Charlie’s lifetime crusade is over
Charlie Waigth was a lifetime crusader for his daughter Catherine and for people with intellectual disabilities throughout the country.
Charlie died in Auckland on 9 November 2020 at the age of 96, after working for 50 years with IHC.
It was a personal crusade at first. Charlie and Mary’s daughter Catherine was born in 1961 with Down syndrome. They were living in Takapau in southern Hawke’s 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 the closure of institutions.
He acknowledged that some of the changes were painful. In 1972, he and Mary were persuaded by a social worker that Catherine should leave Kingswood Special School and go to Mangere Hospital & Training School, which had recently opened. But 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.
Charlie was a postmaster and moved towns with his family every couple of years. This meant the family often had to start from scratch to provide for Catherine. He helped to set up the Central Hawke’s Bay sub-branch in 1966, the Pahiatua sub-branch in 1968 and the Manukau sub-branch in 1974. After their move to Auckland, most of his work for IHC was in Manukau, Papakura and Counties. He was chair in Manukau for six years and Branch President of Papakura for 16 years.
He retired from the Post Office in 1980 at the age 56, after 43 years of service. He didn’t retire from his voluntary role with IHC until 2016.
In a 2010 interview, a year before he was named a New Zealand Life Member of IHC, Charlie said he was only doing what many parents were doing throughout New Zealand at the time. “You might say I was in the right place at the right time. We had to do something to get those facilities.”
When the role of IHC branch committees changed and they had less to do with property and services, Charlie saw a new important role in providing advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities both within IHC and in the community.
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 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.
His daughter Theresa says he was a gentle person with a deep faith, and Catherine enjoyed accompanying him to church each week. He loved talking with a friend over a glass of wine.
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.
Caption: Former IHC Board Member Michael Quigg (left) with New Zealand Life Member Charlie Waigth at the IHC Annual General Meeting in Wellington in 2015.