Kees’ back­bone al­ways stronger than his wish­bone

Cor­nelus Jo­han Frans Poort­man (Kees) May 25, 1928 – Oc­to­ber 27, 2018

Waikato Times - - Opinion -

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.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

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.

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