By John Subritzky
The sudden passing of Countdown Lynfield’s Checkout Manager, Maria Kelleher, on July 1st came as a huge shock to Countdown staff and customers, not to mention friends and family. I recall speaking to her just the previous week; she put her hand on my shoulder in a friendly gesture and told me that the next week would mark 20 years for her at Countdown. A tribute desk at the store had dozens of photos, and people queued up to sign remembrance books.
Maria left a legacy of aroha. She cared deeply about everyone that she connected with, and it showed. Her goal was always to advance others.
In 2018, Hillary Barry spent time with Maria at Countdown for the Seven Sharp show. While Hillary collected the shopping trolleys and spoke to some customers in the carpark, Maria was at the entrance engaging with everyone.
“What she also did today, and every one of the days that she has worked here for the last 18 years, is to nurture this community,” said Hillary. And to Maria: “You’re the one who is just the greatest help to all these people.” Maria replied, “I just care. They’re a great community!”
The sixth of ten children, Maria was born as her mother rode a horse named Darkie towards Rawene Hospital. Her brother acted as midwife, then they continued on the ride to hospital. Maria’s dad came from Newport, Wales. Her passions were netball and music; she played then coached netball, and was a lead singer with “The Trix” for 18 years. She was also a backing singer on the Billy T Show.
Originally working at 3Guys supermarket, Lynfield, Maria was concerned about whether she would get a job at the new Countdown that was being built in its place. She needn’t have worried. Robin Pinner, Countdown Support, spoke at the tangi (funeral) of his first impression of Maria at her employment interview. She was a standout with her personality and customer service skills, quickly advancing from Lotto to Checkout Manager, where she was like a customer concierge. Robin says how deeply she cared for her team and customers. She had an enormous smile, and no one was immune to her hugs and kisses, even with her bright red lipstick! The funeral chapel was packed with dozens of Countdown workers
Maria worked under eight managers. She would ask Robin “Where did you get this one from?” or “This one is all mixed up – they think they’re running the store!” She decided that she needed to retrain them for Lynfield. She always wanted to see people grow and she was like her team’s union delegate, wanting the best for them.
Bernie and Maria met when he was working on her car. She later intercepted him as he walked home, and invited him for dinner. That was the beginning of a special love that they shared for 30 years, spending every available minute together, and sharing their enjoyment of music. When Maria got home from work, she would symbolically hang up her troubles on the tree. She would then contact staff to make sure that they had got home safely. Bernie said she had a work ethic that was second to none. He has lost his best mate, friend, and companion.
Her sturdy boots were on her coffin at the tangi. Bernie came in with his hand on her coffin, walking with the pall bearers as they were welcomed with a waiata. The emotional funeral saw the crowd singing along with the Bee Gees song Words during a slideshow of her photos.
It's only words,
and words are all I have,
To take your heart away.
Maria was carried out to a rousing haka and her coffin loaded into the back of her beloved Toyota Landcruiser. After people farewelled her, Bernie climbed into the back of the truck and held her coffin as they drove slowly off to the crematorium. As they left, a cloud of yellow smiley face emoji balloons was released into the sky. Maria’s favourite emoji symbolised her spirit.
Maria and Bernie had been impacted by a poem they saw years ago:
“God saw you and you were weary,
He did what He thought was best.
He gently held you in His arms, and whispered,
Come in and rest.”
Maria’s last words to Bernie were “I am just so tired.”
Her legacy is lives impacted by her love.