Tamahere, rugby stalwart dies

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Rex Pickering, a Tamahere community and rugby stalwart, died yesterday (Tuesday, July 5) in Cambridge, aged 79.

A proud Rex Pickering (Photo: Mark Taylor, Waikato Times)
A proud Rex Pickering (Photo: Mark Taylor, Waikato Times)

Pickering and wife Christine were honoured for their more than 40 years of community service and dedication to the St Stephen’s parish two years ago, in August 2014.

Pickering, who in life was Waikato’s oldest living All Black, had a lifetime dedication to rugby, representing Waikato at provincial level and the All Blacks for over a decade.

A loose forward and lock, Pickering played 21 matches for the All Blacks including three internationals between 1957 and 1969.

Born in Te Kuiti on November 23, 1936, and educated at Nelson College, Pickering moved to Hamilton after finishing his schooling in 1954 to look for work. He lived with his grandmother and an uncle introduced him to the Frankton rugby club.

From then on it was Frankton forever, including a coaching stint with the senior side in the late `60s.

“I was involved with Frankton all my life,” Pickering said when reminiscing in 2010.

“In those days, no cars, I had to bike from Claudelands down to Frankton and we had no changing rooms, we had to get changed under the hedge.”

Rugby recollections

Of his All Blacks achievements, he said he was “extremely proud” and his rugby career had been “quite exciting”.

He was called into the 1957 All Blacks team to face Western New South Wales in Sydney. He was just a kid.

“Nervous? Aw heck yes. I was the youngest in the team for a while and you’ve got to prove yourself,” he said in 2011. “I had a couple of good friends in the team – Ron Hemi and Ponty Reid. They were heroes of mine and played for the same club and I thought, well, I’ve really got to get stuck in and stick with it.”

The team won and Pickering went on to play his 21 games and three tests for the ABs. His first points came in his second game, his first test came against Australia in 1958. There followed a mammoth, three-month tour of South Africa in 1960, with trials against such now-extinct foes as a Rhodesian XV.

He was in Waikato teams that defeated South Africa 14-10 in 1956, France 22-3 in 1961, and drew with Australia 14-14 in 1958, captaining the Mooloos on 18 occasions. He was the only player in the country to score tries against both the 1956 and 1965 Springboks.

He played his 104th and final game for Waikato in a losing Ranfurly Shield challenge against Auckland in 1965. He never won the Ranfurly Shield in his 11 years for Waikato at a time, he later acknowledged, when winning the shield was a particularly big issue.

Parish stalwarts

The Pickerings have been members of the St Stephen’s parish for more than 40 years and have been involved in everything from the re-building of the church after it was razed by fire to the iconic Christmas Festival.

In August 2014, Waikato Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley made a presentation to the couple, which noted their contribution ranging from friendship to fundraising.

Rex Pickering manning the bbq at Tamahere Market
Rex Pickering on the bbq for the Tamahere Market sausage sizzle

A letter of recognition from the Anglican Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki noted the Pickerings’ many contributions, commitments and initiatives including the rebuilding of the church following a fire in the 1970s, the subsequent expansion of the church and hall, the establishment of the influential “Wednesday-School” attended by hundreds of Tamahere School children, and the long-running Christmas Festival supported by year-round craft and fellowship activities in The Barn on their Tamahere lifestyle block.

The citation ended by acknowledging the couple’s self-effacing, low-key and team approach: “For your humble, gracious willingness to serve Christ’s church, regardless of recognition or personal reward, we offer you our most sincere thanks.”

Pickering is survived by Christine, children Andrew, Matthew and Tessa, their spouses, and grandchildren, Daniel, Jessica, Mason, Justin, Aoife, Ben and Ciara.

His funeral will be held on Saturday, July 9, at 1pm, in St Andrews Anglican Church, Cambridge. Attendees are urged to wear bright clothes.

More on this topic: Local All Black reminisces

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