Peter Knox was every inch a fighter.
He was tireless when helping others, and when news came that his own life would be cut short, he put up a battle so valiant that even his doctors were surprised he lasted as long as he did. He was a perfectionist, a man with a huge generous heart, one who wanted to squeeze every moment out of living.
Despite the struggle, cancer claimed him on March 30, just days into the brutal lockdown that prevented many family members visiting him in the hospice. He was just 61.
“He was absolutely gutted,” said his daughter Leanne. “Soon before he passed, he told me, “I thought I had more time than this”.
To the hundreds who knew Peter, who benefited from his volunteering through the Lions organisation, through St John and a host of community groups, he always put painstaking effort into ensuring everything was exactly as he wanted it. He applied the same fervour to planning his final farewell, held on June 15 at the Sir Don Rowlands Centre at Lake Karapiro amid over 450 people.
Leanne said he planned the venue, the catering, the speakers and the music … a touch of Rod Stewart and old church hymns. “He let me pick the Bible verses, though, and we did make a few tiny changes,” she smiled.
Peter was born in Auckland in 1958, then adopted out; after finding his birth mother later in life, he revelled in having “two mums”. His job in sales and marketing took him around the country, and with wife Janelle and daughters Leanne and Vicki, the family spent 13 years living in Tokoroa before coming to Cambridge in 2010. Leanne remembers her dad’s non-stop volunteering, including with the local firefighters, St John and the local police; he also coached and refereed youth hockey. While with the Tokoroa Lions, Peter served on District Cabinet as Zone Chairman – his involvement in Cabinet lasted up to the day he died.
Cambridge came to know him not only through Lions and other groups, but also as the project manager for the Leamington development encompassing Freshchoice Supermarket and The Five Stags. He served on numerous Cambridge Lions committees before becoming president in 2012/13 and building the Leamington model railway tunnel.
Peter’s Lions Club colleagues Fred Hansen and Brian Quinlan co-officiated the affair. A firm friend for 15 years, Fred said Peter was good at seeing a need then finding a way to meet it. “We believe his greatest joy was chairing the Grants Committee, and he had a particular rapport with young people in need.”
He turned fundraising into an art … he was adept at teasing out tail-twister ‘fines’ among members for mild misdemeanours, either real or imagined. He helped with the Lions’ speechmaker contests, and together with Fred, helped negotiate the $100,000 the Lions gave to the Cambridge pool project. He was involved with Balloons over Waikato for four years, and money he helped raise went to the Lions Cancer Society Lodge.
Peter supported the Cancer Society long before he was himself diagnosed. He put even more years into helping support the Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation after Janelle was diagnosed with the disease 17 years ago. In his role as a marriage celebrant, he asked couples to donate to that organisation rather than pay his fee.
Always up for a gag, Peter and Fred posed as ‘doctors’ wanting to check out Brian Quinlan for bedsores after he had broken his hip in Adelaide last year. “We had the full co-operation of clinic staff and dressed in full plastic gowns – Brian didn’t recognise either of us!” And when facing radiation treatment, Peter dressed in yellow as a nod to the ‘yellow’ machine he used – his drivers did the same.
Peter’s service was recognised through numerous awards, including life membership to St John, and to the Lions’ Lloyd Morgan Charitable Trust. He was a Melvin Jones Fellow, the recipient of a Lions’ International Presidents Medal, and last year, was presented with a Cambridge Community Board Community Service Award.