Kees’ backbone always stronger than his wishbone
Cornelus Johan Frans Poortman (Kees) May 25, 1928 – October 27, 2018
The motto that hung in Kees Poortman’s home office read: ‘‘The wishbone will never replace the backbone’’. Kees was born in the Dutch East Indies where his father Marius was a rubber plantation manager. The plantation at Majang in Northern Sumatra was a remote and exotic place where Kees and his younger sister Mary were homeschooled by their mother.
The family had many pets (cats, dogs, goats) and the nearby jungle was home to a large variety of wildlife including gibbons and tigers.
In 1939, at age 11, the family travelled to Holland for a six-month vacation. After his parents and sister returned to Sumatra, Kees stayed in Holland to attend secondary school.
For six years, after the German army occupied Holland, Kees lost contact with his parents and sister, not knowing if they were dead or alive.
Most of the time Kees lived with his aunt and uncle next to railway lines in Utrecht.
British bombers frequently targeted trains on those lines, and Kees and his cousin watched many a strike from the roof of their house.
At the end of the war Kees was reunited with his parents and Mary who had been held in internment camps by the Japanese.
His uncle Han, a bridge engineer, died as a Japanese prisoner-of-war while working on the infamous Burma ‘‘death railway’’.
Kees continued his schooling in Holland, then started two years compulsory military service, training Son Peter with the Royal Dutch Air Force. But he felt that Indonesia was his real home, so he volunteered to serve the second year of his military service there.
After the completion of his service, Kees had the choice of repatriating to Holland, Indonesian citizenship, or emigration to South Africa, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.
On arrival in New Zealand in May 1950, Kees immediately began his obligation to the NZ government as a farm worker.
The first farm he worked on was on the corner of Tramway and Alderson Roads, an area that is now well within the Hamilton urban boundary.
Every year Kees moved to a new farm somewhere in the Waikato, and acquired new skills, including working a team of draft horses. On one farm at Te Kawa he found a carved wooden bowl (a Ma¯ ori kumete) he donated to the Te Awamutu Museum.
After completing his compulsory two years of farm work, Kees took a job as a trainee technician at the Hamilton Telephone Exchange.
In 1953 he met Lisa, a fellow immigrant from Holland, and the following year they were married. Prior to this Kees returned to farm work because farm cottages went with the job.
Life was good, and over the following seven years the family grew with the arrival of four children.
Kees worked hard on the farms, while Lisa looked after the children and the homes. In 1962 the family moved to Morrinsville where Kees started work as a tanker driver for the Morrinsville Dairy Company.
In 1969 Kees changed careers again to work in the life insurance industry, initially for Provident Life Assurance in Hamilton. The family moved to Hamilton in 1973, and Kees set to work landscaping and developing the section, as well as finishing the interior of the new house. Three years later Kees transferred to a job as an agent with Government Life Insurance.
He later worked for one year with State Insurance until his retirement in 1988 at age 60.
In his retirement Kees had many interests. He loved computers and acquired the first of many in 1992. As well as internet research and email, he used these to meticulously record a daily diary and daily weather observations.
Computers also allowed him to indulge his other passion of photography – the main subjects being the inhabitants of the Hamilton Zoo. The love of animals that developed during his childhood in Sumatra motivated Kees to work as a volunteer zoo host at the Hamilton Zoo.
For two days each week for almost 14 years he shared his extensive knowledge of the animals with visitors. This work earned Kees a Waikato Environment Volunteer Of The Year award in 2000, and in 2009 he was presented with the Hamilton City Civic Award in recognition of his zoo hosting services.
Kees’ desire to give to the community also saw him and Lisa delivering meals for the Red Cross ‘‘Meals On Wheels’’ volunteer scheme.
They worked their Beerescourt route for more than 18 years, covering well over 26,000 kilometres and delivering 10,293 meals (as usual he kept meticulous records on his computer).
In his spare time, he built up a large model car collection that adorned the walls of his downstairs office.
He was also a talented sketch artist, and skilled handyman. One of his finest creations was a perfect 1/48 scale model of their first home in Morrinsville. The roof could lift off to reveal an exact replica of the house interior and fittings. He papered the miniature’s walls with wallpaper from the real house, while the floors had the same lino and carpet.
Age eventually took its toll on Kees and Lisa, and in 2015 they moved to the Eventide Retirement Village in Tamahere. A few years later Lisa moved into hospital care at Assisi Rest Home, and Kees followed her there a year later.
Son Peter said Kees was true to the creed on his wall and promoted kindness, helpfulness, and consideration for others. He was a quiet and humble man who sought to always give more than he took.
Kees was a devoted husband to Lisa; loved father and father-in-law of Mariette, Peter and Noi, Cynthia and Warren Bunn, and Linda and Paul Roe; grandfather of Jenni and Scott Fenwick, Nick and Alicia, Alex, Geoffrey, Kieren, and Martyn; and great-grandfather of Isabelle, Jacob, and Arya Rose.
Dad was a quiet and humble man who sought to always give more than he took.
A Life Story tells of a New Zealander who helped to shape the Waikato community. If you know of someone whose story should be told, please email Charles.Riddle@wintec.ac.nz
Kees Poortman was a volunteer at the Hamilton Zoo and had a fascination with wildlife born from his early years in Sumatra.
The stairwell to Richard Swainson’s residence and business at Auteur House is an insurmountable barrier or a test of resolve — depending on how you look at it.