Reg Duder

Following is an obituary for Reg Duder - a long serving member of the CAFCA committee and a real character.

- Murray Horton

This is a sad first – namely having to write an obituary for a colleague on the CAFCA committee. Reg Duder, who died in January 2008 aged 79 (he just made it to a few days past his birthday), had been a CAFCA member since 1992 and had been on the committee for nearly all of that time. Reg had been getting sicker and sicker for several years and was housebound with frequent spells in hospital. We hadn’t seen him at a committee meeting outside his place for a good four or five years and the last time any of us saw him outside of his place for anything was when he attended Wolfgang Rosenberg’s February 2007 funeral. He was absolutely determined to attend that and pay his respects, despite being wheelchair bound and on oxygen. Sheer bloody pigheadedness kept him going for so long, indeed he hosted the final committee meeting for 2007, just days before Christmas, despite the fact that he had, by then, progressed to terminal kidney failure (and his legs were so swollen that he couldn’t wear pants, let alone any footwear. It made for a memorable meeting, and was the last time his committee colleagues saw him alive). It’s important to stress that Reg was more than a colleague, he was a good friend. I was very fond indeed of the old bugger.

It would be quicker to list what he didn’t have wrong with him rather than what he did have wrong with him. He had been a chain smoker nearly all his life – the photo of the dashing moustachioed young fellow in Air Force uniform on the cover of his funeral programme was almost unrecognisable except for the smoke in his hand. Until very recent years he used to preside over committee meetings at his place with his ubiquitous smoke (the rest of us being non-smokers). I used to get chastised by my ex-smoker wife when I tiptoed into the bedroom after those meetings because the smell of smoke on my hair and clothes used to wake her up. She always knew when I’d been to Reg’s. In the past decade CAFCA has joined an international network to fight tobacco transnationals and British American Tobacco NZ has been a regular Roger Award finalist, including in 2007 (when it was joint runner up; BAT has never been a winner yet). I think Reg reckoned that we were getting at him, although he did allow that he was the victim of an addiction whereby he had been hooked for the profit of the tobacco companies. To my astonishment, he did actually give up completely a couple of years ago, just went cold turkey. But the damage had been long done, and his lungs were absolutely buggered, necessitating him being permanently on oxygen. As long as I knew him, he had a smoker’s cough and accompanying hoick of truly Olympic proportions. But the old bugger would tell me with a straight face that smoking was not the cause of his multitude of health problems. One thing that should be made clear – Reg’s body may have been ruined in his final years but there was nothing wrong with his mind. He played a full part in what was going on around him, including the CAFCA committee, to the best of his abilities.

Once Met, Never Forgotten

Inevitably, somebody like Reg gets described as a “character”. In his case, that’s like saying the Pope’s a Catholic and does nothing to convey the unforgettable essence of the man. A “character” is a bit player in the drama of life. Reg was the full blown three act opera. Everything about him was distinctive, starting with his physical appearance – a lived in face that would have made a great Toby jug, with a boozer’s nose (which was strictly hereditary, as Reg didn’t drink) and a fearsome surgical scar that slashed across his bald skull (the result of the brain haemorrhage nearly 30 years ago that damn near killed him and sent him religious); his habit, winter or summer, of wearing only a flimsy short sleeved shirt, unbuttoned down his chest; usually in shorts, all the better to show off his knobbly knees. Reg was a classic old Kiwi joker of his generation. To use a very out of fashion phrase, he was a “man’s man” (with all that implies, good and bad). He’d give my late father a good run for the title of the most spectacularly politically incorrect old bugger that I’ve ever known (and I’ve known more than my fair share of them). He’d done a four year Anglican community training course, in a midlife change of direction, but was not accepted for the actual training to be a minister. When I asked him why, he answered (in his unmistakeable gruff smoker’s voice): “Because I’ve got balls”. So that was Reg on women clergy. Ironically the vicar of his parish is a woman and after she’d conducted the funeral in his parish church I asked if he’d told her his views on the subject. She replied that he said “that he respected me as a woman”, leaving the rest unsaid. He used to stun CAFCA committee meetings, when it was an all male affair, with his unsolicited opinions on “sheilas, queers and horis” or some combination of all three. He was prone to regaling us with fond memories from his long ago youth, expressed in terms such as “when I was rooting sheilas in the sandhills”. Chairman Bill would then break the ensuing awkward silence by asking what was the next item on the agenda? Actually, if Reg had become a vicar (Rev Reg has a certain ring to it), I would have started going back to church just to hear his sermons. I guarantee they would have been priceless.

