Paddy O’Leary could be found most days perched at his usual spot at the table by the entranceway at his Mangonui Pub and so a send off in the sleepy Northland fishing village’s watering hole seemed only too fitting.
Except yesterday it was far from sleepy, with hundreds piling into the historic hotel. Many more spilled out onto the streets to farewell a man who had become a local icon and, in his final days, more of a legend.
You see, Paddy was many things as well as a publican. He’d been a farmer, a rugby player, a butcher, a hunter, a fisherman, a racehorse owner, a husband, and a father. But perhaps most of all, he’d been brave.
At 67 Paddy had lived a life most would envy, but just days before the Christmas of last year he had a fall. He was found six hours later in the Taipa Estuary – 10 minutes later and he would’ve drowned.
Paddy escaped without a bruise or scratch but the accident claimed his mobility – an injury to his spine left him paralysed from the neck down.
It was devastating for him and his family. Just a few months prior he was in Europe on an All Blacks tour, before that he was touring Russia on his motorbike.
The accident claimed his independence. Suddenly Paddy was reliant on others to wash, shower and fed him.
Most in his circumstances would’ve given up - but not Paddy. He was determined to live the best life he could because he was about to become a grandfather for the first time.
Paddy spent several months in Auckland’s spinal unit where I would visit him. Just like in the north, Paddy had won everyone over. He was popular amongst the patients and the staff and became known for having a sneaky whiskey or two.
He was an inspiration to the others around him and was asked to tell his story in the spinal unit’s magazine.
His advice was this: "Focus on the positive and look ahead - there is always someone worse off than you."
Reporters love good stories and they were endless with Paddy. What hadn’t this man done and where hadn’t he been?
And it’s fair to say there’s been a fair bit of mischief, as one friend stated, "broads and booze".
A family member described him as a "loving father, flawed husband and an all round good bugger".
Living up to his Irish heritage, Paddy was a true publican. A friend of the people, he was kind and generous and would go out of his way to help anyone.
That was evidenced in yesterday's diverse crowd of mourners. They came from around the country and some from as far away as Ireland. There were bikers, gang members and politicians – Paddy was a man who moved in many circles.
Mangonui won’t be the same without Paddy O’Leary and, while he is gone, his memory will live on.