A pioneering transgender man and chemistry researcher who wrote several books, died last week when a train and the car he was driving collided near Morrinsville.
John Thorp, 90, published two books describing how he transitioned from a woman to a man with the support of his first wife Joan who later died and how he got a second chance of love with his second wife Hazel.
Thorp was travelling home to Thames from Waikato Hospital on March 23 when the car and a train collided.
His wife Hazel, who was his passenger, was able to walk from the vehicle but is still recovering at Waikato Hospital. Waikato DHB confirmed tonight she was in a stable condition.
Thorp's first book A Change for Good was published in 2006 by Cape Catley Publishers.
Cape Catley spokeswoman Jenny Cole described it as a memoir of his journey from a woman to man.
"When Chris Cole Catley chose to publish this she saw it was a story of importance for people to know. A story of importance about society."
The book tells of how UK-born Thorp, who was a lecturer at Guy's Hospital in London, underwent surgery to make the transition with the support of a woman called Joan.
The pair moved to New Zealand in 1960 to escape what he described as intense media scrutiny and because Thorp secured a position as a chemistry lecturer at the University of Auckland.
Emeritus professor Brian Davis said he worked with Thorp in the chemistry department, but in different areas. "My memories are of a quiet, reserved but always polite person."
Thorp was a well-regarded scientist and in 1969 accepted a job at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR).
However, when Joan developed heart problems in 1982 he retired to spend time together and they moved to the Coromandel before Joan died in 1989.
In 1995 he met his current wife Hazel and they ran a bed and breakfast in the Coromandel Harbour before moving to Thames in 2000 where they built a house overlooking the Firth.
Tommy Hamilton, a counsellor for LGBTQI+ support service Outline and also a trans-man, said he had met Thorp several times as part of transgender community events.
However, the most memorable time was at the launch of Thorp's book A Change for Good in 2006 at the Women's Bookshop in Auckland, which a group of transgender men attended.
"He was really moved to meet young men who were having a life and experience similar to his," Hamilton said.
"And it really was like he came from an era where he never thought he'd meet another person like him. So the power of the visibility of seeing these young men at his book launch, I think it was quite meaningful for him.
"He was very humble, he would have never seen himself as that [a pioneering transgender person]."
Hamilton recalled Thorp was a straight-laced, but lovely, kooky man. "He was very fit and very healthy."
At the time he underwent gender-reassignment surgery it would have been a very new procedure, he said.
"He was like from that era where all plastic surgery was experimental. He was a scientist and he was very willing to jump in and give it a go, I guess.
"You would have had a fair bit of resilience and sense of support to go ahead with surgery back then, it is not like it is today. It would have been quite a challenging job. He was a pioneer in that sense - a pioneering guinea pig."
Former Human Rights Commission educator Julie Watson organised a transgender community meeting in Auckland where Thorp was the key guest about seven years ago and said there was a lot of respect for him from the group as he was the oldest transgender person they had met.
"The overwhelming thing for me was the mutual delight in these people of many generations and men younger than John meeting him ... The overwhelming feeling that he had lived his life so unaware that there were so many transgender people as well."
It was pretty unheard of for a trans man to have full surgery, she said, and especially using war-time technology.
"That was pretty dramatic for people to read about and discuss."
Trans human rights researcher Jack Byrne met Thorp on a number of occasions, including at a dinner before the talk Watson organised and said he created a life for himself at a time when there was no trans movement and no other visible trans men.
"He was 83 years old then and many of the trans guys would have been in their 20s and 30s. I was 47 and there was something profoundly special for me to see a trans man my father's age, who started living publicly as a man before I was born," Byrne said.
"John gave me and others a sense of history and I am deeply grateful to him for that."
Waikato District Road Policing manager Freda Grace said it appeared Thorp had crossed the railway tracks and either not seen the train or thought he had time to get across. There are no barrier arms at the crossing, but the lights and bells were working.
A funeral for Thorp will be held at the Thames Baptist Church on Thursday at 11am.