Darryl Hawker: One heck of a good guy

It’s wet, cold and miserable on Sunday morning as I walk towards Christchurch Hospital. I know the situation in a room in ward 25 will be even bleaker.

Darryl Hawker, 64, was gravely ill. It has all happened fairly quickly and ended on Wednesday night when he passed away.

His partner Rose called me on Friday, saying he was keen to see me.

She tells me he has a lung disease caused by his work as a plasterer. A lung transplant is now not an option.

I’ve known Darryl since the mid-80s when he was running around as a loose forward for the champion Halswell premier rugby league side.

It was a great era of club league with the legendary Halswell-Hornby grand-finals and Hawker was usually in the thick of the action.

After his football career he became a top line referee, and also made his name in lawn bowls as a player, coach and selector.

His background support of schoolboy rugby league and mentoring young bowlers over the years was not headline stuff, but it has been a major part of Darryl’s sporting DNA.

I meet Rose and we go into his room. He has hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an inflammation of the airspaces caused by hypersensitivity to inhaled organic dusts.

He looks up from the chair he is propped up in, clearly struggling to breathe.

“Hi mate, it’s good to see ya,” I say. Asking how he is just doesn’t seem right.

“Would you like to swap,” he responds, in his typical no-nonsense straight to the point way.

“Not really,” I say.

We make some small talk, and Rose’s cellphone keeps going off, friends, former teammates all wanting to know how he is.

Bowling mate Ron Matheson and his wife Margaret have arrived, and Canterbury Bulls coach Darrell Coad pops in.

From his chair, Darryl tries to talk to me, but it is hard through the oxygen mask and he takes it off.

A nurse comes in with morphine. He drinks it quickly to keep the pain at bay.

Rose says he developed a cough about three years ago when he returned from Hong Kong, which he put down to something he had picked up on the plane.

“Darryl being Darryl” he didn’t go to the doctor.

Darryl Hawker (2015). Photo: Geoff Sloan
Darryl Hawker (2015). Photo: Geoff Sloan
Months later, Rose convinced him to go to the doctor. It wasn’t just a cough.

He had never worn a mask during his 17 of years plastering and this, she says, is why he is where he is today.

She and Darryl have been battling ACC which has refused to accept his claim as work-related. Medical evidence suggests differently.

That rankles with him. “He’s paid his taxes, paid his levies, never been on a benefit,” says Rose.

We get back to talking rugby league.

I ask Darryl what his most memorable game was. “The first grand-final.” Halswell beat Hornby 17-16 in that memorable 1985 final, a feat which was repeated two years later with another one-point win over Hornby (15-14), field goals by the mercurial Phil Bancroft being the difference between the sides.

“Who were your most respected teammates?”

“All of them,” he says. I try to get a little more out of him. “They were all the same.”

“What about your opponents?”

“They were all hard,” he gets out.

“Who was your most respected opponent then?”

“Wayne Wallace,” he says quickly. “A very good footballer. He could read a game.”

Darryl is starting to run out of breath.

I ask: “What are your personal milestones?”

“Looking after the school kids and teaching them,” he says.

Rose chips in: “The game (league) to him was very good and he wanted to put something back into the game. That has mattered most to him. He’s been a match manager for rugby league. He’d be up at 6am to set up the fields.”

Rose Williams and Darryl Hawker on Tuesday. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Rose Williams and Darryl Hawker on Tuesday. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Darryl mentions he took up amateur wrestling in his 20s, winning Canterbury and South Island titles and finishing third in a New Zealand championship.

“Now I know when you tackled someone they stayed pinned on the ground,” I say.

He smiles from behind the mask. It’s getting time to go. How do you say goodbye.

“We’ll mate I’d better get going,” I say with a lump in my throat.

In an instant out comes his hand. I take it and we shake.

“Been a pleasure,” he muffles.

“See ya mate,’’ I reply and I disappear.

It’s been great to know a true servant to Canterbury sport.

  • Darryl’s condition deteriorated rapidly overnight Tuesday. He was put on more morphine and doctor’s began to sedate him yesterday morning. He died on Wednesday night.

barry@starmedia.kiwi

 

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