Jaime Gilbert was late to his own funeral. Held at Burnside High School’s Aurora Centre where Jaime spent many a performance as an actor, singer, dancer and kapa haka captain; his casket arrived a good ten minutes after the scheduled starting time. It was an in joke for family and friends: Jaime was never accused of being on time.
As 1000 onlookers watched, a kapa haka group from Aranui High School led the funereal procession into the hall. The coffin, bearing a tag reading Jim Jam, was placed on stage before a carved waka. Family members sat right there with it for the duration of the service.
“It’s fitting holding Jaime’s funeral in the Aurora Centre,” began my Dad, the MC, “For Jaime was a born performer.” Guests were encouraged to give speeches or share stories, with no fear of breaking down. “Jaime won’t mind if we trip over our words and stumble,” said Dad, “He will appreciate our stories and effort.”
The details of 22 year old Jaime Gilbert’s death have been widely publicised. His sister, Amy Cooney, was working alongside him at the Iconic Bar in the CBD when the quake hit. A cameraman captured her running out the door with blood streaming down her face – it was one of the first pieces of video footage broadcast around the world. “We’ve become poster children of the earthquake,” said Jaime’s brother Peter Cooney.
Jaime Gilbert was a member of the Baha’i Faith and proudly Maori, and both aspects of his life were on display during the service. Prayers were read in English and Maori, and a special message had been sent from the supreme administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, the Universal House of Justice, by email from Haifa, Israel.
The speeches told a story of a boisterous child who loved to sing and dance, and who would conjure up stories, skits, plays and songs at a moment’s notice. Peter Cooney reminisced about his brother’s star quality. “I’d come home after being away for months, and Mum and the family would be happy to see me,” he said. “And then Jaime would walk in the door after being gone an hour and everybody would celebrate.”
A friend stood up, saying, “He put about 48 hours into every day.” Jaime’s cousin and close friend, Yayne McDowell, spoke of mirroring him every step he took. “Jaime was my biggest influence,” she said. When Jaime chose to attend NASDA school for performing arts, so too did she. In an impromptu performance, members of the school ran on stage and sang a medley of Kiwi favourites: Four Seasons in One Day, For Today and Welcome Home.
Jaime’s mother, Vicki McDowell told parents to “Treasure each and every one of your children and treasure every moment you’re with them.” His partner, and the mother of his children, Natalie, called him “The best father in the world.”
But the final words were reserved for Robert Gilbert, the deceased’s father, and a drama teacher at Aranui High School. Jaime had been selected to play the part of Laertes in Hamlet, at the Aurora Centre later this month, and his father chose quoted from the text. “Good-night, sweet prince, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Jaime Gilbert is survived by his partner Natalie, and his children Levi (age 2) and Indian Rose (age 6 months). A trust has been set up to assist his children:
JAIME GILBERT’S CHILDREN’S TRUST BNZ 02-0852-0026796-000