An incomprehensible loss

Arrowtown’s mourning the loss of one of the country’s longest-serving firefighters, and a true-blue community stalwart.

James ‘Jimmy’ Shaw, 75, died suddenly, but peacefully, last Thursday at Lakes District Hospital.

Arrowtown chief fire officer (CFO) Murray Forward says Jimmy was still an active Arrowtown fire service volunteer — making him one of the oldest fire vollies in New Zealand — something he’d been doing for the past 55 years.

Born in Queenstown, Jimmy attended Arrowtown School before heading to Dunedin’s John McGlashan College for his high school years.

As a teenager, he came back to Arrowtown to complete a mechanic’s apprentice ship — a 9000-hour correspondence course — planning to work in the family garage and transport business, Shaw’s Garage.

The business was initially started by Jimmy’s grandfather, James Shaw — an Arrowtown mayor in the 1920s, who first operated a portable threshing mill.

James passed the business on to Jimmy’s father, Willis Shaw, who was Arrowtown’s mayor for almost 20 years during the 1950s and ’60s.

Jimmy, meantime, completed his mechanic’s apprenticeship, then joined the Arrowtown fire brigade on June 6, 1967, aged 20.

Just two years later he was appointed CFO.

Forward says he may well have been the youngest CFO in NZ at that time — ‘‘but he would certainly have been the youngest chief in Otago and Southland’’.

Jimmy held that role for 26 years, active as the brigade went from attending about a dozen callouts a year, to becoming first-responders, and called out to medical incidents, rural fires and rescues, among other things.

Forward, who’s been a vollie for 24 years, says Jimmy was honest, quick-witted, a well-respected mentor, and ‘‘lived for the fire brigade’’.

‘‘For a man to do 55 years’ commitment to a fire service and a community is a huge

‘‘There would be very few people in the country that would have that commitment to their community and their fire service.

‘‘You couldn’t get a more rock-solid guy that was just always willing to help, and always willing to share his knowledge.’’

In 2017, Jimmy was awarded the double gold star for 50 years’ service, which Forward says ‘‘is nothing to be sneezed at’’.

His was only the second awarded in the Whakatipu — the first, in 2009, went to Queenstown volunteer Bob Robertson.

Latterly, Jimmy’s role within the brigade had been very much one of community service — Forward says he was passionate about ensuring elderly community members had working smoke alarms in their homes.

He also ran a lawnmowing business, taking care of holiday homes for absentee owners, so he’d kill two birds with one stone while on jobs.

‘‘He’d run around and do holiday-makers’ sections … in between times, he’d go past some old duck’s place, whip in, and do her alarm.’’

Fire and Emergency New Zealand group manager Roger Smith says Jimmy’s record of service stands out not just for his long involvement with the Arrowtown brigade, but his dedication to safety of the local community.

‘‘He will be remembered affectionately and greatly missed within [Fenz].

“Kia mau i runga i te rangimārie – rest in peace.”

Forward also recalls a time when Jimmy was on the stage at Arrowtown’s Athenaeum Hall, during a fire brigade skit of Old King Cole for an Autumn Festival back in the day.

While Jimmy took the title role, Bruce Kenyon — commonly known as ‘Speed’ — was his wife.

‘‘At one point in time we were all naked on stage,’’ Forward laughs.

‘‘Only butts, not the front part, obviously.’’

Fond memories aside, Forward says he’s struggling to comprehend how big a loss his death is.

‘‘You just can’t emphasise the impact he had on the community and the brigade enough.’’

Jimmy’s survived by his long-time partner, Thalia Dunn, sons Robbie, Jason, aka ‘Archie’, and daughter, Mandy.

His service is being held today at the Athenaeum Hall, from 2pm, followed by an internment at the Arrowtown Cemetery.

Forward says there’ll be a guard of honour by fireys and members of Queenstown police, and he’ll be driven past the Arrowtown fire station where ‘‘the alarm will go off for the last time’’.

[email protected]

- Advertisement -