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Gisborne’s colour man

OBITUARY: Errol Burr.

Gisborne patients of colour therapist Errol Burr followed him to New Plymouth in such numbers that he felt compelled to return.

It was a measure of the respect and affection in which he was held that friends and patients helped him set up house in Stanley Road in such a way that he could conduct his practice from his home.

In all, Errol Burr was Gisborne's “colour man” for over 40 years. He retired from practice five years ago and died on August 1. He would have been 76 this month.

Relatives and friends recall a quiet, gentle man with a dry sense of humour, a love of ham radio and ballroom dancing, and a passion for his calling.

Errol John Burr was born in Thames in 1945, the youngest of three children of Arthur John (Jack) and Beatrice May Burr. Jack and May Burr had come from New Plymouth with their eldest child Alvin to run the Tararu Store on the northern outskirts of Thames, and had two more children — Beverley and Errol.

When Errol was six and a pupil at Thames North School, the family moved back to New Plymouth after 10 years away. Jack Burr joined Newton King Ltd, a stock and station agency that was also a shipping agent and sold wool, dairy products, cars, trucks, real estate and groceries through businesses developed or acquired in centres (including Gisborne) from Hamilton to Wellington.

In New Plymouth, Errol attended Welbourn School, Highlands Intermediate and New Plymouth Boys' High School.

Jack Burr was a keen amateur radio operator and his son had the same interest. Errol became proficient in Morse code and got his amateur radio operator's licence while still in his teens. As long as Jack Burr lived, he and Errol had a regular Friday morning catch-up on air.

When Errol left school, he became a radio inspector with the Post Office. The inspectors enforced the radio regulations and tracked down interference. When anyone complained of interference to their radio or television signal, it was the inspectors' job to find the cause and have the problem resolved.

This occupation took Errol to the Musick Memorial Radio Station at Bucklands Beach, Auckland, and to Wanganui for short spells before he was transferred to Gisborne in the early 1970s.

By this time, Errol had become interested in the practice of colour therapy.

When her children were poorly, May Burr would take them to either one of New Plymouth's two colour therapists or a general practitioner, depending on the malady.

In his teens, Errol had surgery for Crohn's disease and had three feet of his bowel removed. May took him to a Rotorua colour therapist for two weeks of treatment to aid in his recovery.

At the end of that period, the therapist told Errol he could learn to treat himself.

Errol's sister Beverley, of New Plymouth, said her brother's study of colour therapy entailed lots of reading and the ability to put together the equipment on which diagnosis and treatment relied.

In Gisborne, he pursued this interest in colour therapy and, by word of mouth, people heard about him and asked to be treated. This he did at first in an informal capacity.

He continued to pursue his other interests — amateur radio and dancing. He had been a competitive ballroom dancer in New Plymouth, and at the Gisborne Caledonian Society dance he met Yvonne Manson, whom he married in 1972. They had two children, Marion and Alastair, and three grandchildren — Jaimee and Sam, and Abigail Grace.

In the meantime, word-of-mouth referrals for colour therapy grew, and in 1973 Errol resigned from the Post Office to become a full-time colour therapist, operating from the family home in Albert Street.

The first few years were a struggle, but many of Errol's early patients became lifelong friends. Treatments lasted two hours. Patients would sit around a room, reading, knitting, talking and sometimes sleeping.

Charges were low enough to have drifted from memory. One of his patients, Dell Buscke, said his fees were minimal, and increases were as rare as a royal visit to town.

Flooding in June 1977 damaged the Albert Street house, prompting a move back to New Plymouth. By then, Errol had built a loyal following and, although he was practising on the other side of the North Island, the demand from Gisborne people who undertook the arduous road trip for treatment was such that in 1979 he headed back east.

In an article Errol put together for the Gisborne Herald Weekend Extra in the 1980s, he described the “diagnostic art”.

“While the ability to diagnose is definitely a gift, it must be developed, and the techniques are various, with some being quite simple and others more complex,” he wrote. “The diagnostic art is that of radiesthesia — sensitivity to radiation.

“The many dozens of colour combinations programmed for diagnosis and treatment are derivatives of the basic chakra representations. Shades of one or more colours may be mixed and tuned to precise frequencies of disease or body imbalance. I combine these frequencies of colour together with low-frequency radio-wave transmissions to carry the colour component to the patient.

“Diagnosis involves the polarisation of the colour sample that is being tested by the therapist, with the electromagnetic field of the patient. A resultant positive or negative indication of each colour under test can decide what combination to use in treatment.”

Radiesthesia is akin to dowsing, and while sceptics might say the existence of such a gift was not backed up by scientific evidence, believers would point to results. They felt better.

And to those suspecting a placebo effect, Errol Burr would cite cases of infants whose condition and distress were eased when they had colour therapy.

Dell Buscke said people even asked him to look at their pets and — unable to say no (“it wasn't in his nature”) — he treated the animals, four-legged or feathered.

“Neither was it in his nature to say a bad word about anyone,” Dell said.

Errol's daughter Marion Treloar said her father thought of his practice as complementary — rather than alternative — to conventional medicine.

“He would often refer people back to a GP (general practitioner), and he would never tell anyone to discontinue taking anything a GP had told them to take,” Marion said.

Pat Neshausen, a patient from 1976 until Errol's retirement, said he was a good listener who was sensitive to people.

“After your treatment, you would get better and better as the days progressed,” she said.

Her mother, Dorothy West, was Errol's receptionist for years.

“She was over 65 when she started working for him. He always called her Westie.”

It was the social interaction — and being part of the enterprise — that she found enjoyable.

Pat said Errol's cars — mostly European — were kept in immaculate condition. A Fiat 125 and a Citroen came to mind, although his last car was a Mitsubishi, also polished to perfection.

Marion recalled Errol's love of sailing, and the trailer yachts he owned when the children were small.

Marion said he also had a hobby of restoring valve radios and a “fair few” of these would be doing service around town. For almost his whole life, he continued to practise Morse code, and communicate with other amateur radio operators on air.

Errol had given up ballroom dancing around the time he started as a full-time colour therapist. In 1998, by now divorced, he took it up again and was a regular at the Caledonian Society dances at St Marks Hall until three years ago. The foxtrot was his favourite.

Although by nature quiet, he enjoyed company, and he was a regular at the Cosmopolitan Club on draw nights, when he would have a meal and a glass of fruit juice with friends.

In his final years, Errol was blessed with the company of good friends, loving family and capable carers, and he is remembered with affection by them and those he treated. — by John Gillies

READY TO GO ON AIR: The teenaged Errol Burr pictured with amateur radio equipment in New Plymouth in 1963. Picture credit: Swainson's Studios, Errol Burr, Radio Operator (1963), collection of Puke Ariki, New Plymouth
DAPPER: Errol Burr wore a suit and tie for more than ballroom dancing. Picture supplied

  1. ZL2RI says:

    A gracious man, who is sorely missed. Errol was also the youngest radio inspector to have been employed at the time in NZ. QRT 73.

  2. Peter Robertson, New Plymouth says:

    Rest In Peace Uncle Errol … P.S. I still have a letter you sent me in reply to one I wrote to you and Auntie from New Plymouth when I was a youngster. You were still in your old Albert St house. I remember the excitement when you moved to Price St in New Plymouth and the disappointment when you left to return to Gisborne … Rest easy, and love to Marion and family.

  3. Khy logan, Waimangu says:

    Blessed to all colour men and women in Aotearoa/NZ. You gave me life and a go when I was a toddler. Peace to all even Mr Benetton from Inglewood. Live long and always prosper