Community farewells ‘real character’

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SOUTHLAND stalwart Peter White will be remembered as “the most doting, passionate man about tennis, music and anything to be enjoyed in life”, wife Melissa Chilton says.

Four months after being diagnosed, the community figure died from motor neuron disease.

During his 26 years of living in Southland, Mr White, commonly known as Pete, had built quite the name for himself as a “real character”.

As a husband and father to 16-year-old Emma, he put his heart and soul into everything he did, Mrs Chilton said.

“Tennis was his life, as was music.

“In the tennis community, it was everyone of all ages, from the kids to the adults, the senior players, the families – he loved it, absolutely loved it with a passion, and he never would’ve wanted anything else.”

Since moving to the region in 1994, he had been with Tennis Southland as a player and coach for all ages and levels across Southland, wider New Zealand and Australia.

For the two weekends before his diagnosis, he even managed to take the Tennis Southland junior squad and senior team to competitions, Mrs Chilton said.

“The fact that he was able to take them away… and they got top results, it was the best results they’d had in a considerable amount of time and it meant the world to him.

“That was a hell of a high to go out on.”

A coach “right up until the end”, Mr White and his daughter had a “very close relationship”, which only grew stronger through their love of the sport, she said.

“She had a racquet in her hand from about the age of 2 or 3, and played at a representative level for Southland.”

Friend and former Tennis Southland chairman George Taylor said Mr White had the “greatest impact” on tennis coaching in Southland.

“He’s coached more kids than anyone else.

“He was the best with them because he was so bubbly and nice, they’d just become so relaxed when hitting the ball.”

Mr Taylor said one of the most “stand-out” memories he had was of him laughing.

“Pete was just laughing all the time, nothing was ever too serious.”

Former Balfour Tennis Club representative and friend Lynette Stevens agreed with how much young players loved him.

“He’d have fun with them but he didn’t stand for any nonsense.

“A lot of the kids he coached went on to represent Southland.”

Mrs Chilton and Mr White were married for 23 years and shared a strong love of music.

“He challenged me to play with him at a restaurant… someone after said, s**t, she makes you sound good’ – it became a running joke for years.”

Almost everyone who knew Mr White knew how much music meant to him.

Brother in-law Chris Chilton said as well as playing drums in Invercargill band Justin Funk Monkey for 20 years, Mr White was also a “talented solo entertainer” recognised as Southland Entertainer of the Year in 2000.

He formed Justin Funk Monkey in September 2000, with his wife, Mr Chilton and Richie Waters.

When Mrs Chilton left the band to have Emma, Mark Hewton joined in 2004 and the line-up remained unchanged.

Mr White also recorded two albums of his own songs, Legend In My Loungeroom in 1999 and Clear To Navigate in 2006.

He was a professional musician in Sydney in the early 1990s, and was the drummer in New Zealand-born Australian country music star, Shanley Del’s touring band.

His flatmate in Sydney was Mark Evans, who had been the first bass player for AC/DC. It was through him, Mr White was called to play a gig with members of AC/DC at the Wollongong RSL in front of 20,000 people.

“Pete said he couldn’t remember too much about it except that he played ‘Four on the Floor as hard as I could hit them’,” Mr Chilton said.

He was a notoriously hard-hitting, and therefore, loud drummer.

After a gig there would be a circular pattern of wood chips and sawdust on the carpet from where he had been hitting rimshots with his drumsticks on the metal hoop of his snare drum, Mr Chilton said.

Often his knuckles would be bloody from smacking them on the hoop.

“Pete was a renaissance man, an optimistic tower of positive energy who quickly saw the good in people and rated them by the quality of their character,” Mr Chilton said.

“His own songs were all about peace and love. For some people that may sound like a cliche, but that’s really what Pete wanted the world to be full of.”

A service to celebrate Peter White’s life will be held at ILT Stadium Southland at 1pm on Friday, July 3.

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