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Sunday 11 October 2015

Obituary: Vern Keller

Posted in: Community
By Jay Bennie and others - 12th April 2015

The following obituary is based on recollections of Vern Keller's life as voiced at his funeral yesterday. In order to focus on Vern himself the information is presented without attribution.

Vern Arnold Keller was born on the 8th of August 1958 to Joy and Reg Keller.

He was greeted into the world by two elder sisters, Karen and Denise. The family moved from the Waikato to Auckland in 1961 where Vern attended Mt Albert Primary School but a later family move to Hamilton saw him at Whitiora Intermediate and then on to Hamilton Boys High School.

A friend from those days recalls Vern, herself and another young woman hooning through the rural Waikato back-roads in his Anglia and insistent that they had seen flying saucers. “You have to remember this was the 1970s” she said with a sly smile. Vern himself had that sly smile, the manifestation of a dry but warm sense of humour.

His mother, Joy, ran a dairy and where Vern frequently helped out. Another part-time job was at a Hamilton service station. But eventually he went out on his own opening and running The Yoghurt Chalet in Victoria Street, Auckland for many years. He found his feet as a gay man as the HIV and AIDS epidemic descended on New Zealand's gay and bi men and was a volunteer for the NZ AIDS Foundation in the early years of its existence.

He joined the NZAF staff in 1991 and until the end held the important position of librarian and was involved in research programmes. Staff who fronted for the organisation over the years have paid tribute to the knowledge, skill and commitment Vern brought to ensuring that they were well-briefed and fed with with every detail of information they would need to front up to politicians, health authorities, media and a succession of anti-gay bigots.

Vern was a private man, content to work in the backroom. He was so uneasy amongst crowds that at HIV and work functions he would hover near the door ready for a quick exit.

At home he was a lover of gadgets and good food, frequently combining the two. He was “a little bit of a nudist.” He loved beaches and gardening and especially music. His tipple of preference was Victoria Bitter and he had a well-known weakness for cashews. He was a committed, though not necessarily skilled, DIYer. And driving anywhere with Vern at the wheel was not a relaxing experience.

But it was in the life-space between work and home that Vern made perhaps his greatest impact, becoming a valued and loved de facto member of numerous families. He was “Uncle Vern” to a string of young people whose parents he had worked with or who had welcomed his friendship. Stories abound of his indulgences, companionship and wise counsel when needed. “He had a heart the size of the universe, made of pure gold... kind, loyal, generous and protective of those he loved.”

Vern died alone at his West Auckland home, of a sudden heart attack, last weekend.

Footnote: staff also mourn Vern's passing, as a friend and as one of our 'ghost contributors' whose skill in unearthing information and documents frequently backed up our journalists and feature writers. Farewell Vern.

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Jay Bennie and others - 12th April 2015