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The Region Farewells A Good Man

Mervyn James Forbes George was born in Whitianga in 1953 and in his 71 years he packed in what seemed like a century of initiative, service, leadership, organisation, compassion, honest business and love for his fellow human beings – all with the purpose of improving peoples’ lives and their experience of service.
 |  Pauline Stewart  | 

His love was his family, his community and service. His reward was the deep and lasting friendship and admiration of colleagues, firefighters, neighbours, rugby players, golfers, people of all ages across the Coromandel and across this country. Merv lived with the attitude that his ‘cup was full’, and he helped to enable so many others experience that their cup was full.

Close to a thousand people gathered at the Whitianga Fire Station last Saturday morning for the funeral of Mervyn George.

The brigade and their family members had prepared well for a very large crowd. Only the week before, a lesser crowd of over 200 had gathered at the Fire Station of which Merv had been Chief Fire Officer for 34 years, for a very different occasion – the presentation of two 50-year service medals for two brothers, Spida and Grassy Mangin. Merv could not be there for this joyful, unique celebration. He had only just returned from Waikato Hospital to be with his family for his final days.

His colleagues and regional leaders of the Fire Service spoke of him in a concerned way that evening – all missing his presence.

Just twenty-four hours later, Sunday, 28 April, Merv George died at his home with his beloved family, Greer and his children-around him. The news descended like a dark cloud.

Saturday’s service was deeply emotional for everyone present. Loving appreciation of all that Merv meant to people and all that he had done and made possible was expressed with eloquence and deep emotion by all who spoke. Officiating was Rev Ian Diprose, Chaplain Whitianga Fire Brigade.

Ian uplifted everyone with his words of faith and his clear love of Merv, sometimes his voice breaking. He wore the cross on his jacket that Merv had given to him some years before.

Greer, Merv’s wife and one of Merv’s sons, Brayden, paid the first tributes, speaking bravely and poignantly. Greer spoke about their marriage – 48 years, and that he came home from hospital on their 48th wedding anniversary. She shared experiences of their young life in Whitianga, Merv’s working years, and the shared joy of their seven mokupuna.

Towering in mana and achievement; great in love and compassion

Greer asked the question, ‘How do you share adequately, 48 years spent with the love of your life?’ She concluded with a brief waiata to express her sorrow and deep love. Brayden spoke proudly about how his Dad was his hero and his guide.

Other tributes were made by Joe Davis – kaumatua Ngati Hei, Grant George – Merv’s younger brother, Roly Chaney – Chief Fire Officer, Whitianga Fire Brigade, Brian Hunter – United Fire Brigade Association, David Guard – Australasian involvement in Fire Brigade competitions, Eric Gaskell – Mercury Bay Rugby Club (Merv revived the Rugby Club in 1974, was President from 1979-1982, coach for many years, and was made a Life Member of the club).

The service Merv loved most was as a volunteer for the Whitianga Fire Brigade for 48 years and five months, and his good friend and current Chief Fire Officer, Roly Chaney, in his tribute, outlined some of Merv’s achievements as a member of the New Zealand Fire Service.

• Chief Fire Officer – 34 years

• Fire Fighter of the year – 1992

• Gold Star – 2000

• Mana Award – 2022

• Judge and Referee Waterway Challenges – CFOA

• Queen’s Service Medal – 2010

The reverent pageantry at the close of the service will be remembered for a long time – The Guard of Honour formed by the Whitianga Fire Brigade – the pall bearers processing military style to place the coffin in the magnificently polished vintage 1934 Leyland Cub Appliance. All firefighters present added to the Guard of Honour to witness Merv’s final farewell procession – fire appliance, 1934 Leyland Cub Appliance, second fire appliance, Fire and Rescue van – through the town he so dearly loved.

Words spoken about Merv

“We had a beautiful childhood….He saved my life twice – literally.” Grant George “Dad would say when he was being thanked for something, ‘Why all the fuss and the big deal?’ That’s because he was always celebrating and bringing into the light everyone else.” Braden George

“He was not afraid to voice his opinion. He always got his point across. You have left a huge hole. Stand down Merv. Permission to rest and sleep soundly.” Roly Chaney

“He was astute…forward in giving his opinion. When it came to difficulties, it was never about the size of the dog in the fight, but about the fight and the dog.”

Brian Hunter

“He was a principled and selfless man…. Merv would take the lead with a strong resolve to do the right thing.” David Guard

“I will not forget Merv’s laugh, his smile, his dedication and loyalty… neither will I forget his impassioned speech to the UFBA in Nelson, 2007. “Please do not play politics with Emergency Services in NZ.” He demanded that they “develop and deliver an integrated model for emergency services.” A decade later it happened.”

David MacFarlane

‘I coached along side him. He was Iike a good pig dog when it came to sorting things out.. He got the Rugby Club into shape. He was so dedicated.” Eric Gaskell

“Merv would say, ‘Let’s not just have a look at doing this; let’s get it done.’” Walter Rusell CFM radio interview

Open tributes:

“Merv and Greer always knew how much they meant to each other.

At the close, nothing was left unsaid.”

“If he wasn’t holding your hand, he was holding your back.”

Merv’s daughter Tyler

Every fire fighter from across the region formed a Guard of Honour for Merv’s final drive around his beloved Whitianga.

• The day of Merv George’s funeral was also International Fire Fighters Day marked around the world, and on a national level in Wellington, was The Firefighter Challenge like an ‘Iron Man’ contest for volunteer firefighters. It’s earned the reputation of being ‘the toughest two minutes in sport’.

• Mercury Bay Rugby Club had a scheduled home game at 2.00pm the day of Mervyn George’s funeral. Because Merv was a Life Member, they decided to still play the game – something he would have wanted. The score was even – 13 for MB and Whangamata – a tough game on a day of grief. Merv was a great man to every player in the Mercury Bay Rugby Club.