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May Mackey (née Garnett)

1946-1948 / NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street campus)

Hughina May Garnett committed her life to Christ as a 16 year old after reading The Reason Why booklet written by Robert Laidlaw. She came to NZBTI from Dunedin in 1946 with the intent of working among Māori after her studies. At NZBTI she met fellow student, Emma Kake, who was the first Māori woman to attend NZBTI. Becoming fast friends, Emma introduced May to te ao Māori and the work of the United Māori Mission (UMM). In 1948 May began working in UMM’s Shelly Beach Māori Girls’ Hostel, a place for young Māori women to stay and be supported while in Auckland for training or work. She also established the United Māori Mission choir, taking groups to sing and testify in different churches, and performing an annual concert at the Auckland Town Hall in the 1960s and 1970s.

May soon became Matron of the Shelly Beach hostel and it was while in that role that she met Detective Inspector Wallace Chalmers. Sometimes her charges would slip out to parties and May would walk the streets of the inner city looking for the girls. It was Wally who warned May of the dangers of her solo wanderings! In 1960 May and Wally were married and adopted two children. Within three years of marriage tragedy struck when Wally was shot while on duty in January 1963.

In 1968 May married Dave Mackey, an ex-UMM hostel boy whose first wife, Molly (née Waenga, a 1953 graduate of NZBTI) had passed away. May and Dave worked as supervisors of the UMM hostels for men and women until 1981. In 1982 when May was in her early 60s, the couple became prison visitors in the Department of Corrections Kaiwhakamana kaumatua volunteer programme. Such was the respect Corrections had for May and Dave that they were given access to any prisoner throughout NZ, including those held in the high security “D block” at Paremoremo. Many an inmate looked on May as a substitute mother, often giving her the simple title of 'Ma'. Dave died suddenly in 2005, but May continued in that ministry until 2013, aged 93. She was honoured with a Queen’s Service Medal for her 30 years of service to prisoners’ support in 2018. Her citation noted that May “provided compassion, aroha and prayer support without judgment to prisoners, sometimes accompanying them to tangi or supporting them when they could not attend, and also visited prisoners’ families on the outside.”

On her 100th birthday May received a surprise visit at her resthome from the NZ Police Pipe band. Her first husband Wally had been a Pipe major in the band. It was a special thrill to have the band perform Amazing Grace and other songs, given Covid restrictions had prevented the usual visitors. May passed peacefully on Easter Monday, 5 April 2021, a month before her 101st birthday.

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