Simon Manning: There when disaster strikes

For more than 40 years PDG Simon Manning, of the Rotary Club of Kapiti, has been an important part of the New Zealand funeral services industry, especially for his involvement in the disaster victim identification process.

By David Haxton
Editor, Kapiti News

Simon, from Raumati South, has been made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order in the Queen’s Birthday and Platinum Jubilee Honours list for services to funeral services and disaster victim identification.

The accolade came “as a complete surprise to me and it is an acknowledgment to all our funeral directors and embalmers who have for years donated their skills to New Zealand in times of disastrous events”.

Following the 1979 Erebus air disaster in Antarctica, which claimed 257 lives, Simon helped establish a more structured disaster response for future fatal events.

He has led New Zealand’s Funeral Disaster Response team for a long time, developing many teams of qualified volunteers to work on rotation.

Nationally, he coordinated the team following incidents including the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011, the mosque terrorist attack in Christchurch and White Island eruption in 2019, and more.

“I’m extremely proud of each member of our team,” Simon said.

He cherishes the relationships formed in the wake of disasters, such as working with the Muslim community after the terrorist attack, some of who he has remained in contact with.

“This is very important and special to me. The Muslim community’s response was nothing short of inspirational as they dealt with the magnitude of the situation they were in.

“They allowed us to work alongside them to do the best to ensure the funerals were carried out as well as they could in the circumstances.”

Simon, who established Harbour City Funerals in Wellington in 1989, has also worked overseas, where he joined the international disaster response organisation Blake Emergency Services to gain experience, which saw him assist with the Kenya Airways crash in Cameroon and the downed Malaysia Airlines MH17 in Eastern Ukraine.

New Zealander Robert Ayley died in the MH17 disaster, in 2014, with Simon helping the 29-year-old’s family through a difficult time.

“I was privileged to be able to walk with his family through this process, from meeting with them at their home in Tawa, to some weeks later being able to arrange his funeral service, to be able to be with them in the Netherlands when they arrived to spend time with him, and to be able to travel back to New Zealand and celebrate his achievements and life with his family.

“It was one of those moments that is a gift in our role as a funeral director who specialises in disaster response work.”