Dave Vallely, wordsmith and warrior
David Costello Vallely, QSM, JP, died on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 at the Aramoho home of his daughter and son-in-law, Megan and Mike Coffin. He was 93.
Self-proclaimed political activist Dave Vallely will long be remembered as a Labour Party administrator and a long-serving member of the Wanganui City Council, in the days when Whanganui was spelled differently and was still considered a city. By the time it became the Wanganui District Council, Dave, in spite of all his hard work, had been voted out.
Dave was born in Christchurch on July 26, 1927. He often liked to say he was the same age as the Grand Hotel in Whanganui. Being born in Christchurch gave him reason to call himself "a Southern Man". He was one of five children to Edward James Vallely and Eunice Amy (née Whelan).
His education started at Petone West Primary School. In 1931, 4-year-old David Vallely won a fancy dress competition held at the Moera Community Hall in Lower Hutt, dressed as "Red Soldier". After that it was Whaiwhetu Primary then Pipiriki Native School.
He lived in Pipiriki from 1934-35 when his father held a temporary job repairing and maintaining that part of the River Rd. With the Duke of Gloucester visiting and expected to travel that part of the country, men were needed to keep the road in good repair.
His family was very Labour and he remembered when Labour got in government in 1935. "What a party that was!" Election Day was a Wednesday and employers allowed workers time off to vote.
He continued his education at Aramoho Primary School then Fordell School.
Megan says he was Dux of Fordell school but he was not documented as such in the school records. She says it could have been overlooked because it was the year World War II broke out, or there could have been other reasons why the poor boy from the sticks did not see his name on the honours board.
During the family's Fordell stint, the youngest child, Peggy, died at the age of one. For their war-damaged father, who had served in Gallipoli and Passchendaele, it was the last straw, and to her credit Eunice brought up the remaining children on her own.
They moved into Ingestre St, Wanganui when Dave was about 12.
Dave's first job was at a Waikato dairy farm at the age of 13. "I left school after three months of Tech [Wanganui Technical College — now City College]. I did pretty well in the first (and only) exam and got second in geometry and third in algebra. My father had left home and with no social security then, Mum had nothing, so I had to work."
After a year Dave returned to Wanganui to join the navy and go to war. He was too young and his application to enlist was unsuccessful.
Instead, he joined the local alternative. "I was a boy runner in the Home Guard at Fordell and again in the Karangahake George, which looks down on Waihi, in the 1940s as the Japs moved toward Australia and New Zealand. What a threat to us all the Battle of the Coral Sea was: It was no 'Dad's Army'!"
In 1942 he got a job at Chainey's bicycle shop in Guyton St, working as junior shop assistant. After five years he became a bicycle mechanic.
"I did 14 years with Chainey's."
He remembers it as a big operation that employed more than 50 people.
Besides the main shop in Guyton St they had six branches — Dannevirke, Levin, Foxton, Fielding, Marton and Aramoho — as well as wholesale bicycles, which was an importing warehouse in St Hill St. The workshop had about 20 workbenches and about four mechanics worked on building and assembly new bikes.
"Some were made from scratch, others were imported BSA, Phillips, Raleigh brands," he said in a Chronicle interview in 2004 when the old Chainey's workshop was demolished.
Hundreds of bikes were stored in an underground bunker nicknamed the "dungeon", which proved a goldmine in the war years.
"The old dungeon was completely emptied out when the war come along and all sorts of parts were retrieved, repaired or put back in order to meet the terrible wartime shortage as very little could be imported because of war production," Dave said.
Many Wanganui people would remember the parking area for bikes — for one penny at a time.
"It was well used and the attendants worked on a roster and they used to stay open until after the night movies finished.
"When schools came into town for Cooks Gardens or Opera House functions it would fill up with hundreds of bikes. In those days Wanganui was second only to Christchurch as a bike city."
Most of all, he remembers Chaineys being a great place to work.
"The bosses were understanding, sensible people and they were good to work for and with," he said.
