the military's rejection of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
And it doesn't end with the exhibition. Rule's presence is now a fixture - the Squadron Leader Peter Rule Memorial Trophy will now be awarded annually for actions found to have "influenced positively the inclusive culture of the NZDF".
It's a cause which has been championed in recent years by NZDF's Overwatch group, led by Stu Pearce, commanding officer of the maintenance wing at Ohakea. Overwatch is recognised through the military, and further, as having made an extraordinary difference.
"We're not perfect now," says Pearce, "but what I find heartening is the willingness of the Defence Force today. Our senior leadership aren't resting on their laurels. With every new intake of recruits we see positive progress."
It was a different time, say those who knew Rule.
Rule's story wasn't his alone. There were others outed and isolated. His fate was that which haunted other gay men - our military, bureaucracy and politics included others who lived a secret life while executing a public service.
Robertson: "There were people who kept their private life completely private and somehow managed that, and then people who lived another life where they did get married or have a companion who allowed them to appear straight."
Pearce: "We're aware there are many, many others who had experiences similar to Peter. Peter's story is the one we know about.
"All the others are those which have passed into obscurity and won't be told."
• "A Rainbow Legacy: the Squadron Leader Peter Rule Story" is at the RNZAF museum at Wigram. It is part of the NZDF's PRIDE25 events to celebrate 25 years since the end of the ban on openly gay people serving. The award of the inaugural Squadron Leader Peter Rule Memorial Trophy will be made on December 2 with the recipient eligible for consideration as NZDF Person of the Year.
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