|Return to the Home Page
John Butler (Auckland University
Tribute given at Todd's Funeral
"The soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He
has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not
come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval.
He is not slain when the body is slain.
The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by
fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.
That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible.
No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul." (Bhagavad
I feel very honoured to be able to speak to you today about our
colleague, our friend – Todd. Honoured, because when I look
out at the faces before me now, I probably knew Todd for less time
than most people here today – just under 2 years. But what
a fun filled 2 years. John, Kyle, Sabrina, Brenda, Savita, Bill,
Rosemary and I all feel blessed that we were the lucky ones who
had a little bit of Todd in our daily working lives.
To help me today, I’m going to do something that the university
doesn’t support – plagiarism, and use the thoughts
and sentiments that have been sent through to us since Monday, that
describe the Todd we all knew and loved. Contact has been made from
a massive range of people – from the most senior of managers,
students, lecturers, faculties, other universities, community groups,
schools, political parties – from every conceivable sector.
They were all unanimous in their respect and admiration for Todd,
and sending their love and support to Madhwi, Ted, David and those
closest to him. Here are just a selection of their thoughts
1. “Todd was such a positive guy, with an incredible passion”
2. “Really inspiring to our students and staff”
3. “Selfless in sharing of his time, knowledge and experience”
4. Catherine Delahunty Green Party expresses a personal sense of
loss and said Todd had deeply impressed her with his humanity, perception,
5. Donna-Rose McKay - Otago University
"Todd was always so bright and enthusiastic…….
He had worked in this area for a long time and never seemed to tire
of the challenges this work presents. When I think of Todd, I hear
his laugh, his energy and see him enthusiastically explaining his
latest initiative. Face book will be much quieter without his posts.
Todd will be greatly missed by those both in the tertiary arena
and the wider community."
6. “People loved his openness, and his dry sense of humour
and his enormous passion for his work”
7. Lynn Pillay says - The example he set in advocating for students
with disabilities is one that will be remembered for many years
to come. His commitment to encouraging people with disabilities
to achieve was an inspiration.
8. “He tells the best jokes and stories and we always
have a laugh”
9. “I can't believe I'm not going to experience his special
magic any more.”
Todd worked at AUT for nearly 10 years and first came to Diana Murray’s,
the Manager for the Disability Resource Service, attention as a
She was soon impressed by his can do attitude, enthusiasm, his authenticity
and presence. With the support of Diana (Who became a life long
friend) and later, Nicola Owen, Todd quickly became an invaluable
asset to the Disability Resource Service, AUT, the tertiary and
the community sectors. He became known and respected as an educator,
trainer, mentor, advisor, ambassador and agent of change. Todd has
had a profound and positive impact on 1000’s of students,
staff, friends and colleagues. Todd quickly built up strong and
meaningful relationships with our community groups and organisations
in his roles of recruitment and training advisor for AUT. Todd created
his ‘Critical Pathway’ for his scholarship students
that ensured they had the best transition into and journey through
the university - the results of his engagement with his students
reflected in their higher than average success rates. His influence,
insight and achievements have been significant in creating his dream
of a society for all.
Now, whenever people leave our team, for whatever reason, it falls
upon the manager to write that person a reference. So Todd, although
I’d rather be doing this under very different circumstances,
I’m not saying goodbye without writing a reference for you……
To Who It May Concern
Todd is a supportive and caring team member who works hard at looking
at positive ways to challenge our practices and attitudes. He was
able to ask those ‘difficult’ questions (which are not
always fun for the manager!) without offence, malice or hidden agenda.
When our waka hit a few stormy seas, he was able to help steer ourselves
to calmer waters with his simple, yet profound words. His energy
and presence in the team and at AUT, made all our days that little
bit sweeter and definitely more fun.
Some would say he has a ‘unique’ style. The state of
his desk belies the working of a keen and sharp mind. Todd and I
have some code words - where I could warn him that his office space
was actually running out of space. Those codes were amber or red
alert. At the moment Todd, you’ll be pleased to know you’re
still only at amber alert.
Todd is a hoarder and collector. Not just of books, information
and everything else mentionable – but of others hearts, minds
and kindred spirits. He’s a collector of friends and friendships.
Todd is a born communicator. He is passionate about talking, and
more importantly listening, to well… practically anyone! He
is an entertainer and loves to take people on a journey with him
by telling his stories. It does not matter to Todd whether it is
an audience of 1, or of hundreds, as a key note speaker at a conference,
or the lucky person stood behind him in the queue for a coffee.
