Passing of Sir Vincent O’Sullivan

A man sitting outside in a chair. He is wearing sunglasses.
Sir Vincent O’Sullivan. Photo by Tim Gruar

The Randell Cottage Writers Trust deeply mourns the passing of our much-loved and respected Patron Sir Vincent O’Sullivan.

Sir Vincent played a special role during our Twentieth Anniversary Celebrations in 2022, when he unveiled a Heritage Blue Plaque in the Cottage grounds. His speech, with reminiscences of the history of the preservation of the Cottage, and the creation of a residence for New Zealand and French writers, can be read here.

Our Trustee Emerita, and long-time friend and literary colleague of Sir Vincent, Dame Fiona Kidman, gives this tribute on the Trust’s behalf:

Sir Vincent O’Sullivan KNZM. Vince. Poet, short story writer, novelist, biographer, playwright, librettist, anthologist, pre-eminent Katherine Mansfield scholar, friend to many. The breadth of his work has been astonishing. As one writer wrote to me this morning, ‘a man of many lines’. Add to that, among the many thousands of words that will be written about him, following his death just before midnight on 28 April, a founding Trustee and Patron of Randell Cottage Writers Trust. In 2001, he was part of a group who set out to found a residency for New Zealand and French writers. This was a reflection of his life-long support and generosity towards other writers. He made time to create a platform for new and lesser writers and once he had made a commitment to them, it was for life.

When the Price/Randell family became aware of his interest in a residency and a new fellowship, they stepped in with the offer of Randell Cottage. With Vincent, Gordon Stewart, myself and others, the Trust was formed in a very short time, so that we could take delivery of the gift. Vincent’s support for the Cottage never wavered and, at the time of his death, he was Co-Patron of the Trust alongside the Ambassador for France, Mme Laurence Beau.

At a personal level, Vincent’s poetry, in particular, has brought me endless pleasure and inspiration. His work has been ‘there’ for all my writing life, and, he, a contemporary whose devotion to craft has been an example to follow. I have loved his subversive reading of the New Zealand psyche which persisted throughout his oeuvre, his profound insights, his wit, the elegance of his style, and the underlying tenderness and compassion for the human condition which never left him.

The distinguished writer, Kirsty Gunn, and former Randell Cottage Fellow, writing for the Academy of New Zealand Literature, said, ‘Across all his activities, in addition to his [Vincent O’Sullivan’s] work in prose and verse, from arts journalist to literary editor to playwright and librettist, we see the fineness of his craftsmanship, a technique and expertise that means he can bring the most sophisticated idea into simple language, and, in his fiction and poetry, make of the human condition with all its ambiguities and bathos something to be both treasured’.

Writing on The Spinoff today, Emma Neale wrote, ‘My heart hurts for Helen and the rest of his family.’ That is exactly how I felt when I learned the news. We Trustees and Friends of the Randell Cottage, join in sending love to Helen, Deirdre, and Dominic, and their families.

For excellent commentary on the passing of our Patron and a host of tributes to Vince, Sir Vincent – although he wore the title so lightly – I recommend Emma’s post and also that of Claire Mabey.

Fiona Kidman

Trustee Emerita RCWT
President, Friends of the Randell Cottage Writers Trust

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