Rodney Haines, who passed away on 26 November 2021, lived an exceptionally full and remarkable life. He built and sailed boats, was a partner in a law firm and worked as a hospital board chair. He also met and fell in love with his wife Leonie and raised a family.
It was a life that was completely at odds with others’ expectations when he was born without arms in Nelson Hospital in 1942.
As he details in his 2015 book Armless not Brainless, his mother Gladys was given some stark choices by those in charge in his care.
He explained in an interview with the Nelson Mail that doctors "told her life is going to be too tough for you and your family and me, so we can record that he died at birth."
He went on to explain that the other options were to put him into Ngawhatu psychiatric hospital — an institution he ended up managing 40 years later — or take him home. His mother took the latter option and Rodney never looked back.
He was raised in Nelson and, with a few clever adaptations along the way, his family gave him the skills he needed to thrive and be included along with his non-disabled peers. He learned to write, fish – perhaps the beginning of a life-long love affair with water – ride a bike and play soccer at Nelson College.
CCS Disability Action, known as Crippled Children's Society at the time, raised funds so he could attend Canterbury University where he studied law, eventually graduating from Victoria University. Then began a long legal career in Wellington, Kaitaia and Nelson and his appointment as a disputes tribunal referee.
Rodney was drawn to work where he could give back to others, especially those who he felt faced disadvantage.
He followed his legal career with work as a health advocate, was appointed chair of the Nelson Area Health Board, managed the Ngawhatu hospital and worked as a Nelson city councillor.
His friend Kerry Neal explains that Rodney was one of the most vivacious people you could hope to know. “Rodney had a great positive spirit. He was down to earth, but brilliantly capable and practical. He was a very funny person. I would be hard pressed to think of someone who gave more to the community,” he explains.
Kerry recalls that Rodney had an adventurous spirit, piloting aeroplanes and captaining canal boats that he built with his wife and sons.
In his book, Rodney explains that he faced some tough times where life felt impossibly hard. It was midlife that he came to feel completely confident in his self-worth.
The prologue neatly summarises his message for others. My story is to tell you that in spite of living my life without having arms, there's always been a way to hug my wife and kids, have big jobs, drive my car and boats and help many show their strength of character and drive over the speed bumps in the road of life.
Rodney leaves behind his beloved family and a tremendous legacy.