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Tears flow as Graeme’s legacy honoured

Written by Maryvonne Gray
on March 17, 2023

Five years after construction worker Graeme Rabbits lost his life on a Ryman site, the five recipients of a scholarship set up in his honour came together for a very special gathering.
Not only did they get to meet each other, they also got to meet Graeme’s parents Selwyn and Viv in person and hear more about Graeme and the kind of person he was.
“It was the first opportunity for Viv and Selwyn to meet the scholarship winners and to get everybody together,” said Miranda Barnes, Group Learning and Development Manager at Ryman Healthcare. 


After Graeme died, Ryman Healthcare consulted with Graeme’s family and good friends to establish an annual scholarship aimed at inspiring and supporting young people with a focus on education, training and personal development.
Selwyn and Viv shared how Graeme loved helping people, his passion for the outdoors, gardening and caring for the environment and how he was known for his kind heart and big smile.
“What was most special was being able to tell everyone more about Graeme, our memories of him and his values,” Selwyn said afterwards.
“Graeme would have been proud to know that the scholarship is helping them to achieve their dreams.”
They said it was ‘wonderful’ to have met the scholarship winners in person and thanked their ‘Rymanian family’ for making it all possible.
“These are all very special people and it is obvious that they have a genuine desire to help others and give back to their community,” said Selwyn.
“They are now part of our family and we are looking forward to following their individual journeys and hearing how they are progressing.”
George Hola was the first recipient of the scholarship in 2019, who knew Graeme and worked with him at the Murray Halberg construction site, and still works for Selwyn to this day.
“George shared his memories of Graeme and what a special person he was and it was great for the other recipients to hear a bit more about Graeme from his perspective,” said Miranda.
Everyone then took the chance to say what they were doing in life, what it meant to be awarded the scholarship and how it has helped them.
“It was very emotional, everyone was crying. There were a lot of tears,” said Miranda.
“And it was really special for Selwyn and Viv to hear all their stories and the impact that Graeme’s scholarship is having on people’s lives.
“It gave them real confidence about the great people they have selected.”
image (29) (Large) (1)

From left: Angus Newell, Manuela Jaramillo Gonzalez, Selwyn Rabbits, Viv Rabbits, Rhianne Overell, Ichchha Koirala and George Hola all share stories at an emotional morning tea.

For Hilda Ross Kitchen Assistant Angus Newell, the most recent recipient of the scholarship, the meeting had a profound effect.
“One of my immediate thoughts was the tragic circumstances that has led to the convergence of such a diverse and special group of people and how it’s unfortunate that such an event had to occur for this to be achieved,” said Angus, who has just started his Business degree at Waikato University.
“But like with all acute events, you only have to look at those many people who offer assistance and support and kindness to have your faith restored.
“The most evident of all the emotions in that room was an overwhelming sense of optimism for the future, shared not only by the previous recipients of the award for their own endeavours, but from the group as a whole about Ryman’s future as well as a world that will continue to foster, promote and reward kindness.”
Rhianne Overell, the 2020 recipient, is working at Auckland Hospital and part time as a caregiver at Bert Sutcliffe Retirement Village,  and completing her nursing degree at the end of 2021.
“It was lovely meeting Selwyn and Viv, putting faces to their names was great! It was so nice hearing about Graeme and what he was like.
“It was also wonderful meeting all of the other years’ winners and hearing their stories and what they do, or are planning to pursue,” Rhianne said.
Meanwhile, Manuela Jaramillo Gonzalez and Ichchha Koirala, the 2021 and 2022 recipients from Colombia and Nepal respectively, have been navigating immigration challenges amongst other things.
Manuela has been working as a swimming instructor while waiting for her residency to come through, which just happened recently. She has just started her studies in Health & Wellbeing at Massey University.
Ichchha has applied for NZ residency and is currently on maternity leave from her senior caregiver role at Edmund Hillary after welcoming her first child into the world.
“It was really great to meet Selwyn and Viv, they are really nice and sweet,” she said.
“Meeting with everyone made me feel good and motivated. The most positive thing for me was sharing with each other about the value and how it felt when we were awarded the scholarships.”

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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