Mighty totara of Taranaki rugby remembered for service to the sport, family, farming

April 17, 2020

A woman described as a pioneer and mighty totara of Taranaki rugby has died after decades of service to the sport. 

Sue Mitchell died in the early hours of April 14 at Taranaki Base Hospital after a short battle with an illness.

Mitchell was the secretary at the Taranaki Rugby Football Union (TRFU) for 10 years in the 80s and 90s before moving to New Plymouth Old Boys, where she served for more than 20 years. 

The 72-year-old was the current treasurer of the club, taking up the role after serving 15 years as chairwoman 

“She’s a tough, resolute lady. She didn’t want to, I suppose, make it public that she was dealing with a few things herself. But that’s the type of lady she was,” the club’s current chairman Roger Wells said.

She continued to volunteer for the TRFU on many occasions, particularly last year when the organisation struggled with staffing issues. She was later awarded Volunteer of the Year at the Amber and Black Awards.  

Wells described Mitchell as an honest person with an infectious warmth who was hard working, kind, a pioneer for rugby, a leader, role model and a mother figure to those that had come from afar. 

“She’s the glue that holds the place together basically,” Wells said. 

“If you went down to the club every Saturday or Thursday night she was always there.” 

Members of the club had moved to play in Taranaki and Mitchell was first to welcome them, provide a home-cooked meal and the support they needed, becoming a “mother figure” for many of the players, Wells said. 

He said the best way to describe her was as the Māori proverb of a mighty totara tree. 

“The strength of the club has taken a hit,” he said.

“You have a tree come down like that but it’s up to us to plant a few more I suppose and grow some more people like Sue.”

She was nominated for Life Membership of the TRFU, and community rugby manager Cole Brown said her death was a huge loss. 

“The Taranaki community has lost a legend,” he said.

“Sue’s contribution to the province over her lifetime was unmeasurable and she is undoubtedly one of the true greats of our sport. Sue’s impact on the community will leave a lasting impression.” 

Liam McBride knew Mitchell since he was five years old, when he began playing for NPOB, and said it was a loss not only for the club but for Taranaki rugby.

“Everyone who knew her loved her.

“It’s going to be hard to see Old Boys without Sue. She’s pretty much the saint of the club.” 

Due to the coronavirus lockdown, the club has been unable to celebrate her life but when the time is right it will honour her in some way.

Mitchell also had a strong love for animals and in 1977 she and husband John were the inaugural winners of the Taranaki Sharemilker of the Year when they farmed in Tikorangi. 

But most of all, she was a family woman, a loving wife and mother to Kirsty, Phil (Boris) and Hamish. But her biggest passion of all was her nine grandchildren, her family said.

Be it watching their sport, school activities or just being proud of them everyday. There was nothing she wouldn’t do and nowhere she wouldn’t go to be there supporting them.

Due to lockdown, Mitchell’s immediate family bubble will be celebrating her life on Monday April 20 at 2pm.

Extended family, friends and community are invited to join her farewell ONLINE at