Cliches about rough diamonds and hearts of gold come to mind. Reg had plenty of faults, which he freely admitted, but despite all of that, he was one out of the box. He had a most unusual background for a CAFCA committee member. It was only after his death that his caregiver daughter Colleen told me that he’d been a member of the Young Nationals in his youth. He’d sworn her to secrecy, saying “Murray will kill me” (actually I wouldn’t have as CAFCA contains all sorts. One current National backbench MP used to be a member and an unsuccessful National candidate in the 2005 election has been a member for a quarter of a century). Reg had been in the Air Force (including serving with the military who occupied the wharves during the infamous 1951 lockout of the wharfies); he had worked in finance and insurance and, as I’ve mentioned, trained to be an Anglican minister, which made him the odd man out in a determinedly secular committee (which wasn’t always thus. Years ago, before Reg’s time, the committee included a Catholic priest and we used to hold meetings in his presbytery).

Air Force Man, Salesman, Spiderman

William Reginald Duder was born in Christchurch in 1929, one of three siblings (obviously he didn’t like his first name; if he’d been born American he would have been known as W Reginald Duder). His father was a fitter and turner who had to constantly move to where the jobs were – this peripatetic Depression childhood exacted a price on Reg’s education. He never went to high school. In 1944 he started a five year apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. He completed it, but never worked in that trade. Instead, in 1949, he signed up with the Air Force for eight years, starting as an aircraft engine mechanic and rising to be a General Service Instructor. He enjoyed the military life and while in it he married Melva Tremberth and they had six kids, while moving around the country’s Air Force bases. Reg was offered overseas postings, to the various countries with which NZ was at war or was occupying in the 1950s (Korea, Malaya, Japan) but turned them down on the grounds that he was a married man with a young and growing family. He never went overseas. But that military life soured for Reg the year before his term was up when he was charged with stealing some Air Force kerosene to fuel a heater for some of his fellow servicemen during a freezing winter. He was demoted in rank, so he left at the end of his eight years, rather than signing up for another term as he had planned to do. According to Colleen, he always regretted the cessation of his military career, although he was scornful of the modern Air Force, describing the officers as “pansies” when he observed them during a visit in recent years to Christchurch’s former Wigram Air Force Base. So, in 1957, Reg re-entered civilian life, as a car salesman. That lasted until the mid 60s when he went into selling life insurance, then, in the early 70s, he was headhunted for a finance company, as a sales representative travelling the South Island. It was in the 70s that Reg joined the former Social Credit, having moved on from the National Party of his youth. He was an active member and remained involved in that party and its’ differently named successors for the rest of his life.
Reg may not have been a political activist at this stage but he certainly had a keenly developed ability to thumb his nose at authority. In late 1974 he and a group of young blokes, including his sons, pulled off a series of daring escapades that fell squarely into the tradition of the Robin Hood urban guerrilla. The Police had launched the “Speak Up” campaign encouraging the public to report crime and had hung a huge 60 foot banner advertising that along the front of a former high profile hotel in Cathedral Square. It was duly liberated and turned up adorning the front of another central city hotel. The cops tied it to the top of the BNZ Building, then under construction in the Square and dared anyone to pinch it. The “Banner Boys” did just that, within a couple of weeks, using a crane to swing across to the building and cutting the big padlock securing the banner. Not content with that, the “Banner Boys” then also liberated the obscenely waggling finger of the huge Santa Claus that had stood on the former Haywrights department store’s central city awning every Christmas for decades and sent a letter to the firm saying that it would only be returned when a donation of $100 was made to an institution for handicapped kids, so that they could have a decent Christmas too (that sum seems ridiculously small these days, doesn’t it, but in 1974 I was paying $9 a week rent for half a house and was being paid $37 a week, to put it into perspective). The money was paid, the finger was returned, as was the Police banner. There was a flurry of Press and Christchurch Star articles (including an editorial) – Reg kept all the clippings, one of which was read out at his funeral by the vicar, to great merriment. Nobody was ever identified or charged with anything. Although he was by then in his mid 40s, Reg played a fully active part in this Spiderman adventure. Hard to imagine for those of us who only knew him in his old age.