Todd loved having boundaries – no let me re-phrase that. Todd
loved knowing where the boundaries are. That way he can tweak and
push just enough to extend, or dare I say cross, them – all
in the interests of his students. He’s the rebel with a cause.
He will instantly and totally disarm you with a rising of the eyebrows,
a slight shrug of the shoulders and that infectious smile just as
he mouths the word ‘sorry’. He’ll say he’ll
not do it again – you know he will, he knows he will, and
often we’re better off because he did.
Well – let’s put it this way – Todd is always
worth waiting for. He may not always be on time, but his timing
is always perfect. Todd is a gentle and beautiful soul. He is also
a gentleman. And although we may find this difficult to accept today
- a gentleman always knows when it’s time to leave.
From our hearts Todd, John, Kyle, Sabrina, Brenda, Savita, Bill,
Rosemary, our interpreters, support staff and the whole of AUT wish
you a safe journey. You are a beacon that lit up our whole community.
A light that shines twice as bright, burns for half as long.
Todd - you shone so very bright.
Goodbye my friend.
In my life I have tried not to have too many regrets but with your
passing Todd I now have one to add to my short list and that is
that I did not get to spend more time with you.
I was fortunate enough to meet you on several occasions and always
left your company with a great sense of humility and usually aching
sides from you making me laugh so much. I don’t think I ever
told you properly how much difference you made to my relationship
with my son Ross. I told you once that I hoped that Ross would grow
up to face life in the same marvellous way that you did. You were
very humble in your reply telling me that you just got on with it...
I have held that small sentence very close to me since then and
I always will.
My everlasting memories of you will all be of a man who had the
power to make me laugh and also a man who made me think and view
certain parts of my own life in a very different way.
Go on in peace my friend, thank you for your wisdom and good humour
and above all for your inspiration in days to come I will tell my
son of you and who you were to me.
Todd, when we started on the CPS Board together 3 years ago - you
had me at "hello".
From the moment I met you I was captivated by your energy, warmth,
vitality, empathy, humour and infectious personality. I loved being
around you, always eager to sit in your glow, to watch the understated
shrug of your shoulders and to share in your delightful stories
and life experiences.
As a parent of a child with CP you unknowingly gave me hope for
the future and let me put my fears aside and to feel truly blessed
to have been gifted Ross.
I will miss you so much - I already do. To put it simply - you are
irreplaceable and I am so sad that you had to go.
It has been a privilege and an honour to know you. I hope that your
soul is now at peace.
Lynne Pillay (Labour
Spokesman for Disability Issues)
Click below for Lynne Pillay's tribute
Catherine Delahunty (Greens
Party Spokesman for Disability Issues)
Click link to Catherine Tribute
Hagar, Jackie, Chris & Darryl
Todd had a great sense of humour and could laugh
at himself. We remember him telling us of the time when he
was a smoker. He said he would put a cigarette in his mouth
and then light a match, but due to his cp and involuntary
hand movements, it would sometimes take him a while to get
the flame on to the cigarette. The match would burn out, so
he would have to light another one. Or when he had the cigarette
lit, sometimes he had trouble getting it into his mouth, so
the thing would burn down before he had a chance to smoke.
He said he could go through a pack of 20, but only smoke 2
cigarettes a day due to his cp.
He also often joked that he would often spend the night at
Vesbar drinking. Then, when it closed he would crash in his
office, wake up the next morning and have a shower on the
third floor. Sabrina would come in and sometimes find him
passed out surrounded by empty beer bottles. Todd had no problem
discussing his exploits and they always brought a smile to
people's faces. One time he was refused entry into a bar because
the bouncer thought he was drunk. Todd protested his innocence,
said he had cp, but the bouncer said, "nah, you're drunk."
Todd didn't let it bother him. He had, in fact, performed
some stand up comedy and we wish we had of seen more of Todd's
comedy. He was a natural.
Todd had a great work ethic, both with his students and in
his other endeavours and had established his own company,
Breakthrough Thinking. He also had talked of one day moving
to Fiji and starting a tourist venture called Fernie Tours.
Todd was always thinking of his students and how to make
their experience at AUT a good one. He was aware that sometimes
students with disabilities are devalued in the classroom,
so he advocated for them. He was always there if you needed
someone to talk to. Without a doubt Todd will be extremely
hard to replace. He loved AUT and working with his scholarship
One of the lasting memories we have of him is Todd helping
to make one student's 21st a memorable day. Not only did he
buy her card for us to sign, but he also arranged and paid
for a cake. He also did something similar for her birthday
the previous year. That was the kind of guy Todd was. He didn't
just see his students as customers. He saw them as people
and wanted to make them feel like they belonged.
