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Neil Dearlove – ‘A dreamer, a motivator, an adventurer’

Saturday 15 April 2023 | Written by John Woods | Published in Features, Memory Lane


Neil Dearlove – ‘A dreamer, a motivator, an adventurer’
Neil Dearlove who was a music lover among many other things with his best mate Coco, the Jack Russell, who was often seen riding with him on his scooter to follow paddling competitions in Rarotonga. SUPPLIED/23041466

Writing with deep sadness and heartfelt sympathy for the Dearlove family, Cook Islands News journalist and publisher John Woods penned this obituary for his friend and former neighbour Neil Dearlove, the well known café operator and coffee roaster who died this week and was buried at sea on Thursday.

The Cook Islands and particularly the hospitality industry lost one of its most colourful identities and staunchest leaders with the sudden death of 70-year-old barista Neil Dearlove early this week.

He was farewelled by a crowd of hundreds convened by the Davy Jones Locker Society, of which he was an enthusiastic member, at Avatiu Harbour where the MC, his son-in-law Eddie Chambers thanked everyone for coming “and joining in the celebration of a great husband, father, grandfather and friend”.

A man who stood tall to his final day, Eddie said, Neil was someone who never lost his boyish wonder – a pirate, a dreamer, a motivator, an adventurer.

In Palmerston North in 1967 as a 15-year-old he ran away from home, not the end of the street or to his friend’s house but to Wellington where he pawned his only possession of any value, his watch, and bought a ticket to Sydney where he hustled and survived on any work he could get until finally finding his niche as a lighting tech in theatre.

Neil Dearlove had a collection of epic t-shirts. He is pictured here in one of his many favourites. 23041464

It was there he got his first life changing gig working on Jesus Christ Superstar, where his “spotlight fell on the love of his life for the next 50 years, Janet Roberts, his accomplice and first mate in everything that would follow”.

Then they settled back in New Zealand, followed the well beaten path, bought a house, grew the kids Anushka, Reuben and Tamsyn, and worked. Janet put the stage behind her and committed herself to the impossible task of wrangling the Dearlove gene pool.

But Neil was still on the road, often away, making other people and things look good with his lights and resourceful sleight of hand. His jobs included staging product launches, touring bands, Bruce Lee exhibitions, conferences, up and down New Zealand and overseas.

It was an IBM conference in 1986 that brought Neil to Rarotonga; he had never heard of the place but by the time the conference had ended he knew he’d be back.

The Dearlove family aboard Akura fishing charter vessel leaving Avatiu harbour for the sea burial on Thursday. MELINA ETCHES/23041413/23041415

A year later, the family convinced that it was a good idea to sell everything and live on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere, he upped stumps, sold the house in Pakuranga, said goodbye to the pristine lawn, and returned to Raro… with Janet, Anushka, Reuben and Tamsyn in tow.

The Dearloves had arrived! Rarotonga would never be the same.

Dealing with the quandary of what to do, Neil set out on an adventure that led to

a lot of things, got a job as a sparky at the airport, set up a jet boat business, opened up an electrical shop which morphed into a gift shop and became the country’s first internet provider. He and Janet set up the original Café, set up the new café, leading to the Matavera coffee shop and roastery with a float tank.

Whilst all this was happening he secured a piece of land on the Matavera coast, with no immediate neighbours anywhere, and although to some it was too windy and too rocky he built a tiny house there for the family anyway, which got bigger and bigger. And with Janet’s sharp eye for beauty and style, it became what we see today.

As Eddie said in his eulogy at Thursday’s funeral, every day Neil worked, and in everything he innovated:

  • The first fax machine on the island.
  • Gate poly, the first internet service on the island.
  • He bought real coffee to the island, he roasted it, he served it, he taught us that decaf was the work of the devil and that milk comes from a cow.

Eddie’s words: Every day he made little cups of love that were served to everyone, handed over with kindness and a very dry sense of humour. He was trusted by everyone who came to the window, a conduit and a confidant for everything that was happening on the island.

This trust, resilience, and dependability made him a father figure to a lot of us. He was the cool dad, the one you could talk to without being talked at, no judgement, only support, only encouragement. 

Neil has many adopted children on the island, or maybe we adopted him; I see many of them here today, and I count myself as one of them, it was an honour to have him as my mentor, and friend, and as luck would have it, my father-in-law.

Neil has always worked, he never took a day off, right to his final day we all relied on him. The coffee was on and he would be there to make it, as sure as the sun would rise.

Well, the sun still rises…

But not all is lost, and he wouldn’t want us to think like that. Neil showed a way of being we can aspire to. One of kindness, patience, resourcefulness, curiosity and humour.

To paraphrase a lyric from an old Bob Dylan Track,

Neil, we all wish for

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee ‘fore you go
To the valley below

Pallbearers and family members carry the body of Neil Dearlove to his final resting place on Thursday. MELINA ETCHES/23041410


Among those who paid tributes at Thursday’s funeral was Ngatangiia MP Kaka Ama, who said as a Matavera resident he had probably known Neil longer than anyone else in his community.

“I got my coffee from Neil every day but never once did I get a free coffee.”

Being a coffee addict myself, I first met Neil the day I arrived in the Cook Islands in 2005, and as my provider and neighbour he became one of my best friends here.

And being the editor and publisher of the daily newspaper, I grew to know Neil as a great raconteur and source who delighted in often telling me how to do my job, especially when we got something wrong or missed something newsworthy.

I know he would be embarrassed to know I’m devoting two whole pages to him today, and he’d be highly amused to know that his untimely death caused a furore in our office this week.

His family arranged for a bereavement notice to be published in Thursday’s paper inviting everyone to the funeral but the gremlins were at play on Wednesday night and we went to press mistakenly omitting the death notice.

When I found this out while boarding the plane in Auckland to return for the funeral, I had to intervene and order reprinting of the next day’s newspaper with his bereavement included.

So thanks Neil, you caused us to reprint an entire edition just to get you in it. It was my duty and my last rite in paying respect to a wonderful mate. Thanks bro.