When Margaret Gibbs used to take her elderly relatives for outings to the beach for an ice cream, she had no idea that one day she would be helping to enrich the lives of hundreds of other people too.

At that time Mrs Gibbs was working for a major food company and in her spare time would take her late mother-in-law Jan Gibbs and late mother Stephania Keenan on little adventures.

While both women had since died, they had helped sow the seed for Gibbs to pursue a career helping other people retain their independence.

Driving Miss Daisy with her late mother-in-law Jan Gibbs. Mrs Gibbs passed away on Anzac Day this year during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Driving Miss Daisy with her late mother-in-law Jan Gibbs. Mrs Gibbs passed away on Anzac Day this year during the Covid-19 lockdown.

When Gibbs was made redundant during a restructuring of a business she had been with for 20 years, she spied an opportunity when she saw an advertisement for Driving Miss Daisy.

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She and husband Murray, who trains horses from their home base at Ohau, knew it would be for them.

It was the personal touch that attracted Mrs Gibbs to Driving Miss Daisy. She said she formed bonds and friendships with customers, some of whom had no family, or family that lived some distance away.

"You treat them as you would like your own family to be treated," she said.

In many cases the extended family became friends, too, as they kept in touch with regular reports of any adventures, and that regular reporting was reassuring, she said.

Driving Miss Daisy on a trip to Lake Horowhenua.
Driving Miss Daisy on a trip to Lake Horowhenua.

A trip to the golf course, the supermarket, or to get a haircut might not seem like an adventure to some, but to others it is a symbol of independence, having the liberty to enjoy everyday freedoms.

It could be an afternoon at the library, the dog park, or a visit to the bank. If it was a coffee with a friend at a cafe and three was a crowd, then Gibbs would make herself scarce and organise a time to return.

"It's about having freedom and choices," she said.

In less than a year they had built the business to the stage where they had bought and sign-written a second Driving Miss Daisy car, just to keep up with demands for their service.

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Margaret Gibbs is Driving Miss Daisy.
Margaret Gibbs is Driving Miss Daisy.

Trust was an important component to the service.

All Driving Miss Daisy drivers had to sit NZQA unit standards for working with disabled and elderly people, first aid training, vetted by NZ Police, licensed by NZ Transport, AA advanced Drive assessments and have dementia friend training.

In cases where there is a family member who lived a distance apart they kept in close contact, which she said was reassuring for everyone.

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"It's very important that we are aware of their needs and challenges," she said.

It wasn't just elderly people that Driving Miss Daisy served. They also were available to anyone that needed a trusted service and they also oversaw schoolchildren to various engagements.

Driving Miss Daisy on a trip the Te Takare in Levin.
Driving Miss Daisy on a trip the Te Takare in Levin.

Nationally Driving Miss Daisy was contracted by ACC as their preferred Companion Transport, with specially selected vehicles to help people rehabilitate and get back to work by meeting engagements which was a large arm of their business.

"We're more than a taxi. We book appointments to enable us plenty of time to carefully assist our clients from inside their homes safely to their destination, or we stay with them for their appointment," she said.

But, six weeks ago, the coronavirus Covid-19 hit. Like many businesses, they were forced to limit their business to essential work only, a "bubble on wheels" only taking people to medical appointments or for food.

Abiding by strict Ministry of Health Covid-19 protocols ensured hygiene and social distancing measures were in place.

They had kept in contact with their customers. One elderly client suffering from Alzheimers was running low on groceries and they were able to pick up an order and deliver it contactless to the door.

The Gibbs were using any down time as a chance to adapt and prepare for the future, for when they start to get busy again once the Covid-19 Alert Levels are relaxed.

And after spending so much time in lockdown in the past six weeks, who wouldn't be keen to get out and about again.