"The late Bill Chainey, who was a co-founder of Chainey Bros, used to take part in wage negotiations between the employers (as their rep) and the workers, and he was noted for sticking up for the workers in the trade on many occasions," he said in a letter to the editor of the Wanganui Chronicle in 2004.
Dave was a member of the YMCA Everymans Club, as attested by a 1945 photo of a group of well-dressed young men. There's an air of irreverence and fun about the group.
During that time he joined the Engineers' Union as a junior member, full membership not being available until the age of 21.
"I was going to the monthly meetings and they needed a delegate on the LRC [Labour Representation Committee] as it was in those days. They had one but they were entitled to two, so I said I'd do it."
He joined the Wanganui Branch and was soon secretary-treasurer. The Wanganui Branch alone had 432 members in Dave's day. "A lot of them came from Eastown Workshops, Imlay and Plant Zone in Aramoho. Then they made me secretary-treasurer of the LRC."
In 1950 he married Yvonne and they had two children, Ross and Megan. Yvonne and Dave were married for 65 years, until Yvonne died in September, 2015.
"Yvonne's uncle was Joe Cotterill, although he had no influence on my politics." Joe Coterill OBE was Labour MP for Wanganui from 1935 to 1960, when he retired. Dave's political leanings came out of the depression and the way the family had to live.
After his time with Chainey's (where he was earning £10 a week), Dave took a job at Cutelli's Bakery, taking his wages to £16 a week.
"I worked night shift, but it suited me because I was able to get round doing Labour Party things during the day. I was 21 years with Cutelli's. Bob Cutelli was a good boss."
From 1975 Dave worked full-time for the Labour Party and retired at 60.
He started off as North Island organiser, arranging programmes for visiting MPs.
"MPs in those days couldn't get vehicles easily. They had to catch buses and trains. I remember my dear wife Yvonne and I going to Marton at midnight to pick up Bill Rowling from the train."
In the early days they had to borrow the flashest car they could find, which for a few years was a party member's Ford Prefect.
"They didn't get lodgings either. We've had MPs stop at our place."
After 40 years' service to the Labour Party he was presented with a silver tray and at the Party's centenary he was awarded life membership.
His QSM was made public in the New Year's Honours List, on December 21, 1988. It was presented in May, 1989 at Government House by Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves. Telegrams of congratulations came from all over the political spectrum.
"Mum always said the women should have got one too," says Megan.
Dave attended 45 consecutive annual party conferences. "That was four days away, mostly in Wellington, but also Christchurch, Dunedin, Rotorua and Auckland several times. For 41 years I was minutes secretary. I then had to compile the conference report for the printer." That gave him unsurpassed knowledge of the party and policy.
In 1990 he relinquished the full-time position as electorate secretary.
Early this century, while still secretary-treasurer and secretary-treasurer of the Unity Centre, Dave's eyes started failing. He resigned but didn't leave the LEC until 2008.
He owned an extensive library, read biographies of people from all political viewpoints, and had lots of framed photographs of the political greats — not necessarily Labour, either. There's a formal group photo of the Labour Party Executive, 1972-3, with Dave, of course.
He loved classical music, New Zealand pop music, and was a big fan of Shona Laing.
Dave served with Wanganui Civil Defence from 1954 to 1998 and had the plaque to prove it, presented to him by Mayor Chas Poynter.
He was awarded the NZ 1990 Commemoration Medal in recognition of his services to New Zealand. Like his QSM, the medal came with a miniature version for daily wear. He didn't wear them.
Dave Vallely was not about showing off: he was too busy helping out his community. For many years he was chairman of Riding for the Disabled and he was Santa at their parties. Perhaps he was attracted to the red suit, suggests Megan.
Dave Vallely will be remembered for many things: his huge contribution to the Labour Party; his service as Wanganui City Councillor from 1972 to 1989; his strong social conscience; his service to Wanganui Civil Defence; his dedication to his country, his city and his family; his half a century as a Justice of the Peace, and for his work with local organisations.
He was also an intelligent writer and his letters to the editor were legendary. And he did not suffer fools.
"I may be wrong, but that's highly unlikely," was one of his favourite sayings, says Megan.