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Farewell Tina, your smile will be missed

I met Tina Moala in a gym in Eden Terrace so long ago I can’t actually remember the year. It would have been in the early 1990s. It was a cavernous place, now gone and replaced by a massive apartment block. 

I’d joined the gym because it was near to where I worked and lived. She worked there helping clients and also making sure it all ran smoothly. She was funny, impish, and always willing to talk and have a laugh.  The type of person who just made you smile whenever you saw her. Sometimes the conversations were longer, other times, short and sweet. I recall her always asking how I was, and how my boyfriend was doing. 

In 1999, I moved to another suburb, and to another, newer gym in Morningside owned by the same company. I missed Tina, but after a little while, the other gym closed, and she popped up at the new one. The staff at this gym were great, but there was something different about Tina, there was an intrinsic feeling that she actually cared deeply about the people she met. She could sometimes be cheeky and when she was being a bit ‘naughty’ she had a deep and infectious chuckle in her voice. 

A few years later, I started going to City Fitness on Karangahape Road. A short time later, Tina turned up there as the manager. It was as though we were stalking one another. We had a laugh about it. 

It’s a great gym, and very close to my home, somehow though, when Tina arrived, the atmosphere changed. The place seemed lighter and more welcoming. Some days I’d arrive, and her voice would ring out “hello Andrew.” I’d look around and not see her, she was on the other side of the gym but she’d seen me and wanted to acknowledge my arrival.  She worked hard and was always cleaning the place. She made sure patrons followed the rules, but she did it in such a way that no-one seemed put out, and all of us appreciated.  

It’s strange to think that despite her being in my life for almost three decades I actually didn’t know her, and she didn’t really know me. Our connection was long, and it was warm and affectionate, but we only ever saw each other at the gym. We would occasionally swap details of our lives, but usually there wasn’t time to talk deeply. 

Yet somehow, I felt I knew her intimately. There was an honesty and warmness in Tina that meant even a small encounter with her made me feel good. 

There are many people in our lives we see often, and we are fond of, but for whatever reason, they stay in defined roles or places. It doesn’t however diminish the regard we have for one another. It is perhaps a really nice part of the human condition, that people we encounter can have a positive impact on us, even if they are not central to our lives. And for me, that was Tina.

Death is an odd thing. It’s easy to think we understand what it is, but ultimately it is very perplexing. To realise that a person one cares for has gone, and there won’t be anymore encounters with them takes time to process. Upon hearing of her sudden death the other day, I wanted to just tell her I appreciated her. I think she already knew that, but now she’s gone, I wish I had the opportunity to tell her I’m sorry she’s died, and I appreciated her. 

In every encounter I had with her she made me smile, and whenever I saw other people with her, she made them smile. That’s quite a gift to give the world, and I shall miss it. 

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