The Ashburton District has lost a “big community man”.
Ashburton District Councillor Rodger Letham died at Ashburton Hospital on Saturday after he was admitted a week ago, suffering from a respiratory illness.
The 78-year-old was serving his second term on council and Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown expressed his sadness at the sudden loss.
Brown said Letham was a big community man, a strong and committed councillor, and he would be sorely missed.
“He has lived in this district for all his life and was a well-known farmer and then rural real estate agent before joining council,” Brown said.
“Rodger was a wise and experienced head around the council table and a respected colleague and friend.”
Former four-term councillor Stuart Wilson had known Letham, both Timaru Boys’ alumni, since they were in Young Farmers together 50 years ago.
Wilson also dealt with Letham in his real estate role where he was “someone I could trust implicitly”.
Prior to Letham standing for council, Wilson said they would often have debates about the district and council decisions.
As a Western ward councillor he also sat on the Methven Community Board and board chair Kelvin Holmes said Letham was “a good community-minded person”.
Letham was a real estate agent for 35 years with Property Brokers, selling rural property until stepping down in 2021.
A former pilot, he was keenly interested in things aviation and used that knowledge as a member of the Ashburton Airport Authority.
He was also a member of the Rotary Club of Ashburton and the MSA Men’s Choir.
Letham’s family had been farming in the district for over 100 years and he worked the farm his parents Selwyn and Ida bought in 1951.
Selwyn was a long-serving Ashburton County Councillor before the county and borough councils merged, Brown said and “Rodger was proud that he was also able to serve his community in the same way as his father”.
“Rodger was a good man and he put his name forward for council because he wanted to give something back to a community that had served him well.
“Our thoughts are with his wife Yvonne, and his immediate family at this time.”
A service to celebrate Letham’s life will be held at the Ashburton Event Centre on Thursday at 2pm.
Letham’s death will require a by-election in the Western ward, the details of which will be confirmed in the new year.
In the recent election, Letham was successful in his bid for re-election, as was deputy mayor Liz McMillan, with Dame Lynda Topp the only other candidate.
- By Jonathan Leask