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Rei Preston-Thomas


1929 - 2008

Rei was born during the Great Depression on a dairy farm sited on an island surrounded by the Otaki River. In 1951, after enjoying her nurse training in Wellington, Rei graduated with honours and won the Wellington Hospital Gold Medal. Two years later she went to South Africa, where she gained honours in Tropical Disease Medicine.

In 1954, she went to Northern Saskatchewan in Canada as sole charge at a remote nursing station in an Indian Reserve. It was midwinter when she arrived. She had to cut wood, dig trenches and act as electrician, plumber and builder. She loved it. In winter, Rei could visit the settlements in her vast territory by Indian dog sleigh whereas in summer she could travel the lakes by canoe with an outboard motor.

Following further advanced training in Britain, she held various positions in Wellington and Tauranga. 1968 saw Rei appointed Matron of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Rotorua, a position she held until her retirement in November 1989.

After retirement from nursing, her boundless energies were harnessed in changing a run-down avocado orchard in Welcome Bay into a park like setting exporting avocados and mandarins, with a B&B. Her love of the outdoors was sated by tramping in Nepal and Peru and at Waikaremoana, canoeing down the Whanganui River, a visit to China and cycling the Otago Rail Trail.

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