Tue 12 Sep 2017

WITT mourns loss of Mike Banks

If men could go through The Change of Life, then Mike Banks would have been the ideal person to discuss it.

The WITT electrical tutor, who died suddenly on Friday, had enjoyed a significant transformation over the last five years.

In that time he had taken on an unfamiliar role as a polytech tutor, undergone a gastric bypass operation – and developed a new love of shopping for new clothes.

“He was euphoric, loving his new life,’’ said sister Fran. “He had become so comfortable in his own skin.’’

Too comfortable, his other sister Teresa might argue.

“He so embraced it, losing 50kg, but sometimes I felt like telling him to shut up and eat a chocolate bar!’’

Mike was preparing for the weekend on Friday. He had finished work at WITT and went to his Merrilands home to mow the lawn. He really did know every blade of grass – these lawns had been looked after by him for the last 35 years.

The job done, it was time to open a can of cola and relax on the lazy boy with the TV on.

That is where his brother Greg found him soon after. Mike had succumbed to the same heart problem which had claimed his father.

He would have celebrated his 59th birthday on Sunday.

Mike’s three siblings, Greg – who is WITT’s network engineer, and sisters Fran and Teresa – based in Hamilton and Sydney respectively - were at his home on Monday continuing a massive job of sorting through Mike’s possessions.

In a time of great sorrow, the trio found solace and humour in celebrating their brother’s likes and loves and foibles.

They pointed to the collections of unopened bedding, multiple containers of hand cleansers and toothpaste. They had thought to bring some coffee with them, only to find Mike has stored up in that area as well.

“Bargains,’’ said Fran. “He was like mum, he couldn’t resist them.’’

The more significant items, though related to his love of engineering. The garage downstairs is a fully furnished workshop.

Mike was born in Hawera in 1958 and grew up in the Waikato as his father Ces worked in various offices of the Ministry of Agriculture. He saw the inside of classrooms in Morrinsville and Paeroa, then at Hamilton’s Fraser High School before the family returned to Taranaki and Stratford via Te Kuiti.

In 1976 Mike began an apprenticeship for New Zealand Rail in Hamilton and had progressed to be the company’s head electrician in New Plymouth when he became an early 1990s victim of redundancy.

From there he worked for several Taranaki electrical firms before taking time out to concentrate on his engineering interests – and his love of work as a gunsmith.

He was also a Mountain Safety Instructor who would take candidates for their firearms licence.

But it was working with his hands on a piece of equipment, rather than using it, which gave him most satisfaction.

Mike had endured a serious accident as a youngster which saw him fitted with a plastic kneecap. He had a second accident in Taranaki as an adult when taking a ladder off a van. The wind caught the ladder and badly wrenched both his shoulders.

The damage took a long time to heal – and he never gained full mobility of his shoulders.

Then about five years ago Greg suggested his brother end his time out and apply for a tutor’s role at WITT.

“He never told me he was going for it – but he got the job,’’ Greg recalled.

Mike joined WITT in February 2013 and enjoyed the new challenge of teaching, even if he was not one to suffer fools or tolerate people who were not prepared to work.

“The students he could turn around – that really gave him a sense of pride,” Greg said.

WITT chief executive Barbara George said she was shocked to hear the news on Friday evening.

“We have lost a member of our family and someone who touched many lives. Our thoughts go out to Greg, Fran and Teresa.

“Mike will be missed. I would often see him around the campus and in our staff room and we would stop for a chat. He was well regarded by the students and well liked by his colleagues.

“His brother Greg is also a valued member of the team and we are so very sorry for his loss.’’

Fran says it’s wrong that she has lost her brother so young and when he was so happy.

“But I’m glad he got to that happy place,’’ she said.

A service will be held for Mike at 1pm on Wednesday at Edgar’s Chapel, 172-174 Lemon St (just down the road from the back entrance to WITT).

*Picture: Mike was pictured in July after it was decided to donate some electrical equipment to the Taranaki Aviation Transport and Technology Museum.