Farewell to Julie

Tena Kotou Tena Kotou Tena Kotou (Maori Greeting to all present)

This is a tribute for Julie Thomas from her many friends in New Zealand, written on behalf by Jill Evans. To be read at her memorial service.

We are all having a lot of difficulty processing the news of Julie’s sudden death. This unexpected news has left us reeling, all we can do is extend our deepest sympathy across the miles to your family and we send our love and support to you all this time.

Julie, you are one of my dearest friends. We first met on a school bus when we were seventeen years old and we have remained “good buddies” over the following fifty years sharing the highs and lows of our lives as they unfolded. I knew then you were someone exceptional on that first day we met and so it proved to be true.

Back then you were an adventurous, vivacious young girl looking to expand your horizons and learn about the world outside by becoming an exchange student. This brought you to a farm on the outskirts of Invercargill New Zealand. An extreme contrast.

Rather than being overwhelmed you quickly embraced family life, school life, and farm life and made the most of every opportunity. Bruce and Margaret Caldwell and family welcomed and adopted you as a daughter which was remarkable because they already had four feisty daughters of their own, Glenys, Robyn, Margaret, and Raewyn. You were accepted and loved by the whole extended family and this continued on until today.

Julie with Maori Friends

Your quirky sense of humor along with your smile and laughter would melt hearts. I recall once when you were giving a seminar on Earthquakes in our Geography class you handed out the notes all written in shaky handwriting. Mr Calvert our teacher was not amused but did manage a wry smile.

You embraced the Maori Culture of New Zealand and grew to love the language, rituals, and music. The Whau Whau family took you under their wing and shared many happy times with you. You always loved the indigenous culture and respected diversity. You were wise beyond your years.

Julie with Maori Family

Back in the day, we partied only teenagers know-how. We wore flared jeans and love beads and wrote the peace sign on our bags. We talked a lot and could not understand why the world had so much conflict. Life was much simpler then.

It was a sad day for all of us when your year was completed and you returned to the USA to begin College life. You always said some strong foundations for your life were laid down back then.

You were politically aware like no other person I know. Sometimes I thought your views were crazy but they always turned out to be true. You said George Bush was a warmonger. You said the environment of the planet was being exploited by corporate companies. You claimed young black people were being shot by police long before the Black Lives Matter movement began. It came as no surprise to you  when radical Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building. You did your best to put the world to right. You protested and railed against the system. You were never backwards at coming forward and I admired you greatly for that.

Caldwell Family

Your beautiful daughter Shauna came along and changed your life for the good.

You became a devoted mother and with little support raised her as a solo mum while holding down a teaching job working with students with English as a second language. No mean feat. You gave everything 100%.

You then met Christian who soon became your loving and patient husband. He was the Yin to your Yang. You both made your home in Pacifica on the coastline of San Francisco and established a NZ style garden on the hillside. You welcomed us several times and we shared happy gatherings together, You also returned to NZ regularly and we were looking forward to your planned visit next year, The last time you came we attended a reunion of our classmates from school back in 1972. You danced like there was no tomorrow.

Your then year old grandson Kingston is “the apple of your eye”. You helped Shauna raise him and loved him very much. You didn’t like being separated from him for any length of time hence reason for you being in Hawaii when this tragedy happened.

I am sure Kingston has learned all the strong values I have talked about as he has grown up alongside your kindness and caring and honesty. It is my hope he will carry these on for you to create a bright future for himself. Your strength will now be passed on to those you love to carry forward.

Our home is always open to your family here in New Zealand. It would be nice if we could scatter some of your ashes on our shore.