by PETER GRACE
A historian, teacher and mentor renowned for his “hangy-out shirts” died in Auckland on October 6.
Dr Hugh Laracy was Associate Professor of History at the University of Auckland, with a special passion for
the Pacific and church history.
The main celebrant at his requiem Mass at St Joseph’s Church, Takapuna, on October 10, Fr Grahame Connolly, SM, said that his friend’s award of the Solomon Islands Medal could well have been matched by awards from other countries, given his work in the Pacific.
“Within my own religious family, the Society of Mary, people from so many parts of the world admire and respect Hugh Laracy for what he’s told us about early missionaries and the history of Pacific churches.”
When he developed PSP (supranuclear palsy) a few months ago and his strength went, he did not sink into anguish. Eugenie [Hugh’s wife] was so close to him, caring for him, and she said he did not complain.
One of his daughters, Laurentia, told those at the Mass that her dad loved his work.
“He was by nature a teacher and a storyteller. He loved the Pacific and he loved his students and the feeling was mutual.
“Mum and Dad’s house was always open; there was always room for one more at the table.”
Her father loved his poems, he could quote all manner of people and he used to — regularly, she said. “I can see him in my mind’s eye striding into a lecture theatre, plastic bag of Hugh stuff in one hand, piles of paper under his arm, wild eyebrows and wearing a Pacific-themed hangy-out shirt ready to talk about the things that he knew and therefore the things he thought other decent human beings ought to know. Things like Irish history, Pacific exploration, Waiwhetu, two-way voyaging, missionaries in Melanesia, the importance of the kumara, Catholicism, or the derivation of words, whether they came from the Latin or the Greek.”
So well known was her dad and his shirts that one day a friend of hers came rushing up at university and saying with surprise, indeed alarm, “I have just seen your father and he is wearing a shirt that tucks in”.
“He was an extraordinary fellow and each one of us here today has our own story and experiences of Hughisms.”
Her father’s work permeated every aspect of their lives. Her brother Damien was even named after Fr Damien of Molokai, who ministered to lepers in a Hawaiian leper colony.
The young family travelled widely through the Pacific.
On October 6, the day he died, he was a bit upset by the fact his fingers were becoming paralysed. “For a man who loved writing and loved thinking and who still had thoughts to think, conversations to have and books to write, this affliction had been so stoically borne, but when his ‘fingies’ started to fail and he could not move them it was so sad.
“Dad, you ran a good race, you kept the faith, you were just a damned good chap, I love you. I just miss you. We all do.
“Lukem yu behind, Dadda.”
Hugh Laracy leaves behind his loving wife of 50 years, Eugenie, children Damien, Laurentia, Madeleine and Germaine, and six grandchildren. He was interred at Schnapper Rock Cemetery.
May he rest in peace.