In Memory of Auke de Boer (1947-2023)

Dieuwe de Boer

My paternal grandfather ("pake" in Frisian) passed away at home aged 76 in the early hours of December 22nd after a long illness. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer eight years ago and was given nine months to live. In providence he was accepted for a medical trial with researchers from a Dutch university. This was a form of oral chemotherapy that kept the cancer at bay for nearly a decade. I'm thankful this time allowed him to travel to New Zealand twice and allowed me to visit him in the Netherlands twice more. He continued to be active with volunteer work in his community during those final years.

He was born in Drachten, a town in the north of the Netherlands in the province of Frisia. The Frisians have a long and proud history, still maintain some autonomy, their own language and customs, of which he did his part to keep alive. A Frisian will never fail to tell you that he is Frisian, not Dutch. Our family tree can be traced back over five hundred years in that very town where generation after generation worked mostly in vocations related to farming. He was the first to work in banking. He started as an errand boy aged 15 and worked his way up to manager for the same bank for 50 years, through multiple acquisitions, until his retirement with pension at 65. His work there was only interrupted with brief compulsory military service in the marines. In his early twenties he married a girl from South Holland and they had five children in Drachten where he lived for much of his life, moving further south for work and finally retiring in the small fishing village of Urk along the coast. He is survived by his wife, five children, thirteen grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren (with more on the way).

My grandparents at their wedding.

While we moved to the other side of the world when I was still young, I have many fond memories from the times we returned to visit family and the many times he came to visit us. He took English classes and paid for our uncles and aunts to come with them to New Zealand—and for us to travel back to the Netherlands. He wasn't particularly wealthy on a bank manager's salary, but he was frugal and stewarded his money well. When it came to family he was always exceptionally generous. The Anglo world has an expression for stereotypical Dutch lack of generosity, called "going Dutch" when two parties split a bill. He was the complete opposite of that. I don't know whether Frisians are normally known for their generosity, but he was. I remember keenly that sometimes he would get complaints from family members that he shouldn't pay for things (as he always insisted on paying for absolutely everything on family trips), but his response was always the same: "You can either have the money when I'm gone, or I can spend it for memories now. I'd rather you have the memories."

His garden was always immaculate. Every bush topiaried into smooth symmetrical shapes. When he came to visit us in far-away New Zealand he would spend hours in our garden, always tidying up, pruning trees, and buying new plants for us. A number of trees he planted to provide better privacy on our property now stand tall, but the fruit trees are especially well-loved by us. Two days after his passing, one final orange from last season that the tree had been holding onto fell off during a storm. Next season's orange buds are already on the tree, close to a hundred of them.
When I was growing up, pake and beppe (Frisian for grandmother) had two little dogs, a black one called Terry and a white one named Puccini (after the Italian composer). He would walk them on one of the same two routes (a long one and a short one) every day, rain or shine. He was almost always very stern and proper. We'd go with him and he'd always wear the same classic woollen cap and coat, and if I remember right we walked mostly in silence. But I think that I remember wrong, as we probably asked him those thousand trivial questions children ask every single day and don't consciously remember asking when they grow up. We'd often stay with them for a few days, sometimes a week, and I have many fond memories of those times.

The final time I stayed with them at their house was in 2015 when my son Olivier was only 5 months old. Pake had been diagnosed with terminal cancer that year and we thought it might be the only time they'd get to meet. It was quite nostalgic: sleeping in the loft again, finding the old boxes of lego and toys, and coming down stairs in the morning to find my pake having his morning coffee. To keep his mind sharp, he was doing the sudoku puzzle in the newspaper that had a story about Geert Wilders (a popular politician in those parts) visiting Urk on the frontpage. He took us out to the old town that day and made my wife Amie try the local delicacy of salted herring. He laughed as she bravely swallowed the "delicacy" whole and took off his cap to congratulate her on passing the initiation.

Oerpake (great-grandfather in Frisian) with his great-grandson Olivier.

His favourite past-time was to go fishing. He did so mostly in the North Sea, especially in Norway on holiday, but he loved nothing more than to rent a boat and take us all snapper fishing in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. Those beautiful big snapper that were many times the size of almost any fish he could get in Europe were his favourite. Fishing also meant beer, as no fishing trip was complete without a few cans of it. I didn't inherit his love for beer, but at a restaurant once he ordered me a small glass of "jenever" (Dutch gin) which I took to.

Fishing in the Waitemata to catch kingfish and snapper.

The next year when he came to visit us again, I asked if he could bring me a bottle of jenever, since you can't buy it here. Instead of simply stuffing a small bottle in the middle of his suitcase, he had a wooden box made with a painting of a stag on it and packed a large bottle of the best jenever (ketel1). He always went above and beyond if he could. That time they came to celebrate my parent's 25th wedding anniversary, as they came for every special occasion—including every wedding of his grandchildren. The photographer took a photo of him with beppe and heard they had been married for nearly 50 years. She asked him what the secret to a long marriage was, and he responded "you just do it."

Four generations of de Boer men (including my brother on the right and brother-in-law on the left).

The last time I saw him in person was in late 2019 for their 50th wedding anniversary. He paid for everyone to travel and stay with them for a week in a house at the Frisian Lakes. He took us on a tour around those lakes and canals, showing us the paths he walked as a child and the house he grew up in. He was fairly certain then that would be the very last time all his descendants would be there with him in one place.

The skipper at the helm of a Frisian boat with some of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Perhaps his greatest influences on me were the subtle ones. I don't remember him complaining about a thing in the world, he always took everything in a stoic stride, and when he laughed it was always when no one else was. He modelled the kind of life that is best. He remained faithful to his wife for over 50 years, he always had time for family above all, he always worked diligently to the best of his ability, he would always get out his large leather family Bible and read a chapter from it out loud after every single meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and he was in church every Sunday morning and every Sunday evening without fail.


3O send thy light forth and thy truth;
  let them be guides to me,
And bring me to thine holy hill,
  ev'n where thy dwellings be.
4Then will I to God's altar go,
  to God my chiefest joy:
Yea, God, my God, thy name to praise
  my harp I will employ.

5Why art thou then cast down, my soul?
  what should discourage thee?
And why with vexing thoughts art thou
  disquieted in me?
Still trust in God; for him to praise
  good cause I yet shall have:
He of my count'nance is the health,
  my God that doth me save.

Psalm 43:3-5

About the author

Dieuwe de Boer

Editor of Right Minds NZ, host of The Dialogue on RCR, and columnist at The BFD. Follow me on Telegram and Twitter. In addition to writing about conservative politics and reactionary thought, I like books, gardening, biking, tech, reformed theology, beauty, and tradition.

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