More often than not in the sports reporting business longtime contacts become longtime friends.

Former Hawks basketballer Patrick Tama O'Brien fell into that category for me more than 10 years ago. When I heard of his tragic passing on Friday night it was a massive blow.

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Father of two, Tyson and Elijah, O'Brien was one of two people killed in a car accident on the Hawke's Bay Expressway between the Kennedy Rd on ramp and intersection with Taradale Rd that afternoon. He was 38.

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I had spoken to Pat earlier in the day for a preview story for the 10th edition of the Battle for Life Charity boxing event he had organised with his wife Theresa with aplomb for the past decade.

Because of the accident Saturday night's show in Napier was cancelled. I had called Pat on Friday afternoon to check on a couple of facts and when I didn't hear back from him I thought something might be wrong as he was always punctual when it came to returning calls or text messages.

At that stage I didn't know one of Hawke's Bay sports favourite sons, a 2006 Hawk and a 2017 world champion kickboxer in the under-90kg 18-35 years division at the Unified World Championships in Italy, had phoned and texted me for the last time.

The memories of my times spent with Pat and Theresa have been flooding back all weekend. I remember when I nominated him for the Ngati Kahungunu sports administrator of the year award which he won in 2012.

Theresa told me at the time Hastings Boys' High School old boy Pat didn't chase the limelight and may not turn up for the function. I told her to tell him it was a good way to get his name out in the community more and make it a little easier to secure sponsorship for their events.

After the function he thanked me for the nomination and told me he could see where I was coming from.

At the last Ngati Kahungunu sports awards function in 2015 Pat and Theresa won the administrator award ... further recognition of the tremendous mahi the pair did in the community.

Perhaps the best recognition of Pat and Theresa's achievements and the work they did for the Anahera o Te Rangi Charitable Trust which was formed in memory of their late daughter, came when Pat was featured on the March, 2018 page of the annual Flaxmere Heroes Calendar.

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Once again he was reluctant to accept the recognition but after he was asked a few times Pat agreed to another stint in the limelight.

During his years running Battle for Life Pat was a first class promoter. Because he was a bloke who always did so much for so many he was hard to say no to.

A couple of his fighters, like our mutual mate Rob Whaitiri, probably did one show too many because they didn't want to let him down.

While his Battle for Life shows were awesome, the Combat Kings events he also organised were top shelf too.

One in particular, the 2015 Combat Kings Return of Legends event in Hastings which featured a bout between two Aussie-based Hawke's Bay fighters, Chris Johnson and Charles August, is still considered to be one of the best staged in the Bay.

I still remember the day he returned from Italy in 2017 and the humble Pat calls me.

"I might have a little bit of news for you ... I've got a world title," he remarked.

Pat never told youngsters he trained at The Lab Fitness Training Centre to do anything he wouldn't do himself. That world title was an example of what they could achieve if they put in the mahi like he did.

I regret not making one of Pat's Wednesday lunch time touch sessions he had been inviting me to for a while.

No doubt it would have been another opportunity to see him shine in another code.

Pat's funeral service will be held at The Lab on Tuesday.


A MAN WHO CHANGED PEOPLE'S LIVES

Patrick (Pat) O'Brien was a big part of the Flaxmere community and the driving force behind the charity event Battle For Life, which was been cancelled in light of his passing.

Saturday night was to have been the 10th anniversary and a fundraiser for suicide awareness after a former participant Chy Cassidy became a victim of suicide earlier this year.

Henare O'Keefe (left), Patrick O'Brien, and Pam O'Keefe at the Launch of the 2018 Flaxmere Heroes Calendar. Photo / Paul Taylor
Henare O'Keefe (left), Patrick O'Brien, and Pam O'Keefe at the Launch of the 2018 Flaxmere Heroes Calendar. Photo / Paul Taylor

Tributes have been pouring into Patrick O'Brien's Facebook page, describing him as a loving husband and father to his two sons, who was widely regarded in the community as being a selfless and caring "life changer".

He was one of two people who lost their lives in the accident.

A resident who heard the fatal collision says she was hanging her clothes out at 1.30pm on Friday when she heard a "heavy bang" from State Highway 2.

The "heavy bang" was what police later confirmed was a double fatal crash on the expressway between the Kennedy Rd on-ramp and intersection with Taradale Rd.

"It was very hard to hear the distress, my heart went out to the woman and her family," she told Hawke's Bay Today.

O'Brien also ran The Lab, the oldest operating gym facility in Hawke's Bay.

He also worked extensively alongside disadvantaged youth, individuals and families, giving them a sense of value and importance.

Last year, he was featured in the annual 2018 Heroes Calendar which celebrated people for their contribution to the suburb of Flaxmere.

The initiative was launched by the U-Turn Trust in 2010 by Hastings District Councillor Henare O'Keefe as a way to counteract the negative publicity towards the suburb.

O'Brien was reluctant to accept the recognition, having been asked a few times, but was eventually convinced.

O'Keefe had known O'Brien for more than a decade and said O'Brien and his wife Theresa's gym was about improving lives holistically.

"It wasn't a nine to five thing for them; when there was an opportunity to do good, they were there," O'Keefe said.

"They were true servants of the people, who literally served people's needs, dreams and aspirations."

The accident was on SH2, near the intersection with the Taradale Rd roundabout. Photo / Warren Buckland
The accident was on SH2, near the intersection with the Taradale Rd roundabout. Photo / Warren Buckland

As the chairman of Te Aranga marae, O'Keefe is involved in the preparations for the tangi which will begin tomorrow morning.

"We'll get things ready here and then we'll be able to talk and cry together and laugh together and share stories of Patrick."

Large numbers of visitors are expected to come from the community, around the country and even from overseas.

"No matter where you have this funeral, it's not going to be big enough. They will just pour into the marae," O'Keefe said.

The Battle For Life event was likely to continue in the future, despite being cancelled today.

"Patrick wouldn't want anything less. If we truly want to honour his family and memory, keep that going."

O'Keefe said he was keeping the other casualty of the two-car accident in his prayers.

"I know Theresa's love and prayers would go out to that family. I don't want that to get lost among the tributes to Patrick, we've got to acknowledge them as well. They will be going through the same thing, so all our love and prayers to them."