Todd's door was always open and he always found time to talk
to you if you needed help or anything or advice.
Chris recalls this common conversation
Todd: “do u wanna lift home?”
Chris “only if its not out of your way”
Todd ”of course it is but I’ll give you a lift
Todd would go out of his way to help us and this is how we
will remember him.
Good journey, Todd, you will be sorely missed by us all.
Dom, Jackie, Chris & Darryl
That Michael Jackson song “Gone too Soon” has
been replaying in my head ever since I heard the tragic news
of Todd’s death. The song could have been specially
written for our friend Todd Fernie. He never hesitated to
give anyone a hand including myself. He was my support person
when I was having trouble with Housing NZ and he was also
on hand when I took on writing an article on that rather sensitive
topic of sexuality and the disabled, for the Cerebral Palsy
A little while later he asked me, with his usual grin, why
I turned to him for help on such a topic.
“Because you are a man of the world,” I replied.
And we both burst out in a fit of laughter.
But it was true. He was willing to share his experiences no
matter how sensitive it became. That is what I call a true
Sorry Todd it was my perception that you were happy. I knew
you were fragile at times but it looked like you had it altogether;
a wonderful marriage, a satisfying job.
In hindsight I should have asked more questions.
We will all miss you my friend.
Todd Fernie was one of the most colourful and loveable characters
I have had the pleasure to come across.
Most people live there life according to the adage ‘READY,
AIM, FIRE’, but Todd was more of the ‘READY, FIRE,
OOPs’ type. …. in his short 39 years he had accumulated
so many incidents in his life that he was a story teller extraordinaire.
He would have me mesmerized with stories of the absolutely
bizarre situations that he would find himself in. Whatever
the discussion was about, Todd could find an incident in his
life that suited the discussion. So much so, that you doubted
the reality of them, but the scary thing was, they were all
He was the ‘Barry Crump’ of the disability sector.
He made my life seem extremely boring.
Most of the incidents were absolutely hilarious and had me
in fits of laughter, but a few were very dark and had cut
His hilarious reenactment cleaning his teeth with an electric
tooth brush will remain in my memory forever.
Todd was a great sounding board for a number of my ideas and
his lived experience of disability helped me sift the wheat
from the chaff. He had thought deeply about life and life-in-the-disability
sector. Often I would have trouble rationalising what position
I should take about some issue, Todd, in one statement would
provide an answer that was so obvious that you had to wonder
why you hadn’t thought of it.
We had a deep affection for each other and were very close.
Both of us would go away from our meetings refreshed and recharged.
I shall miss him terribly …… my world will be
a greyer place without him……. go in peace, my
Todd I’ll miss you.
I first met Todd in 1996. We became friends instantly. I
think I was the first person he had met with cerebral palsy.
We talked for hours and hours about life and living with cp.
We met regularly in the first years of our friendship. I remember
driving around with Todd in his Volvo, and breaking down.
We spent hours trying to work out what to do, eventually calling
his dad to pick us up. We didn’t have cell phones back
I’ll always think of you, Todd. I wish we had been
able to catch up socially more often than we did in later
years. I hope that one day we’ll meet up again, and
we’ll talk for hours about how the changes you wanted
and advocated for in your short life have developed.
I was looking forward to that coffee at Bliss in Ponsonby
on Tuesday (15th December) that we had organised last week.
Thank-you for being my friend.
Bye for now
Todd was one of the first people
to participate in the MECA exercise classes that I started
way back in the Ponsonby primary school classrooms, where
I met Ross and Paul and the gang, and found myself drawn into
a future that with them that spanned over a decade. Todd was
a committed individual who had the ability to make the people
around him smile and laugh - a very cerebral palsy characteristic
that he had honed. He lived a life as a role model for youth
that were living with a physical disability in his role as
counsillor and educator, and used his wicked sense of humour
so well to educate the able bodied masses with minds of molasses.
He constantly challenged the expectations of the disability
unaware, always making them readjust their boundaries and
He will be missed by many generations of young people, and
he will be missed by me in my cyber life. May we all honour
his memory for the rest of our life by continueing to support
independence for the cerebral palsy adult.
M y deepest condolences to you, his friends, and to all the
Cindy Evans BPE MEd
|Return to the Home