And that was Holmes

Sir Paul Holmes lived a very public life.

In the last few days of his life and today, after his death, those who knew the private man have shared memories which show a kinder, more generous side than those who knew him only through the media ever knew.

Among them, was this one from Jim Mora, on Afternoons, and posted on the show’s Facebook page:

Sir Paul Holmes is dead, and many will speak about him, because many knew him, and knew him well. He was always a very gregarious man, with many loyal friends.

My contact with Paul in the last decade’s been sporadic, a few meetings, always warm ones; a little bit of communication, thank goodness, before he died.

And others will sum up his life more artfully than I can, in fact they’ve been doing it for a little while, and I know Paul read some of these. How many people get the chance to do that? I must say he has been the paramount broadcaster of my generation, the best one I heard or saw in those years when he was in his prime, and I don’t think I’ll see a more skilful one in New Zealand in my time.

I’m not trying to turn this tribute into an “I knew Paul” soliloquy, because many knew him better and are more entitled to speak of him really, but back in the 1990s especially we were friends, and I spent a number of Christmas Days with him and his family, which are special memories.

I remember a trip to South Africa with him, and his doing a live cross on television back to NZ and the technician watching him and saying to me “He’s good this guy, isn’t he.” He was good.

But it’s true that the paths of glory lead in the end only to the grave, and we are remembered most usefully often for our personal not our more illusory public qualities.

When I was at a low ebb in my professional affairs once, or as Paul himself used to say with a chuckle, “repositioning”, he did something for me, and I tell this one story to illustrate the generosity of him. There are similar and probably more spectacular stories. Columnists have called him sentimental in recent writings, and I suppose you can use that word, but it was sentiment born out of his own knowledge of hard times, which few know about now.

Paul calls me up one day and says “Jimmy, let’s have a coffee”, and I had not a lot else on my plate. He says “I’ll pick you up in 20 minutes.”

So he does, in one of those fancy cars he was fond of, the Jag or the Saab I can’t remember, and we head to Newmarket.

And Paul says “Listen can you come with me, I’ve just got to see a bloke for a minute” and we walk into Saks on Broadway.

And he goes up to the guy at the counter and they chat while I wait for him, and then the guy comes up to me and says “Mr Holmes has suggested we fit you out in a suit.”

And I say “No, no I can’t.” I was adamant I couldn’t accept that amount of largesse.

And Paul Holmes, with that irresistible persuasiveness of his said “Jimmy, it’s an investment for me, you can pay me back, you can write my speeches.”

I don’t know in the end how useful the speeches were. I do know how useful that suit was to me. But of course it wasn’t about the suit. It was about friendship.

I never paid him back that well. We were staying in Sydney once at the Hilton, checking in quite late, and they got the rooms mixed up and gave me the penthouse suite with the butler and Paul the regular room 5 floors below. A clerical error which neither of us knew till we got to our rooms. He didn’t mind. I can think of people who would have.

In all the time I worked with him or for him there was never a cross word from him. He treated people with respect. He had so many skills, and professionally I’ll choose to remember his time on the Holmes show, at his peak as a broadcaster, when he could handle any situation on air with more adroitness than I’ve ever seen.

Lives are ambiguous, as someone once said, so tributes are often trite. When someone as complex as Paul Holmes dies, it’s hard to say what you really feel.

I feel, and of course so do so many NZers… sad, and we have for weeks and weeks now. He did a lot of good, as we know, but it was more than the money raised for charity which is usually mentioned, it was the gift he had for ennobling others in their lives, for honouring them, for seeing the greatness in ordinary people. That’s why he did so well, and that’s what I will remember him for most.

God bless Paul. You weren’t a tall totara, but you were mighty, and you will be mightily missed. Thank you for that big heart and all the good you did for person after person. And condolences to your family on this most difficult of days.

When someone has been very ill, death can bring relief. But that doesn’t diminish the grief..

Sir Paul lived a very public life and his is a very public death.

There will be comfort for those closest to him in the tributes from so many people, but there will also be the difficulty of sharing private moments with the public.

Dealing with the loss of someone you love is never easy, it must be even more difficult to do it when the country is watching.

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