Ten years ago, a human whirlwind, most likely clad in her favourite vivid yellow, breezed into Snells Beach on a whim (and a prayer) and swiftly started spreading her infectious enthusiasm for life and fundraising in the Mahurangi community. Since then, Shona Pickup has donated countless hours to shaking buckets, chivvying sponsors and cheering hospice patients, and raised many thousands of dollars in the process. Sally Marden visited her yellow Snells Beach home, which flies a yellow smiley flag, to talk about how she ended up moving here and what drives her endless volunteering …
I think I’m meant to be up here. I don’t know why; someone chose this place for me. I felt so sure. I think it was probably my gran, who was a great big Scottish woman from Shetland. We all used to call her Lumpy. She’s always been my guardian angel. I lived for 35 years in Howick and I’d been on my own since 2000. I was playing tennis, doing hospice and Pink Ribbon, I had wonderful friends, but I just felt the need to move on, step out and get some space. I thought, “I’m sick of this, I need to move.” So, I said to my daughter, “Let’s drive to Snells Beach.” I knew and loved Warkworth – we used to come up when the kids were small and stay at the Bridgehouse – but I’d never been to Snells Beach in my life. We drove down Ariki Drive, I thought how lovely it was, went home and put my house on the market. Just like that. I’ve got a seventh sense about things like this. Everyone in Howick said, “You’ll be back”, but when I drove out, there wasn’t a tear in my eye. I almost went, “Woo-hoo! It’s time.”
I didn’t know one person when I moved here. The first morning I woke up in Snells, I thought, “Shoot, what have I done?” I jumped in the car, went past the tennis club and saw a couple of cars outside, and thought, “here’s a start”, knocked on the door and it was answered by Walter and Doris Riederer, both six foot, from Switzerland. I said I’d just moved up and I played tennis and they grabbed me and gave me the biggest hug and said, “You’re our newest member.” Then I met someone who told me about a Lions meeting and I got an email from hospice, so in two weeks I was in the tennis club, Lions and volunteering for hospice, and then Lesley Ingham from hospice got me on to the Kowhai Festival committee.
My grandparents were from Shetland and moved to Wellington 90 years ago when my Dad was four, and that’s where I was born and bred. Dad was a builder and Mum was a housewife and I went to St Benedicts and St Mary’s. I was taught by nuns all the way and I loved them all. People knock them, but I loved them. I wasn’t good at school, and I wasn’t naughty … my final report said Shona should have come dux (I was third), but where her brains won’t get her, her personality will.
When I left college I was a secretary for an insurance broking company, then I got a fabulous job as Girl Friday for Sir Russell Pettigrew of Freightways. That was a terrific job and I was there for nearly seven years. I began fundraising for the St Mary’s old girls’ netball club, and it went on from there. I got married in 1974 and we moved to Auckland in 1976. I got very involved with the children’s PTAs and school camps, and I was on the very first art exhibition committee for Baradene College. The second year, we decided to get sponsorship. I just approached all those very, very rich fathers and we got $22,000 before the second art exhibition opened. Art things don’t make a lot of money, it’s the sponsorship. If we didn’t have sponsorship for Wearable Arts here, it wouldn’t make so much. I started doing the Pink Ribbon appeal in Howick when they put an ad in the local paper. After 27 years, on the last day, I had 120 ladies and we took $69,000 in one day, which was amazing. The most I’ve ever done here is $4500, but we haven’t got the same numbers up here. I have about 40 ladies on that Friday and we do Matakana, Snells Beach, Algies Bay and Warkworth, and 10 of us at the Matakana market on Saturday.
I’ll ask anyone for money, and you very rarely get a “no” for hospice or Pink Ribbon, because it affects everybody. I chased John Key down the street once when he came to Warkworth and got him to donate and sign his tie for hospice. His security guys didn’t stand a chance. I told them they needed to go faster than that to catch me!
I’ve been volunteering 20 years with hospice. I started going when Jill, a friend of my best friend Margie, was dying of a brain tumour in Auckland Hospital and we visited her there. It was okay, but it really wasn’t where she should have been. Then not long afterwards, Margie got cancer and she said, “Will you look after me like you did Jill when it’s my time?” So, I went to hospice with her and, before she died, Margie said, “Promise me that you’ll carry on doing this when I die.” So, here I am. I go to Hibiscus House at Red Beach every week. They have six rooms there. I make cups of coffee, run errands, sit and talk, and do whatever they need. One man told me his whole life story one day. It’s a magic place.
One of my favourite passions is gardening. That’s where I find my true meaning of life. I talk and think and say my morning prayers while I’m working out there in the early morning. I can go out for half-an-hour and come in and find it’s three hours later. The other thing I really love is elephants. After giving birth twice, to Wayne and Sarah, the next most wonderful time of my life was with elephants. Sarah was 20 and we went on safari to Kenya. We drove a way out and suddenly we saw about 35 to 40 cows and their babies. We were standing on the top of this truck and all of a sudden, this elephant – she was really huge – just looked over and turned towards us. I said, “What do we do now?” The guide said he wasn’t sure as it had never happened before in 15 years. She walked right over towards us, so I just said, “Hi … hello beautiful, look at your beautiful big eyes”. She just looked at me, and then ran her trunk right down my entire body and back up, and then touched my face. I had tears in my eyes; it was unbelievable.
I’ve never had cancer and I thank God for it. I’m a Catholic, very spiritual, and go to church every Sunday. I reckon if I keep doing all the work I’m doing, I’ve got a deal with the fella upstairs and, hopefully, I’m going to stay a bit longer. I get peed off when I see people with cancer, but you can’t change it, you’ve just got to accept it and get on with things. You don’t go to hospice to die; you go to extend your life. I’ve had times where I’ve seen some horrendous sights that you’d never see now up here in this hospice, and I’ve lost some good friends. I probably take some of it home with me – sometimes I’m in tears when I drive home – but that’s where my faith comes in. I pray to make me strong and I sleep like an angel. I’ve looked after so many people – I talk to them, and I really do think they always have a hand on my shoulder.