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"Loving, giving" Carmen remembered at service

Sat 11 Feb 2012 In: New Zealand Daily News

The late Carmen Rupe was this evening remembered as a loving, giving prophet and leader who was, all agreed, "a lady." At a memorial service held at Auckland's St Matthew's church a parade of speakers celebrated the qualities they felt most typified the transgender and drag icon who died in Sydney in December after a very publicly visible life spent living in Auckland, Wellington and Sydney. Dana de Milo Approximately 250 people, including gay politicians, Maori kaumatua and longtime friends and associates, gathered to pay their respects. Among the many speakers one of Carmen's early and long-time friends, Dana De Milo of Wellington, told stories of Carmen's generosity in her Wellington coffee shop days and how she was frequently ripped off by those she tried to help. She said Carmen would not directly confront those who stole money from her businesses but would make it clear how she felt with an oblique accusation such as: "Did I pay for those tits dear?" Politicians Charles Chauvel, Louisa Wall and Judith Tizard Gossip columnist David Hartnell remembered Carmen as a "star, a diva and an icon" who loved movies and had a unique fashion style. He brought the crowd to its feet for "one final standing ovation for Carmen." Human Rights Commissioner Richard Tankersley praised Carmen for "sticking up for all of us." "Before Stonewall, before law reform, before human rights legislation, before prostitution law reform there was Carmen," he said. He described her visibility and ability to embody qualities needed by all glbti people as being the qualities of "a leader and a prophet." Black Pearl Senior opposition politician Charles Chauvel urged people to "celebrate the joy she brought into our lives. Carmen embodied dignity, equality and a little bit of glamour... let's continue to strive for those things." He recounted that when Carmen was appearing before Parliament's all-powerful privelleges committee she cheekily asked for a break to go "to the ladies." A young Judith Tizard showed her to one of only two women's toilets in Parliament in those days and laughs and giggles were then heard through the door as Carmen took the opportunity before a mirror to give Tizard tips on how to better apply her makeup and lipstick. Drag performer Miss Ribena emotionally recalled the "secret little Fanta parties Carmen," a diabetic, "and I used to have in her hospital room in the last weeks of her life." Members of the Rupe family Robin Waerea, a close friend who was one of the Sydney group who cared for Carmen in her final weeks and who was with her when she died, said she died "peacefully and beautifully." Her room at St Vincent's Hospice was "lovely and quiet and moments after she passed the sun came through the window and flooded the room with colour... I will never forget that rainbow of colours." Black Pearl, aka Te Herekiekie Herewini who supported Carmen in many ways through her declining years, struck a more sober note, acknowledging that Carmen's life included struggles. "She knew not everybody loved her," he said. "Some people used to say unkind things to her in the street... she'd just reply: 'I'll say a little prayer for you.'" MC Mika Speaking for the Rupe family, Francis Rupe said that Carmen was "generous in spirit... that is the way we were brought up." He said her name Carmen was chosen because of her idolisation of the Brazillian-born Hollywood musical star Carmen Miranda. "Even as a little boy she would decorate herself with jewellery and flowers... she was infatuated with Carmen Miranda." The memorial service was MC'd by Mika who began proceedings by singing The Way We Were to a Carmen portrait and the evening included Carmen's favourite show song, Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine. Other performers to pay musical tribute to Carmen included a glamorous candle-lit drag ensemble headed by Buckwheat and Tess Tickle, also Cindy of Samoa (She did it her way), singer Jacquie Clarke (Bizet's Carmen) and Ramon Te Wake (Songbird). The emotional but cheerful service ended with a massed singing of How Great Thou Art in the darkened church as some of Carmen's quotes appeared in stark black and white on a projection screen.    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Saturday, 11th February 2012 - 10:11pm

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