People with intellectual disabilities have lost a strong advocate and a true friend with the death of Charlie Waigth in Auckland.
Charlie died on 9 November 2020 at the age of 96 after working for 50 years with IHC to make lives better for disabled people.
It was a personal crusade at first. Charlie and Mary’s daughter Catherine was born with Down syndrome in 1961. They were living in Takapau in southern Hawkes Bay when Catherine turned five, and there were no services for her. Charlie set out to change that.
Charlie’s story traces the milestones of IHC – from the early pre-schools and occupational centres to special schools and institutions, then bringing people out of institutions to live in the community. He adapted to the changes as IHC moved from branch autonomy to centralised management and encouraged others to adapt too.
He acknowledged that some of the changes had been painful. In 1972, he and Mary were persuaded by a social worker that Catherine should leave Kingswood Special School and go to Mangere Training Hospital, which had recently opened. Catherine struggled to adjust.
Charlie wasn’t a person to sit back and wait for other people to help. He was one of a breed of do-it-yourselfers in IHC who built our services from the ground up. In New Zealand’s small towns in the 1960s, there was little support for families who had a child with an intellectual disability so Charlie and others would get IHC branches going wherever they happened to be.
When Charlie eventually retired after 50 years of serving on IHC committees, he made one condition. If the IHC Counties Association was going to put on a lunch for him then he didn’t want any speeches. With characteristic humility, he said that he was just one of many people in many communities trying to improve services and lives for their children with disabilities.
Charlie was made an IHC New Zealand Life Member in 2011.
Mary died in 1998. There were five daughters: Theresa, Catherine (deceased), Jeannie, Mary and Linda (deceased). Catherine, who lived in IHC residential services for many years, died in 2013.