The traffic around town yesterday afternoon was appalling, even for New Christchurch. It was taking people two hours to get the shortest of distances. Some blamed the road works. Those of us who were at the Showgate lounge yesterday know better. Jo Giles was stopping traffic yet again.
Hers was a massive funeral. Showgate is a big venue – it was standing room only inside, raining outside, and still people were banked up out onto the lawn. You could barely see the ferraris or the racing cars for the hordes of people wearing red and black, and pink.
Sue White (the shorter Sue) suggested it. “Pink to match her race-car,” she messaged me. I consulted further. It still seemed disrespectful. “You can’t wear black to Jo’s funeral,” someone said. “She wouldn’t wear black to yours.”
The only outfit that seemed appropriate was the one I bought in the boxing replay sale on the 12th of February. I was going to wear it to the Ellerslie Flower Show that didn’t eventuate this year. A stunner from Annah Stretton, a store I suspect no longer exists in High Street. Shoes to complement it – different store, same street. And a hot pink jacket from Primarni in the UK – because the value of something does not have to equal its cost. Jo would have loved it.
I had it in my backpack when I cycled to the council briefing yesterday. Changed (even a shower) in the morning tea break. Full face, all up, 10 minutes. Years of quick changes and Liz and Lee’s training in the makeup room paid off. Jo and I both knew that you have to make every minute count, although she knew better than I did how to spend them. Baz and I left the council briefing precisely at 12. Jo’s party started at 2. I knew it was going to take us half an hour to get there. I knew how big was going to be, and I wanted a seat in the big room.
Her farewell affected the timing of our council meeting. I’d heard a whisper it was on the 22nd, before it came out in the paper. That was fed into the Council system. No way was the CCC going to have a meeting conflicting with Jo’s event. No question which would have won the day.
Baz and I got to Riccarton just before Jo did. We watched her arrive as we sat in his car, chatting about people and the last couple of weeks. We talked about how much you don’t know about people, unless you ask them to tell you about themselves. I’ve known Baz so long and argued with him so much that he’s now referred to as my ‘work spouse’. He’s the executor of my will as well. I trust him with everything except knowing where he’s meant to be and when. Then he’s hopeless. I still love him though.
There’s not much I don’t know about Baz, I think, although he continues to surprise me with the number and variety of people he knows. Going anywhere with Cr Corbett is like it used to be going shopping at Northlands with my Dad – or the way it was for Jo’s kids and her blokes – a long slow process of greeting and laughing and connection and respect.
At 12.52pm, a month and a minute after the earth threw us up in the air and broke our hearts, he and I walked into the venue. We took our seats, and then the world arrived to say goodbye to Jo.
Julie-Anne Jones waited for Dancing Queen to finish before leading us into Jo’s farewell. (I can’t bring myself to use the “f” word – if I write it down then it’s real and that’s too horrible to contemplate.) Her mother, poor poor brave Joan ( nobody should have to bury their child, least alone a child like Jo) told of us what it was like to raise a little girl who went on to become the first female jockey in the country. A champion pistol shooter. Race car driver, radio jock, TV megastar, real estate saleswoman, political aspirant, matchmaker, competitive flirt (it wasn’t her Mum that told us that, but everyone else did), loving friend – and mum to four of the most gorgeous kids you’ll ever see. If you wanted the collective noun for them it would have to be a Forrest of Giles, or perhaps a Gump of the same. As they spoke, the beautiful Anna, Sam and Liv and “I’m Jo’s son – James” were each so special and so different, you could see facets of Jo shining on the stage. (Probably a bit of their dads in there as well – but they’d be fighting a losing battle trying to get genetic control away from Jo’s genes. The kids are a box of chocolates full of Jo’s traits, threaded together with love and fun and wit and charm. Their mother’s indeed.
James won’t remember meeting me, but I can remember the day I met him. Jo bounced up to me in the carpark at CHTV and introduced us, eyes sparkling and full of glee. My boys were about the same age as James. It makes it so hard to go to one of these things and watch those kids up there and not have that pain in your gut because they so easily could have been yours sitting there and you could be the one under the bright flowers.
It was a bad move sitting in the back row with Brigid, especially with the other Sue, the shorter Sue, on her far side. It was the tale Anna told of “fun with foreigners” that resulted in getting the giggles like a pair of kids. Sometimes laughter is just tears coming out another way.
Jo’s second Dave, the man she did spend the rest of her life with, told us of her latest passion, her road biking. Spoke of holding hands as they cycled. Sitting together in paddocks, laughing and hoping and watching the stock go by.
Linda, the lifelong friend, shone a light on a facet of Jo I knew well. A fierce competitor, always up for the next challenge, game to try anything, not afraid to lose or win.
Judith and her hubby rolled footage I’d never seen, of Jo on her first day as the host of Susan Sells. I can’t remember being away in Auckland, but that’s where she said I was. That was of course after she had swashed and buckled her way around a paddock, wielding a cardboard sword and wearing a somewhat floppy Crusaders helmet. You need to understand this sketch also involved “Conquest of Paradise, and a grey horse wearing a Norths Bread saddle cloth and a slightly startled expression. When I hosted the show I thought wearing selling stuff while wearing very low cut ball gowns was out there. Jo had a good long look at where out there was and just keep right on going.
Jo’s first Dave honoured his promise to his former wife and their children. He spoke of Jo. He kept it real. It says something about a person’s character and ability to really let go and love when your ex husband is welcome to speak at your funeral. Jo may not have been meant to be married to #1 Dave but she cared about him so much that (or so he told us) she even had a girlfriend of hers lined up for him. A beauty, she had promised. We in the sisterhood know you don’t send girlfriends you love to men you don’t like. The mysterious beauty, Dave pointed out, never eventuated. A timing issue, right to the end.
When Julie-Anne asked for those who needed to speak to come forward, I had no choice. Baz said “don’t do it unless you want to.” It wasn’t about wanting to. It was about being told to.
That’s the only time in my life I’ve dreaded public speaking. I’ve had a knot in my gut ever since the 22nd and it’s had Jo’s name on it. The thing I’ve learned from her out of all of this mess is that you mustn’t leave things unspoken, because you never know when you’re saying goodbye. Once I did, that horrible knot untied itself. Jo – you really were a bloody good broadcaster, and a true Crusader, and I wish I’d spent more time with you. Time was something you seemed to have so much of. I suspect you still do.
There were others who spoke, a standing ovation for Jo, but the magic of time and space and the love that will not die hit home when a beautiful blonde woman, whose name I didn’t catch told us her tale of Jo. Of a picnic and a coffee vendor and missing wallets and flirting and barter. And as her time was up and her tale came to end, she paused, turned, let fly with a stunning smile, looked #1 Dave straight in the eye and said “And by the way – that woman Jo was settting you up with – was me.”
That beautiful blonde knows you don’t leave things unsaid. Now, if that isn’t a match made in heaven – I don’t know what is.