Obituary: Jeanette Stace 1917-2006

By Laurice Gilbert and Nola Borrell

low tide
I walk to you
across the sky

This was Jeanette’s beautiful – and well-chosen – haiku included in the official notice of her death.

Jeanette Stace died peacefully at the Mary Potter Hospice, Wellington, on October 2, just under three weeks after she suffered a major stroke with paralysis of her right arm and loss of speech. Up until the time of the stroke she was leading an independent life, actively involved in writing and peace activities.

Jeanette was a regular and welcome attendee at Wellington Poetry Society meetings, and it was with much sadness that the news of her death was spread through the poetry community. Her funeral on October 6 was attended by many of her poetry and peace work associates, and her family shared some of her poetry and haiku with those assembled. Here is a transcript (with permission) of her friend Nola Borrell’s contribution to the service:

Jeanette the Poet

I bring the sadness, affection and appreciation – much appreciation – of Jeanette’s many friends in the poetry and haiku community.

The names of the NZ Poetry Society and Jeanette Stace are almost synonymous. Since the mid 1980s Jeanette has had terms as secretary, treasurer, and organiser of the international competition. She worked on the annual anthologies as co-editor, judge, co-selector of poems, promoter, and a less attractive task – storer of boxes of books. She was our informal historian; 118 Cecil Road, later 58 Cecil Rd, Wadestown was the address for the Poetry Society for a long time.

She won many awards for her poetry, especially haiku, and was published in New Zealand and overseas. Her work was translated into Japanese, Croatian, Russian and French. Not that Jeanette would have told you that. One of her grandsons didn’t know that a haiku about him won a major prize in a Poetry Society competition.

Haiku writing was Jeanette’s special interest. She actively promoted it. Her home was the venue for the Windrift Haiku Group. She was a member of the Zazen email workshop. She helped organise a national Haiku Festival last year and led a workshop. (We didn’t know she was nearly 88.) You can see her haiku inscribed on a boulder on the Katikati Pathway. This week one of her haiku is part of an Ikebana-Haiku-Bonsai Exhibition in Wellington.

in my hand
the smoothness
of the river stone

Actually, she was planning to help with a haiku workshop this weekend.

We will greatly miss her perceptive comments and practical common sense, her love of living and wisdom, and above all, her humour.

Who will answer our questions now?

Who will write quirky haiku to delight us?

we read your haiku
to comfort ourselves

NZPS involvement

Jeanette first became involved in the middle eighties, and in September 1986 became ‘an extremely efficient and unflappable treasurer’ (Harry Ricketts, President’s report, May 1989). She was unofficial secretary by 1989, and was made official in 1990. Bill Sewell’s President’s report for 1991 picked Jeanette out for special mention, saying: ‘[she] more than anyone else has the affairs of the society at her fingertips, and can be turned to in any emergency’,

In 1990 Jeanette was one of the guest poets, and in 1991 she took over the running of the International Poetry Competition for two years. She retired as secretary at the 1993 AGM, and was presented with a walnut plate for her work. However, she remained a committee member and was co-organiser (with Fiona Farrell) of 1993’s annual poetry workshop, as well as continuing with correspondence in the absence of a replacement secretary. By September 1994 she was back fully into the secretarial role, until replaced by Elizabeth Crayford.

Jeanette co-edited the following NZPS annual anthologies: Frosted Rails, 1990 (with Harry Ricketts), Balancing on Blue, 1991 (with Bill Sewell), Ginger Stardust, 1992 (also with Bill Sewell).

Jeanette finally resigned from the committee in 1999, at a mere 82 years old. She never complained about her age, or indeed confessed to it. In 2005 she judged the Junior Haiku section of the Competition, and thoroughly enjoyed reading through and selecting from over 1000 entries, the highest ever received in this section.

As well as her long involvement with the NZPS, Jeanette published extensively in both New Zealand and overseas: she contributed to the two New Zealand haiku anthologies, and published her own collection, Across The Harbour (Bearfax Publications). She hosted Windrift, and was a member of Zazen, an Australasian email haiku group started in July 2000. One of her haiku is engraved for posterity in a boulder on the Haiku Pathway in Katikati:

one at each end
of the park bench
a man        a woman

Tributes published in a fine line, November 2006

“She was so energetic and did so much for poetry in NZ. She will long be remembered.”

“It is so sad to think that Jeanette is no longer here. I loved her sense of humour, her energy and her compassion. She was such a “whole” person; warm and welcoming, humble and understated and she made you feel “special”. I’ll never forget being loaned a pair of Jeanette’s togs so that I could accompany Nigel and Jeanette on one of their swims. On the way home we stopped for a little picnic. Jeanette was never “false.” Her haiku were “her haiku”. She’ll leave a real space. I’m glad A – Zazen has a “chapter” of Jeanette’s inimitable haiku.”

“Jeanette will be sorely missed by everyone who came in contact with her. She was a warm, amazing, gentle person.”

“The haiku world will miss her contributions and encouragement.”

“She was a very special person – and will remain so for me and many others… In her own quiet way she inspired many in their poetic efforts, me included.”

“I’ll remember Jeanette for her warm and friendly nature from the years I spent with NZPS, and how she was always welcoming and supportive.”

“such sad news”

“Jeanette was the heart and soul of NZ Poetry Society when I first discovered it.”

“Her friends – including Windrift members – will also very much miss Jeanette and her great spirit and her hospitality. I predict we will be saying in our workshops, ‘Now what would Jeanette say about this haiku?’ She was always generous in her acceptance and support of people, and I will miss that delightful sense of humour. Jeanette has been a key person in the haiku world, and in earlier years in the NZ Poetry Society.”

From Beverley George, Editor of Yellow Moon:

“My condolences on the passing of this fine poet. I am sure she will be deeply missed.”

he is diagnosed
with a rare disease
as if there were not
enough common ailments
to choose from

Jeanette Stace, in Yellow Moon 19, 2006

coming nearer
the wail of sirens
               the sudden stop

Jeanette Stace, from tapping the tank, 1999 NZPS Anthology

Letters to the Editor, a fine line March 2007

A Further Tribute

I have just read (a fine line, November 2006) of Jeanette Stace’s death at nearly 90. My firm and fond memory of her goes back almost 50 years, to when I arrived in New Zealand as an 18-year-old £10 Pom and stayed at the Stace home in Wadestown: my first job was in Nigel Stace’s office at Technical Publications. She already had a strong interest in New Zealand poetry and, just a few days after my arrival, took me along to the poetry event in the old Wellington Public Library auditorium to mark the death of A.R.D. Fairburn. Many of the luminaries of New Zealand poetry – Baxter, Campbell, Glover, Johnson et al – read from Fairburn’s works and I remember particularly the theatre of Denis Glover’s performance of The Rakehelly Man.

Some of the poets were to become friends and mentors, especially Lou Johnson and Alistair Campbell, and I will always be grateful for Jeanette’s warm encouragement of my early attempts at poetry and the introduction she afforded a gauche teenager to the cultural life of the time. Although we largely lost touch, it was a great joy for me that Jeanette could attend the function at Premier House, less than a year before her death, when I was honoured with a Prime Minister’s Award in company with Alistair. For me, it lent a sense of family to the occasion, a reminder of the enduring links within New Zealand’s small literary community.

Philip Temple (Dunedin)