Home' The Wellingtonian : December 22nd 2011 Contents 9
THE WELLINGTONIAN, DECEMBER 22, 2011
The inspiring Dean Gifford
Joseph Romanos talks to our Wellingtonian of the Year, Dean Gifford, about being Conrad Smith's team-mate, battling cancer
and sending paint to the Solomon Islands.
Dean Gifford: ''You can't sit around feeling sorry for yourself.''
Photo: JOSEPH ROMANOS
Where did you go to school?
Marist Newtown and then, from
1983 till 1987, St Pat s in
Were you a big rugby bloke
Not as much as you d imagine. I
was tall, but really skinny so I
mainly concentrated on basket-
ball. St Pat s has always been
good at basketball.
You had a pretty varied
was OK. I was a lock. I played for
Ories, Wellington, Old Boys-
University, Marist-St Pat s and,
later, Petone Police.
Were you just going to the
Not at all. I wanted to play a
good standard of club rugby but
sometimes I liked a club or a team
and sometimes, like at Petone, I
wanted to play with my mates.
You also had an unusual rep
I had a game for Nelson Bays. I
don t know where they got my
name from but they invited me to
play for them, so I had one game,
at Trafalgar Park. I had a blinder,
scored a try and made a few runs.
The next season Wairarapa-Bush
asked me to play for them, so I
did. I d go over the hill twice a
week for training and then for the
game on the weekends. I loved it.
What was the big game for
We played Manu Samoa at
Memorial Park that season. It
was awesome. The ground was
You had a stint in England.
Yes, in Wigan, which is rugby
league territory, though there s a
lot of interest in rugby there, too.
I enjoyed it, but it was bloody cold
and we seemed to train in mud all
Any regrets not going
further in rugby?
No, I wasn t quite big or strong
enough and didn t have the
X-factor. When I was playing for
Old Boys-University, Conrad
Smith played with us. He was just
young but straightaway you could
tell he was special. He was pulled
into the rep side and he was away.
Did you go straight into the
police when you left college?
I had a couple of years working
in places like Sol Bar and Shed 5
but I always wanted to go into the
What's the attraction?
There s something different
every day. You don t know what
you ll get. It s a buzz. I was in
Lower Hutt for 14 years and have
spent the last four in Wellington.
What do you do now?
Field intelligence. I ll go and
talk to people when they have
been released from prison, see
what they want, talk about goals
and so on. Some people don t want
to know you, and some are happy
to talk and very eager to get a job.
If they want a job in a specific
field I open the phone book and
start ringing people until I m able
to hook them up with someone.
Does that usually work?
Some people won t even turn up
and some will. The ones who
really want to make a go of it, it s
very rewarding to see them turn
their lives around.
You've been battling cancer.
Yeah, it s a bugger. About five
years ago I developed a brain
tumour. I finished a rugby game
and felt really odd so I drove
myself straight to A and E. When
I was there, within just a few
seconds I couldn t even talk. They
thought I had concussion, though
I was dubious because I didn t
recall having taken any big hits
during the game. They ran a CT
scan and told me I had a tumour.
That must have been devas-
You hear tumour and it s a
shock. It was really upsetting --
there are no good tumours, just
degrees of bad. I had a young fam-
ily -- my wife, Penny, was preg-
nant with our second child. They
did an operation to cut out some of
the tumour and I did a course of
radiation. It went well and I ve
been all right for five years,
though I knew it could return.
In about May it came back. It
has grown and affects the right
side of my body so my leg drags a
bit. I do chemotherapy in the form
of taking pills and the tumour
seems to be getting smaller, so
Are the pills expensive?
They cost $200 each, so $1000 a
week. I do a one-week course
every five weeks.
You seem very positive con-
sidering all this bad luck.
It s a pain but you have to be
hopeful. You can t sit around feel-
ing sorry for yourself. I have no
idea what the future holds but I
do swimming, cycling and rowing
-- taking care of myself physically.
The reason you've come to
our attention is because of the
help you've given children at
Wellington Children's Hos-
pital and in the Solomon
Islands. How did that come
When I was up at the hospital
because of my tumour, I popped
over to the children s ward. That
puts things in perspective. They
were in the same boat as me but
they were only five. Then I started
thinking of ways I could help
them. I visit the children s ward
quite often and take various
people with me -- All Blacks, the
armed offenders squad, Helipro,
the fire service, the national dive
squad, police dogs. I took a group
from the hospital to Weta one day.
I ve gone up to the hospital with
face painters, musicians, a
magician. The kids love it and so
do some of the parents and staff.
The All Blacks are always very
How do you get hold of
Through Conrad Smith. Every
time they re here for a test, I ll get
in touch with Conrad and he ll
organise for some of them to go up
to the hospital. They even did it
during the World Cup. Brad
Thorn went every time. All the All
Blacks who went were really great
the way they dealt with the kids.
What's your connection with
Solomons. I d see pictures from
there and the kids were dressed in
rags -- their clothes were really
perished. I had a whip-round to
help them out and walked down to
the $2 shop to pick up some stuff.
That turned into going to places
like Rebel Sport and asking for
some of the stuff they hadn t sold
at Christmas. Lots of companies
have come on board since. Nike
have given us 300 soccer balls.
Colgate Palmolive have been
amazing. They ve given more than
three tonnes of goods over five
years -- shampoos, soaps, Ajax,
that sort of thing.
How much have you sent
there in total?
About 71G2 tonnes to the
Solomons. It s gone up on
Hercules aircraft. Not everything
goes to the Solomons. Nearly all
the toys we ve got have gone to the
Children s Hospital here.
What else have you sent up?
At Lower Hutt [police station]
we had a whole lot of old bikes. I
got a mate who was a bike mech-
anic to make a list of things we
needed to fix them. Then I went to
a bike shop and they gave me
what I needed, so all the bikes got
fixed and sent over. The latest
thing has been paint.
Yes, I went over there one time,
to see how the stuff was being
used. I visited the Honiara Hos-
pital. I thought, This place is ter-
rible. The paint was peeling off
the walls and it was dark and
depressing. I came back and did a
thing with TV One about it. After
that I got a call from Resene,
offering help. They ve given more
than 900 litres of paint, plus test
pots. PAL and Haydn s helped
with the brushes, rollers, scrapers
and such like.
How do you manage to get
so much stuff?
The first thing you have to do is
ask. And you need a good cause.
Also, the fact that I m a police-
man, turning up in a uniform,
There was a big gala event
held in your honour last
month. That must have been a
It was amazing, very humbling.
I was kept in the dark about it.
Four people organised it -- Ben
Quinn, Katie Armstrong, Matt
McLaughlin and Erin Moyle.
Then I heard Colin Meads was
coming, so I started to get some
idea it was going to be quite big.
In the end they had to stop sales
at 550 people. It raised more than
$100,000. I have no idea about my
future so our family is incredibly
grateful for that.
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