I can’t picture Nick Columb without hearing his voice. Booming, distinctive and always accompanied by that laugh.
There was always laughter.
I remember the first time I met him, back when we still held yearling sales at the Claudelands complex in Hamilton. I was working at BloodHorse and we had a stand which, oh so flash for the time, included a video player. This was handy because Nick and his ever-present side-kick Ross – Rossco – McDonald had a video they wanted the world to see. The video featured the wonderful Magari. As I type that name I hear Nick saying it, he had a way of getting inside your head.
As a journalist, Nick felt he was well placed to provide me with some guidance and instruction and I am sure some of it stuck. Like all good journalists he was a brilliant observer and noted things others might not. Based on that observation he also decided I required life advice.
His instruction was simple: “When you walk into a room, do it as though you own it!” Again, I hear that voice.
For a gauche 23-year-old it was the best advice. I have lost count of the times I channeled Nick and that great advice. How I laughed in later years when a friend told me why another “friend” had a problem with me because, “she thinks you walk into a place as though you own it.” Life lesson achieved, thanks Nick!
While much of the 1980s have blurred into hazy memories, I can recall times spent with Nick in vivid technicolour. Like the jaunt to Waikato Stud, along with “Jack the vet” and Rossco, after which Nick confirmed he would buy the filly which had caught his eye. I remember quizzing him as to why this horse? What made her so special? Being able to absorb those insights into what he saw in Courtza was gold, and one time he was completely serious!
The dinners in Wellington back in the Trentham yearling sale days were also memorable. Nick’s insistence that “the little albino vet” – everyone had a “Nick” name – would sit alongside him, just in case he might need him to again perform the Heimlich manoeuvre. The original story which accompanied that explanation produced tears of laughter.
But that was Nick. He could tell magnificent stories, many of them against himself. He could be incredibly caustic utilising his extensive vocabulary to fire verbal bullets but only if the target deserved it.
He was fundamentally kind. Kind, funny, exuberant, loud, generous and, as so many people have said when recalling him, larger than life.
It feels wrong to be writing about him in the past tense, knowing there is a massive Nick-sized gap in the world. It is a duller and much quieter place without him.