Stroke Changed His Life Forever

By the late 70s Reg had become disillusioned with the financial world (so there’s nothing new about finance companies being regarded with distaste) and went back to life insurance. All was going along smoothly until one catastrophic health event changed his life, in many ways, for ever. In 1980 he had the brain haemorrhage and that changed everything. He took a long time to recover (many don’t survive a stroke, including my own late sister). He was devastated to be told by the doctors that he would never work again, that one knock to the area of his head covered by the scar could kill him. So he went from being a working man with a white collar job, supporting his family, and an athletic man enjoying an active life of fishing and camping (he used to regale us with tales of going to Lake Sumner when there were “fish as big as pianos”) to being a sickness beneficiary for the rest of his life. And that drastic change in his life circumstances was a contributing factor to the end of his marriage, in the 1980s, after 30 odd years. He came out of the bustup with just enough to buy his trusty Lada car and he moved in with his widowed daughter Colleen, who had been left a solo mother with a daughter (by a cruel coincidence Colleen’s late husband had died of a brain haemorrhage, in his early 20s). His ex-wife remarried, Reg never did.

The stroke sent him religious. He told me, many times, that during it, he’d had a vivid near death experience that had convinced him of the existence of God and Heaven and that he had nothing to fear when it was his time to die “because I know where I’m going, Murray” (in the interests of fairness, I should point out that we had just as many conversations about rugby, that other great religion of New Zealanders and a game which Reg had played as a young man. Unfortunately Reg couldn’t speak about the All Blacks with the same confidence as he did about the afterlife).

Christianity was a very central part of Reg’s life, which my committee colleagues realised to their surprise at the traditional religious funeral in his parish church. It was not a surprise to me, because of all of us I’d spent the most time with Reg and he had always been free and frank about his beliefs. I’m both a lapsed Anglican and Presbyterian, so we had many interesting discussions on religion, although he was neither a Biblebasher nor a proselytiser (but he would have been delighted that his death led to his committee colleagues having to go to church). Christianity gave him great certainty and comfort in his final years of dreadful sickness and pain. After he died, Colleen found his diary entry for his 79th birthday, written just days before he died – in it he described himself as being “blessed” and at peace. As already mentioned, in the 1980s, he completed a four year community course of preparatory training for the Anglican ministry. He applied to be accepted for the official training for the ministry but was declined by the then Bishop at an interview – according to Colleen he had “a flaming row” with the Bishop about it, for which Reg later apologised.

Commitment To Social Justice

Church practices had been a steep learning curve for Reg – a couple from his congregation who spoke at the funeral cracked everyone up with their story of him exploding at a retreat because nobody would speak to him, and then being mortified when told that was because it was a silent retreat. Reg was very much a social justice Christian. In 1991 the various churches’ social agencies, including the Anglicans, were, disgracefully, among the very first employers to take advantage of the anti-union Employment Contracts Act to bash their lowpaid workers. Reg stood in the Cathedral in the Square and for a whole day, throughout the several church services held there, silently held a placard that simply read “You’re Wrong”. In fact, he stopped going to church altogether for several years in the 90s because of his disgust at this. He was never afraid to interrupt the vicar’s sermons at his parish church if he thought that s/he had got something wrong. Right to the end he delighted in stirring up his fellow parishioners – his coffin was led into the church by his five year old great-grandson holding a placard entitled “Reg’s Last Protest”.
And it was the stroke that made Reg into a political activist. As a sickness beneficiary, he had his first contact with the social welfare system and he didn’t like what he saw. Considering it inherently unfair, he got involved in beneficiaries’ advocacy groups and thence into the protest movement. He was a high profile activist in early 90s’ social campaigns such as the Coalition Against Benefit Cuts (which protested against the savage cuts to all benefits made in National’s 1990 “Mother Of All Budgets”, cuts which have never been restored by Labour) and, most particularly, the State Housing Action Coalition, which protested National’s imposition of market rents on State house tenants (something which Labour did reverse). He understood very clearly the class war that was being waged against the poor in those years and he got stuck into the fightback. I had been warned by someone who worked with Reg in those campaigns that he was a sconedoer but I can honestly say that I never saw any evidence of that side of his personality in any of his dealings with me or anyone else on the committee. I saw flashes of it in his dealings with those whom he detested (see Jenny Shipley story below) but even that was muted.
And it was that passionate commitment to social justice that brought Reg to CAFCA. Paul Watson, the Southern Region Secretary of the National Distribution Union (NDU), spoke at the funeral and told how he had first met Reg in the late 1980s, when Paul was an official of the former Clothing Workers’ Union, and Reg became involved in various union campaigns to attempt to defend unions from the pulverising they were taking from Rogernomics. Reg remained a staunch union supporter for the rest of his life, with his views reinforced by the experiences of Colleen as an NDU delegate for years in a clothing factory. He joined the former New Labour Party, when it was created out of dissatisfaction with the Labour Party of the Roger Douglas era, hence into the Alliance. He simultaneously remained in the Democrats (which left the Alliance and resumed life as a stand alone party) and stayed with them until his death.
I didn’t know Reg at all as a middle aged man, let alone a young one. He was in his early 60s when I first met him. So, “old Reg” really was old Reg to his committee colleagues. For the details of the first 60 years of his life, I am indebted to Colleen. Reg is my only obituary subject in memory for whom I had nothing in writing, he had flown under the radar all of his life (apart from anonymous escapades such as the “Banner Boys”). I interviewed Colleen for this obituary and she freely confessed that she is hazy about whole chunks of her old man’s life because very little of it was recorded.

