Journalist, comforter, friend to all

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PAT Veltkamp Smith’s friends and colleagues poured into St Theresa’s Church on Tuesday to acknowledge a person who had given so much to so many, to celebrate a life well-lived, and say farewell to a much-loved Southland identity.

As well as a pioneer in the women’s movement, Pat was also a journalist of 57 years, still writing a weekly column for The Southland Times until her sudden illness.

Michael Fallow, of The Times, spoke at Pat’s farewell, describing her as witty, strong, calm and compassionate.

Born and raised in Invercargill, Patricia (nee Flannery) always wanted a career in journalism – never reporting, which she had said sounded too much like snitching.

Her career, which began in 1962, helped women. She led by example and was the only woman in an Invercargill newsroom for many years. It was an era when women were not identified as who they were… as an individual, instead being referred to as a Mrs ‘somebody’, and no Christian names were used when reporting, he said.

Pat became an “agony aunt” almost by accident (some might say it was meant to be), when her brother Jim handed over his agony aunt column printed in the Southland Daily News. Pat eventually ended up there as the Women’s Editor.

Eventually the Southland Daily News and The Southland Times amalgamated in the late 1960s, and Pat was still the only woman in the newsroom.

“Pat never grew old,” Michael said, she was girlish… eternally youthful… and was “generous of spirit”, which was most likely why she was such a magnet for so many.

Her office at The Times became a pilgrimage for Southland women… and Pat wrote about the highlights, the traditions, what was good.

She was also a magnet for her colleagues.

“That office of hers really became a comfort for her colleagues… offering encouragement, helping the stressed, upset, or just for conversation.”

Michael summed up what many felt… saying “she was as loved as she was loving”.

Her son, Joseph Veltkamp said his mother had an “inquisitive nature”… and a “vast number of people” from all walks of life called her their confidant, friend, neighbour. She was only a telephone call away and offered many empathy, compassion, and always made time for anyone who needed it.

Her “unwavering faith” was also a comfort to others.

Pat was a member of the Highland Dancing, Girl Guides, Dutch Club, Dominican Ex-Pupils, and a life member of the National Council of Women and Southland Women’s Club. She had also been a Justice of the Peace for 44 years, which was handy when the family lived opposite the Police Station on Don St and documents needed to be signed by a JP, Joseph said.

Clever and supportive, Pat had a “wonderful smile”, and her sense of humour would brighten up the room, Joseph said.

“She had unconditional love and loyal support for his father Ben (who predeceased Pat), her four brothers, and her second husband Rev Ivan Smith.”

As Joseph said, “A bright star has gone out of our lives.”

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