Obituary: Peter Downey

Peter Downie served in Malaysia and Borneo in the early 1960s

A tough start in life did little to dent the generous nature that characterised Peter Downie.  It didn’t stop him from putting down family roots and winning plaudits for the work he did for Cambridge over seven decades.

Peter died at his Leamington home earlier this month.  The weeks leading up to his passing were shaped by visits from children and grandchildren, friends, neighbours, and a host of others keen to toast a life well-lived. There was no funeral – that was just the way he wanted it.

People gravitated to him all his life, said his daughter Brenda Downie.  “He had a big heart … he’d do anything for anyone.”

That heart earned him a reputation for giving away pickled onions, jams and chutneys to anyone wanting them.

He also donated produce to his grandchildren’s school galas to help boost school funds.

Brenda and her brothers, Paul and Glen, came from their homes in Tauranga, Wellington and Havelock North to spend Peter’s last few weeks at his side. They knew of his involvement with Cambridge, but the full extent of it became clear only as they began clearing out the house he built 48 years ago, and where he lived out his days.

First and foremost, Peter was an ex-serviceman. He served in Malaysia and Borneo in the early 1960s.

He considered extending his service to Vietnam but instead returned to Cambridge where he became a life member of the RSA and led Cambridge Anzac Day parades for decades. A keen woodworker – one who devoted long hours to crafting furniture and toys for his own home and for others – he also made the white crosses we associate with our commemorative ceremonies. This was the first Anzac Day he had missed.

Born in Paeroa, Peter and his five siblings spent time in an orphanage when their parents split up. He and one brother, Keith, were then fostered together to a Cambridge family, both going on to attend Leamington School and Cambridge High. Peter’s children followed the tradition, and he spent some time on the Leamington School PTA.

Peter Downie, seen here surrounded by his grandchildren, was a man who gave a great deal to Cambridge.

After losing Keith to cancer in his early 20s, Peter settled in Cambridge. He worked for Rosswood Implements in Leamington for 39 years, while also answering the call to become a Periodic Detention Warden in Cambridge.  In that capacity, he oversaw PD workers as they toiled on projects for non-profit groups, needy families and the elderly, including doing regular work at schools and churches, growing community vegetable gardens and cutting and delivering firewood. He also became a Civil Defence Police Warden.

Among the paperwork his family have been sifting through is the certificate awarding Peter life membership to the Cambridge RSA. There is also a Certificate of Appreciation from the police, an ‘Achievers’ Award’ from Cambridge Rotary for Peter’s “outstanding effort” as a Period Detention Warden, and one from former Mayor Pat Allen acknowledging recognition from the Cambridge Committee for Social Services.

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