Very Active CAFCA Activist

Reg played a very active part in all CAFCA campaigns through the 90s. We were instrumental in setting up the Campaign for People’s Sovereignty, a coalition which fought the manifestations of foreign control at local government level for several years. We campaigned against the corporatisation of the former Southpower, Christchurch’s publicly owned power company. Reg was in the thick of that, taking part in regular pickets of both it and the City Council (the owner), plus always attending Southpower’s token annual public meeting and haranguing the management present (Southpower is long gone, a victim of National’s electricity “reforms”. So is TransAlta, the Canadian transnational which bought it, winning the Roger Award during its short but eventful sojourn in Christchurch). CAFCA got involved in the Canterbury Health Coalition to fight hospital charges (the wonderfully successful Can’t Pay Won’t Pay Don’t Pay Twice campaign) and moves to corporatise hospitals. Reg was active in that one. CAFCA initiated another coalition, the Society for Publicly Owned Telecommunications (SPOT) to campaign against American-owned Telecom. There were regular pickets, meetings, and petitions, etc – Reg was in his element in that. CAFCA campaigned against the sale of Trust Bank to Westpac and the City Council giving its rubbish collection contract to French transnational, Onyx – Reg was on the front line in all of that.

Some of my most vivid memories of Reg involve CAFCA’s participation in the successful Dump The Dump campaign of the late 90s, which stopped a regional landfill, with heavy transnational ownership, being built in the foothills near Darfield (it ended up in North Canterbury instead). Reg and I had some memorable trips out into the Tory heartland of rural Canterbury. To quote myself in Watchdog 93 (April 2000; “Waste Management: Darfield Dump Dumped”):
“In the wake of the 1999 announcement of the preferred site, Dump The Dump (the Selwyn group set up to fight it) settled in for the long haul. On the Sunday after the November general election they invited the public to join them at a picnic at the dumpsite, so that the urban rubbish producers could see the future destination of their weekly black plastic rubbish bags and weekend trailer loads to the various refuse treatment plants around Christchurch. Several hundred people accepted the invitation and headed for the hills (the Malvern Hills, that is). CAFCA was represented by myself and Reg Duder. Once again, we took several hundred copies of our leaflet on Waste Management, the same one that Reg and I had handed out at the 1999 midwinter Darfield public meeting to oppose the dump (over 1,000 people had attended that). It has been well circulated throughout the Selwyn district, being included in Dump The Dump’s material at the annual Canterbury Show and at the picnic itself. Driving towards Darfield, on the West Coast highway, motorists couldn’t escape the plethora of Dump The Dump signs on the roadsides, farm gates, and in farmers’ paddocks. These people were angry.
“The three speakers at the picnic reflected the broad political opposition to the landfill. They were, in order: Sir Kerry Burke, former (Labour) Speaker and current Christchurch 2021 Canterbury Regional Councillor (now Chair of ECan, as the Regional Council is now called); the local National MP, Jenny Shipley, who was still Prime Minister, despite National having been defeated the previous weekend; and (the late) Rod Donald, Greens Co-Leader, and technically an ex-MP at that point, as the Greens had fallen short on election day (but ended up with seven MPs, once special votes were counted). Shipley said that one of the few consolations in losing the election was the time that was now available to her to fight the landfill…
“It was a very strange sensation for CAFCA people to be listening politely to Jenny Shipley from a few metres away, surrounded by her applauding constituents. Single issues definitely lead to strange bedfellows. It was all a bit much for old Reg, who had been heavily involved in the fightback against Shipley’s vicious benefit cuts and war on the poor in the early 1990s. He shouted out something (about those benefit cuts, from memory) and was promptly shoved by the rural Tory next to him. But the rain doth fall on Tory and CAFCA alike – the speeches were abruptly foreshortened by the opening of the heavens, everyone scattered and decided that while they were at it, they might as well go home…”.

