Patrick Gower’s cannabis crusade for his mother

Losing his mother to cancer sent the broadcaster off to LA in his quest to make his new documentary Paddy Gower: On Weed.
Patrick Gower on weed

It took Newshub journalist Patrick “Paddy” Gower a decade to open up about the devastating loss of his mum Joan after she battled a slow and painful death with lung cancer.

When the popular national correspondent finally dug up his trauma, it was during the upcoming two-part documentary Paddy Gower: On Weed, speaking with his dad Gordon about their shattering loss.

“Basically, my dad and I have the biggest cry ever in our family and maybe the biggest cry ever on TV!” tells the Wellington-based journalist, 42. “Anyone who has experienced cancer knows the suffering and pain someone goes through, which gets worse and worse.

“If I’d known about medicinal cannabis when Mum was sick, I would’ve definitely given it to her.”

Watch: Patrick Gower: On Weed. Article continues below.

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After filming the controversial doco, including heading to California where cannabis is legal, Paddy confesses he has a new respect for the plant.

When the series airs on Three on September 11 and 18, ahead of next year’s cannabis referendum, viewers can see the broadcaster explore the pros and cons of marijuana legalisation in New Zealand.

“If I’d told Mum when I was young, before she had cancer, that I’d grow up and make a documentary about weed, she’d have given me the biggest clip around the earhole!” laughs Paddy, who was raised in New Plymouth.

Paddy’s parents Gordon and Joan on their wedding day in the ’70s.

From a young age, the broadcaster loved to read and was regularly scanning the Taranaki Daily News at nine. He was the first in his family to attend university, gaining a BA in politics in Wellington, before studying journalism in Auckland.

“My cousins, God bless their souls, are bogan,” Paddy says.

“There’s all these bogan genes settled in a deep pool among my male cousins, and then there’s a thing called runt of the litter. I can’t loosen a bolt or hammer a nail, or back a trailer.”

Gordon with his little newshound, aged one.

But like Joan and his late grandmother Brigid, Paddy won in the intelligence stakes.

“Mum was a really bright person but was never able to go to university, so she couldn’t use her brain as much as she’d have liked. It was almost an obsession for her that I went,” he tells.

When Paddy graduated, it was a huge moment for his proud parents.

“I remember they were really gutted because I’d gone out and got hammered with my mates the night before,” he grins.

Graduating from Victoria University aged 22.

But when Joan found out her son got his first journalism job at 21, she was ecstatic.

“We’d been waiting days to hear, after I’d been rejected from quite a few papers, and Mum had gone for a walk when the landline rang,” he recalls. “Dad came down the hallway saying, ‘Get out of bed, the bloody Herald’s on the phone!'”

Paddy was offered the job of nightshift reporter.

“It was the lowest of the low and they’d made the role up for me because I was so desperate. I was like, ‘You beauty!'”

He can picture Joan walking up the deck, into the house and finding out.

“She was crazy happy and giggling, and gave me a massive hug,” he beams.

“She was almost screaming with joy. It’s awesome to think about how happy she was for the first day of the start of my career.”

Another genetic gift Joan passed on was the ease of gaining people’s trust. It’s a skill that has proven helpful for Paddy in his rise from “graveyard reporter” to Three national correspondent.

“Mum was kind and a lot of friends confided in her because she was a real voice of reason,” he says proudly. “She was very empathetic and never gossiped or judged.”

Paddy with his mum in 2006.

Paddy credits his father for bringing humour to the table. “Dinner with Dad was like having The Project, 3 News and 7 Days all at once,” he enthuses.

“Gordy’s a great yarner about what’s happening in the world. He also likes to have fun and is always the one cracking jokes.”

Paddy says his 70-year-old dad – who worked at New Plymouth’s power station while he grew up – is his hero because of the way he cared for Joan after she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009.

No leaf will go unturned. Paddy checks out a marijuana production line in Colorado.

“The first time I saw Mum after she was diagnosed, she rubbed my head gently and it must’ve been something she did when I was a kid,” he says.

“She told me everything would be alright, which is a mother’s lie because it was the worst year ever. I told her I’d be OK and I’d look after Dad.”

Joan sadly passed away within a year, at 57. “She’d be really proud of a whole lot of things, like me ending up in Parliament and on television as the political editor of a network doing the leaders’ debate.”

Being interviewed for a women’s magazine for the first time sparks another memory.

Paddy and his father Gordon.

“She’d be stoked I’m doing this interview with Woman’s Day,” he enthuses.

“She was a receptionist at a GP, and the perk was getting to buy the women’s magazines because it meant she could bring them home for a night and read them. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing texts from her friends saying they saw the article.”

He also thinks Joan would have applauded his conversation with Gordon.

“It was a big step to open up about grief publicly,” says Paddy, who has dubbed his doco “reality journalism”.

“When Mum was sick, Dad did a lot of her pain management, and I never went back and asked, ‘What was it like three months out from her death, driving to pick up a big box of morphine – which filled the whole front seat – to pump into her?'”

Paddy admits they felt good a couple of hours after the teary conversation.

“Kiwi families often block off things like death, thinking we’re getting on with our lives,” he explains. “But talking about Mum has been really cathartic.”

While he won’t disclose his exact findings on cannabis so people can see for themselves on the TV show, Paddy says it’s been life-changing.

“I never thought I’d end up getting on the weed tea with four successful women from high-society California and having really good chats,” he teases.

Paddy also interviewed Hollywood actress Erin Cummings, who starred as Spartacus’ wife Sura on Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

It was after returning from New Zealand, where the TV series was filmed, that the actress was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

“Erin’s recovered now, but she suffered a lot,” he tells. “I’d wondered how a journalist from New Plymouth – whose hair pokes out one side and has bogan blood – would get along with a Hollywood actress. But she was really lovely and took us around Hollywood.”

Paddy says colourful presenter Paul Henry was originally offered the documentary gig, but turned it down. “He chucked the idea in the gutter and sailed off in his yacht, and I’d like to say, ‘Thanks Paul, it’s a great topic!'” laughs Paddy.

Now 10 years since his mum’s death, Paddy’s only regret was not giving her cannabis for the pain.

“Medical use wasn’t something I knew much about then,” he confides.

“I would’ve thought it meant walking into Mum’s room with a giant joint. I didn’t realise I could have gone in with a little dropper to help her sleep, and remove her anxiety and some of the pain.”

Part of the drive behind Paddy’s latest project is honouring his beloved mother’s memory.

“The documentary allowed me to incorporate her into the career she’s missed out on and everything I’ve done,” he smiles.

“It’s like Mum’s helping me to tell a story for the first time in 20 years.”

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