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A tireless advocate for the health of children has died in a freak accident at a Waiheke Island restaurant.
Paul Cressey (80) died after tripping while walking down some stairs and hitting his head following a lunch with his close friends and his wife Sheryn on Tuesday afternoon.
He was taken by Westpac Rescue Helicopter to Auckland Hospital, where nurses and intensive care specialists worked tirelessly to save his life.
He died the following morning, surrounded by family.
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His son Mark Cressey paid tribute to the work of hospital staff, who did not know his father was a former longstanding Counties Manukau District Health Board member.
“The nurses and the intensivists in Auckland Hospital worked on him for 13 hours and were just the most amazing bunch of people.
“They treated him with the utmost respect, they treated us with the utmost respect, they allowed us to be with him that whole period.”
Paul was a pharmacist by training who was instrumental in establishing Ronald McDonald houses in New Zealand, following the death of his son Carl from Leukaemia, aged nine.
His work with the Child Cancer Foundation led to his appointment in 2007 as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, while he also served on the boards of Plunket and the South East Auckland Life Education Trust.
(Cressey said his father initially declined to accept the honour – he only acquiesced on the proviso his name wasn’t on the medal, and he accepted it on behalf of the Foundation).
At the time of his death, he remained valued member of a Ministry of Health governance board for its finance procurement infrastructure management program and its health systems product catalogue.
His commitment to the Child Cancer Foundation was such that he paid a locum to work at his pharmacy in Half Moon Bay one day each week, so he could devote more time to the Foundation.
Cressey described his father spending an idyllic final afternoon on Waiheke Island on Tuesday.
He had travelled over from his home in Half Moon Bay to celebrate a birthday with an old friend from Pharmacy College and their wives.
“He went across his favourite piece of water, to his favourite restaurant and had lunch with some of his close friends,” Cressey said.
While leaving the restaurant he tripped, fell down and banged his head.
“Most importantly for me, he spent his last day with his wife, my mother, whom he loved the most.”
Cressey said he was “absolutely shocked” by the death of his father, who remained fit and active and had been out for a ride on his mountain bike the previous Sunday.
He spoke with pride of his father’s legacy, particularly his work lifting the profile of the Child Cancer Foundation.
In the 1980s, Paul travelled to Australia because his son Carl required a bone marrow transplant, and they stayed in a Ronald McDonald house there.
“When he came back he said: ‘we have to have Ronald McDonald houses in New Zealand.”
He worked with the organisation in the United States and brought the concept to New Zealand, first in Christchurch, then in Wellington then in Auckland.
“Whenever I asked him about that it was ‘why did you do Christchurch and Wellington first’ and he said ‘well, it would have been easy to do it in Auckland’.”
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“His dream was always to ensure that families, in their time of need, weren’t alone.”
While in Australia he also saw they had a specialist oncology ward, unlike in New Zealand where children with cancer were in the same ward as other sick children.
“With them losing their hair they got teased and looked at.”
Upon his return, he ran a campaign which secured private funding to set up an oncology ward for children in Princess Mary Hospital for Children, Cressey said.
Recently, he helped set up a Men’s Shed in Howick, which his son said he viewed as a health initiative.
“It was about men’s health, it wasn’t about the shed.
“Men need a place to be able to stand side by side to be able to have conversations, because men don’t have conversations face-to-face.”
However, Cressey said none of his father’s achievements would have been possible without his mother Sheryn, Paul’s wife of 54 years.
“It’s always been about team Cressey.”
Paul is survived by his wife Sheryn, his children Mark and Charmaine and grandchildren Kate, Sam, Grace, and Stella.
A service will be held later in the week at Bucklands Beach Yacht Club.
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