Reg was very much the CAFCA activist until his health confined him to home for his final years. His was a very practical activism. He got stuck into to help at as many Watchdog mailouts as he could; and for years he was the CAFCA driver – picking up Watchdog from the printers; getting it to NZ Post; transporting banners and placards to each and every picket or protest; driving me (a non-driver) wherever was beyond bike range (such as speaking engagements, both in Christchurch and out in the wop wops); taking responsibility for delivering, quite literally at a coughing, spluttering stagger in some cases, Colleen’s magnificent suppers to the Annual General Meetings which he attended as often as possible. I have fond memories of Reg my chauffeur in his increasingly battle scarred old Lada (in which he’d been hassled by the far Right nutters who plagued the drivers of “Communist” cars in the 80s. Reg had made a citizen’s arrest of one of them when he got sick of the harassment). He was the only person to back into our letterbox twice – it would have been three times but he hit me instead. On one morning mailout trip to the Christchurch Postal Centre the bloody car stalled at every set of lights on the one way street in rush hour traffic. I had visions of having to get out and carry several hundred Watchdogs through the streets (the car made it).

My all time favourite Reg story involves the potentially disastrous combination of his driving and smoking. We were coming home across the Canterbury Plains on a pitch black midwinter night, having distributed hundreds of CAFCA leaflets at a huge public meeting in Darfield to oppose the proposed dump (see above for details). He suddenly announced that he could smell something burning, so we pulled over and discovered his jersey smouldering away in the back seat. He was prone to coughing and hoicking out the driver’s window as he drove, plus chucking out his cigarette butt for good measure. The latter had gone straight in the back window and started a fire. Many and wonderful were the motoring stories which explained his arriving late at various meetings – everything seemed to happen to Reg and his car.

Reg’s Legacy To CAFCA Lives On

As I’ve said, his illhealth rendered Reg housebound for years, nearly all of the first decade of the 21st Century in fact. But that didn’t stop his political activism. Only a few years ago he joined the Anti-Bases Campaign and he valued his membership of that so much that he made a point of paying his sub the last time I saw him alive, just weeks before his death, even though he was obviously dying. CAFCA committee meetings are rotated around the homes of members, so every couple of months Reg would be our host, a task which he took very seriously because he was extremely proud of being on the committee (more than once he offered his resignation because he apologised that his health prevented him pulling his weight – we always declined and told him we valued his company and that he could have committee membership for life, which he did). There was nothing wrong with his mind, right up until the end, so he played a full part in those committee meetings held at his home - even when he could no longer wear pants because of the fluid buildup in his legs caused by terminal kidney failure (I’d seen the same symptom when my father was dying and knew that Reg’s death was imminent).

Reg was a man of forceful opinions, forcefully and frequently expressed. At meetings, he was prone to rhetorically bewail a perceived lack of public support for CAFCA’s good work. Whatever the issue under discussion, Reg would declaim “rampant bloody apathy” – which Colleen describes as his “favourite oxymoron” - as his explanation of where the masses were at (and I must say that I disagreed with him then and still do now). That became his signature phrase at committee meetings. He and I had another one which we shared and which was the last thing I ever said to him as I left his final meeting. I always used to jokingly tell him to “calm your shattered nerves, Reg”, to which he’d splutter and roar in reply “calm my shattered nerves is bloody right”. It arose because he always seemed to be in a fluster whenever I, or the committee, saw him. He lived life at full throttle, which does that to your composure. So, Reg, old mate, good friend, for one last time I’ll say to you “calm your shattered nerves”. You’ve earned a rest, sleep easy. We won’t forget you and, speaking personally, I’ll treasure your memory.
And Reg’s legacy to CAFCA lives on, quite literally, in the person of his daughter Colleen Hughes. As long as we knew him, he lived in her flat. Virtually every year we have a strategy meeting and the 2007 one (Reg’s final one) was held at their place. One item was suggestions for new committee members. Reg nominated Colleen and spoke strongly in her favour, because of her experience as a union activist. She’d been right under our noses for years and none of the rest of us had considered her in that capacity (blokes, you see). As a direct result of that, Colleen has become a valued addition to the committee, the first time we’ve ever had two generations of one family serving on it. But that was old Reg, he was always one for firsts.

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