NEVA Yvonne Morrison was born in Gisborne on April 20, 1920. She had a happy, confident childhood, and was a bright girl and keen to do well, but times were tough, and she had to leave school during the Depression and find work.
She learnt to type and trained as a secretary, working mainly in Gisborne and Whakatane until after the outbreak of World War II. Many young men joined up for war service overseas at this time, among them Neva's great friend and first love, Geoff Chambers, who became a pilot and was shot down and killed in Libya in 1942. This was a loss that Neva carried with her always.
Partly as a response, she joined up for overseas service herself, and after training in Wellington she arrived in Italy with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, where she worked at NZ Army Headquarters for the rest of the war. She kept a diary of this period, in which she recorded her experiences and which was later published as a book, An Angel in God's Office.
At Army Headquarters in Senigallia, Neva met Ted Clarke, from Wellington, and in 1947, in the garden of Neva's parents' house in Sievwright Lane in Gisborne, where we later spent many Christmases, Neva and Ted were married.
Anna and I are the children of Neva and Ted.
Neva was a modern woman. She was intelligent, capable, ambitious and talented.
She had seen the world, and despite her love for her family, the role of housewife in Palmerston North during the 1950s was not going to hold her interest on its own. She got involved with the local theatre group and began to appear in plays. She began to write short stories, and for the next 50 years she published stories, wrote book reviews, appeared in radio drama and published a novel. She still had a weekly newspaper column in her 80s.
In the early 1960s the family moved to Wellington, where Neva continued to work in theatre, radio, and with her writing. She became the New Zealand president of PEN, the international organisation of writers, and was instrumental in introducing public lending rights into New Zealand.
Neva and Ted divorced in the early 1970s, and both remarried. Neva moved to the Far North, settling at Cooper's Beach with her second husband, Len McKenna, an American ex-Lockheed executive who adored the bays and beaches of the far north of New Zealand as much as Neva did. They drove all the roads, walked all the beaches and swam all the waters of the place they called Paradise.
Neva became the unofficial historian of the entire region and published books that are still among the best research ever compiled about the early days and places and people of the Far North. A few years ago she was award the Queen's Service Medal for her work, and if you go to Mangonui you'll see the boardwalk named after her along the beautiful foreshore.
In recent years Neva lived in Hamilton, where Anna paid close attention to her needs as she crept into her 90s and her capacities and her driving energy began to wane. She loved receiving visits from her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and friends.
Neva achieved a great deal in her life. She was creative, convivial and well-organised. She had a strong personality, and wherever she lived she was surrounded by friends and admirers.
She travelled extensively overseas and established strong contacts with her father's family in Northern Ireland. She was interested in everything and she gave everything a go. She took up painting in her 60s. She was involved in a film in her 70s, and went on a trip to Hollywood.
When we were kids she was an encouraging and very amusing mother. She could talk about anything, and if there was nothing much happening, she would help us remember or imagine.
Until recently she had an excellent memory, and she wrote things down. There were notes all over the house. Among some diary notes she made when she was in Wellington, she records a visit from Tom Seddon, who lived up the road, the son of Richard Seddon, who is still New Zealand's longest-serving Prime Minister.
The Seddons had been great friends of the Beauchamps, and as a young man Tom had travelled from Wellington to Rotorua one day and had bumped into Katherine Beauchamp, sitting in a park, crying. He asked if she was okay, and she reported that she'd come up to Rotorua with a man. It hadn't worked out very well, which is why she was in a park, crying.
"But ..." she said to Tom. "We met a woman in a store on the way up and I've written a terrific story about it."
Katherine later dropped the name Beauchamp, and is better known by her middle name, Katherine Mansfield. The story, The Woman at the Store, was later published in London.
Katherine Mansfield experts are most interested in Neva's report of Tom's story because it was not previously known. It is typical of Neva to have written it down, and to have caught, even in a diary entry, the drama and value of a good story.