They had gathered to mark the anniversary of the passing of their close friend Angela D'Audney, but instead of a sombre affair, there was a party atmosphere filled with laughter, chatter, clinks of wine glasses and hope – to celebrate lifesaving technology.
Ten years after Angela passed away from a brain tumour aged 57, Karen Olsen, a TVNZ weather presenter and close friend of the legendary broadcaster, handed over a cheque for $45,000 to Mercy Hospital's Auckland Radio Oncology centre last week, on behalf of the Angela D'Audney Trust.
The party at the hospital was a lively occasion Angela would have "absolutely loved", says Karen. The funds, donated by the public, helped fulfil one of Angela's dying wishes – to improve the form of stereotactic radiotherapy available to cancer patients in New Zealand.
As the wine flowed, conversation quickly turned to people's favourite memories of their time with Angela. For Karen, it was visiting Angela in her home with her daughter Amelia (now aged 12). "I used to live quite close to her and when I was pregnant with Campbell [my son] – my daughter and I used to swim with her in her pool," says Karen.
"Amelia used to be spoiled by her. For one birthday Angela bought her this big, bright pink Barbie car. "I remember when she was towards the end and I was [still] pregnant with Campbell. She desperately wanted to meet him and she held on. She died three months after he was born."
Former TVNZ broadcaster Susan Wood recalls that Angela was fun-loving and tenacious, even towards the end of her life. At the launch of her autobiography Angela: A Wonderful Life, held at TVNZ in December 2001, Angela was determined to have a good time at the party, even though a tumour had robbed her of her ability to speak.
"I remember before she went in [to the launch] she started looking agitated, but she couldn't tell us what was wrong," says Susan. "It turned out she had a G-string on and she was worried about having a visible panty line. So we sent a dying woman out into TVNZ with no knickers on!"
Karen and Susan admit at the beginning of their careers they were a little star-struck and terrified of Angela, who was a formidable force in the newsroom. However, the pair learned a lot from her and soon became Angela's friends.
"She took me under her wing when I worked a lot with her on the weekend news bulletins with Tom Bradley," says
Karen. "She always offered her experience. She taught me to use both hands during the weather.
"I came to visit her in the hospital [after she'd been in a coma] and told her about the things she had taught me," adds Susan. "I thanked her and I saw this tear come down her face and I thought, 'She heard me!'"
Friends Carolyn Leaney, Michael Brewerton, Fiona Buchanan and Liz Kirshberg were with Angela in her final days. Michael took her for a final spin on Auckland's Tamaki Drive in her beloved soft-top Jaguar.
"We asked her if she wanted to get in the car and she blinked for yes. So we put her dressing gown on her, put her pain relief in one pocket and colostomy bag in another and Michael carried her down these tiny little thin stairs into the car. It was beautiful," says Carolyn.
"Afterwards we got her back up to bed but we said, 'We've got to celebrate. Red wine, white wine or French Champagne?'" adds Fiona. "Angela wanted Champagne so we opened a bottle and gave her [a drink] using a syringe. She later slipped into a coma and died the next day. So that was her final moment," says Fiona.
"What a cool way to go – she was glamorous to the end," adds Carolyn.
In the months before her death, Angela gathered seven of her closest friends for a special "circle of eight" dinner at her favourite restaurant, Sails, on Auckland's Westhaven Marina.
They presented Angela with a custom-made ring inscribed with the words "Cherished Angel Goddess" and imbedded with eight diamonds to symbolise the group. In return, Angela gave each one of her friends a framed montage photograph.
It was a special night for Karen, who saved the evening's menu as a memento. "It was a fun night. She had worked with a chef to provide her own menu and put on a lovely dinner for all the friends who had helped her. "It was a real celebration and there was lots of drinking, except I wasn't drinking because I was pregnant... and I couldn't eat the crayfish!"
Last week, six of the members of the original circle of eight, along with Susan Wood, who wasn't present at the dinner, were reunited for another meal at Sails.
"Angela was a lovely person, very generous and very loyal to her friends," says Karen. "We'll definitely be raising a glass to Angela, that's for sure."
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