Larger than life character mourned

The late John Hughes. Photo: supplied
The late John Hughes. Photo: supplied
Queenstown has lost one of its most popular characters.

John Hughes, who died, aged 65, of a medical event last Thursday, was widely known as a rubbish truck driver for his beaming smile, signature wave and infectious laugh.

Those who knew him well also hail his big-hearted nature, typified by constantly giving away sweet treats, and his storytelling over a beer or two.

Hughes — full name Te Haiana John Hughes — was brought up, the oldest of four siblings, in Morrinsville, in the Waikato.

His mum Rita Hughes, left to largely bring up the family herself, recalls he was very loyal to her.

"And he’d bend over backwards to help anybody."

After extensive overseas travel, he landed in Queenstown in the 1990s and got work driving a rubbish truck for Sir John Davies’ Northern Southland Transport.

For a time he drove the Nevis bungy bus for allied company AJ Hackett, and also had a spell working in Queensland.

He returned to Queenstown and all-up spent 28 years working for Davies companies, latterly AllWaste, where he collected skips from building sites, in particular, and also trained new owner drivers.

When last year he told his boss Malcolm Dodds he was approaching his 27th anniversary with the company and hadn’t been in a chopper, he was shouted a surprise helicopter trip on the day.

Last Thursday he’d been in Dodds’ office requesting, and being granted, three weeks’ more leave to recover from knee replacement surgery — he’d not long had his other knee done, too.

"As he left I said to [admin manager] Mark [McKone], ‘he’s looking the best he’s looked in four years’.

"We heard before he went in for his recent operation, someone met up with him and he had a big bag of biscuits and said ‘I’m taking it to the hospital with me for the nurses’."

On its Facebook page, Flex Fitness gym, which he’d joined in 2019, posted: "Countless times, he would brighten our days by bringing in chocolates or biscuits, simply because he thought of us while doing his grocery shopping."

McKone says "if he had a fault, it was he got on so well with everybody his work days sort of got longer and longer".

Councillor and broadcaster Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson says when he played age-group rugby in Hamilton he’d often clash with this "big Māori boy" playing for Morrinsville Old Boys.

Then, coming to Queenstown and discovering John when he arrived, "we struck up a friendship straight away".

"We had a secret wave — when I was driving down the road he would flash me in the truck, I knew it was Hughesy, and he did it, I did it."

In a full-circle moment, Ferguson’s daughter Greer nursed him through knee surgery.

Dodds says John talked about working one more summer before returning to Morrinsville.

Friend Ben Stanbridge says he’d also planned to revisit old friends in places he’d visited and worked at during his OE in Europe, the UK and America.

"He always had the best stories from his adventures."

Another friend, Andy Poole, notes he was "a hugely loyal friend, very dependable, and concerned with his friends’ wellbeing".

"Any good deed Jono received from someone he would remember for life, it seemed, and it would be repaid 10 times over to that person."

Claire Pattinson says "he wasn’t a show pony, he was genuinely him, and just that constant for everybody, which was really nice".

As was his "sweet hairdo — a nice mullet haircut going on".

Davies salutes his long-time employee’s "great sense of humour", how he "mixed very well with everybody" and his "very diligent" work ethic.

John’s funeral’s being held in Matamata this coming Monday at 11am and is being livestreamed by Jones & Company Funeral Services.

His mother Rita can be contacted at hughesrita35