Tuesday, 26 May 2020


Rest in peace, Mrs Claus

On Friday afternoon, 24 January, Diana Campbell-Barnaby passed away at home in Wharekaho after a long battle with cancer.

Diana was known as Mercury Bay’s Mrs Claus and was for many years a familiar sight with her husband, Gordon Barnaby as Santa Claus, in the Whitianga Santa Parade. She and Gordon started the “Whitianga Christmas House” at their home in Protea Crescent in 1998, a tradition they continued when they moved to Wharekaho several years later. Over the past 21 years the Whitianga Christmas House hasn’t only brought joy to thousands of children of all ages, Gordon and Diana have also raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity - initially for the Make a Wish Foundation and from 2007 for the Mercury Day Camp.

Diana was born on 8 July 1938 in Timaru. She grew up in Timaru, Dunedin and Invercargill. After qualifying as a nurse in Invercargill, she moved to Auckland and got married to Naval officer, Ian Campbell, in 1961. They became the proud parents of two children, Ross and Fiona-Jean.

Ian resigned from the Navy in 1964 and joined Tasman Empire Airways Limited, later renamed Air New Zealand. He passed away following a major heart attack in April 1987.

Ian was heavily involved in the Avondale Lions Club in Auckland. In 1988, Gordon, a fellow Avondale Lion and at the time an Auckland City Councillor, asked Diana to accompany him to the gala opening of the Chase Finance Centre in Auckland. Diana recalled at her 80th birthday in 2018 that the building wasn’t fully completed and behind a wall of plush red curtains were a row of portable toilets.

Gordon and Diana started to see more of each other and on 29 April 1989 they got married. After their move to Whitianga, Gordon joined the Whitianga Lions Club and with Diana by his side, the Lions remained an important part of their life together.

Diana was a long-serving member of the parish council of St Andrew’s Community Church in Whitianga. Only two years ago, Diana discovered that she and Rev Shirley Barker-Kirby, who often officiated at St Andrew’s as guest preacher, were second cousins. Appropriately Rev Barker-Kirby conducted Diana’s standing-room-only farewell service on Tuesday last week.

Many at St Andrew’s will remember Diana for always willing to help and always being ready for any event with her signature foods - meringues, chocolate slices and savoury eggs. And whenever there was a church sales table, it was stocked with Diana’s handcrafts.

Another memory Diana recalled at her 80th birthday was when the famous Dutch violinist, André Rieu, visited New Zealand in 2008. She and Gordon left Whitianga at 5:00am and were the first to arrive at Sylvia Park in Auckland to welcome the violinist. Diana was the first to get his autograph and made the TVNZ news that night.

In 2006, in an interview for the St Andrew’s newsletter, Diana said, “I live by the words of the song, ‘If I Can Help Somebody’ -

‘If I can help somebody as I pass along.

‘Then my living shall not be in vain.’

Rest in peace, Mrs Claus. Whenever there’s a Whitianga Santa Parade, whenever there’s a Whitianga Christmas House, whenever there’s an act of kindness and yes, whenever we hear André Rieu perform, we will remember you.

Pictured: Diana Campbell-Barnaby, Mercury Bay’s Mrs Claus, passed away on Friday, 24 January at home in Wharekaho.


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