No slowing ninety-plus Meals on Wheels driver

It’s what you might call a Gilbertian situation… a 97 year old delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly around town. 

But as improbable as it sounds Fred Gilbert does exactly that, every Friday and sometimes other days if another volunteer can’t do their shift. 

He delivers the half-dozen or so hot meals in his own electric car – a Nissan Leaf bought a few years ago and charged nightly in the garage using the free electricity from his energy plan. 

“Im a very independent person,” Fred acknowledged to the Chronicle at the Bayview Rd home to which he and wife Yvonne retired 37 years ago with hardly a glance back over the divvy. 

Retired is hardly the right word; in his typed-up memoirs Fred’s got an A4 page-long list of all the things he’s done since settling in Raglan. 

One of the first is having joined the local St John Ambulance service, where he not only trained as an officer but also delivered Meals on Wheels through the organisation. 

It was the late 1990s and before the service switched to hospital boards around the country, he explains. 

Decades on – and still delivering – this nimble nonagenarian reckons all his volunteer work has been driven simply by a desire to be part of the community. 

Over the past few years, since Yvonne died, he’s not only distributed meals to others but has also received them himself “as a gift”  from Raglan Rest Home and Hospital where the meals are prepared daily. 

He’s certainly earned them, reckons rest home owner/manager Maree Lawrence, because Fred – an electrician in a past life – also used to do TV maintenance for free at the rest home. 

The old folks would press all the wrong buttons, Fred laughs, and he’d help restore reception. 

Fred also used to drive the community minibus once a week, taking rest home residents “for a jaunt round the neighbourhood”. Quite the home handyman – having built his own bach, then his current house – he also helped erect the new Raglan Community House in Bow St and did its electrical work. 

Subsequently, through the community house, Fred started up SeniorNet in Raglan for older people. He’s still a dab hand at the computer and, despite clinging onto his old landline, is au fait with a mobile phone too. 

Using a hearing aid occasionally seems to be his only concession to old age. 

While still a relatively young man – after a decade as a sparkie – Fred retrained as a minister, and he went on to serve in various parishes for 35 years. These days he religiously travels into Hamilton Methodist Church for worship on Sundays. 

And he indulges another passion, for amateur radio, from his home every day. “A finger in that pie too,” he chuckles, having started up a club for Raglan “hams” soon after retiring. The small group of enthusiasts took over a vacant space in the basement of the then-new community house he’d helped build. 

Although he’s the only ham left in town these days – quipping “I’ve lived too long” – Fred still talks to others by radio daily throughout the Waikato and around New Zealand. Thursday nights are reserved for long-distance callouts, Fred adds, and that’s when he chats with fellow hams the world over. 

“There’s always something to do in (or from) Raglan,” Fred insists, even if he’s reached a point where most people think they shouldn’t ask him to take on anything more. 

By Edith Symes

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