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Councillor Wilson hangs up his guns

Councillor Wilson hangs up his guns
Stuart and his wife Betty - who is adjusting to having him around more after he spent 12 years dedicated to the role of representing the community. PHOTO JONATHAN LEASK.

Stuart Wilson has a little red book detailing his council tenure covering  every meeting over the 12 years.
He used it like a diary to document the details and his thoughts on every big decision and who voted on what over his 12 years at the council table.
“It is just my own record of what we did.
“There’s nothing personal in there or any names of staff, just council business.”
Stuart’s book has now had its last entry and he is settling into life after the council.
It could be quite easy to picture him, the avid roading campaigner, wandering the district with a wheelbarrow of hot mix in tow fixing potholes.
He is a man of his word though and is leaving council business behind him, but will be keeping an eye on the progress of a few unfinished projects.
Stuart attended the opening meeting of the new term, where for the first time in 12 years he wasn’t at the table but was in the public gallery to watch the new Councillor Wilson, his son Richard, being sworn in as a new councillor.
“I miss it. I’ll miss the council for sure.
“You miss the relationships with the fellow councillors and the staff.
“It becomes a big part of your life.”
Stepping down from council at the ripe age of 81 means he can now enjoy his retirement.
After three weeks off the job, his lawn couldn’t be in better shape, and there isn’t a weed to be seen in the gardens.
He has run out of things to do around the house, but he’s keeping himself busy enough not to drive his wife Betty too crazy, and she is adjusting to having him at home more.
“It would be very easy to sit around and do nothing,” he said.
But Stuart isn’t the type to sit still for too long.
“I’ve got the two boys with farms at Hinds, I won’t be milking cows or anything like that, but I can go out and give them a hand.”
He has no plans to take on any major project, but has been invited to join the Mid Canterbury Historical Society.
World travel isn’t high on his priority list but “going around the North Island” is and clocking up some kilometres in his Morris Eight Sport.

From Kirwee to Hinds, to Tinwald
Stuart was born in Kirwee where his parents farmed before they shifted to Hinds in 1945.
He went to Lynnford School for three years before it closed in 1949, as he was one of only six pupils, and went to Hinds School.
He then attended Timaru Boys’ High School and after gaining his School Certificate returned to the farm to help his father.
He then married Betty in 1964.
“My father bought one of the railway houses at Windermere, picked it up on the truck and put it on the farm.
“We were only there for a year and in 1965 we shifted up to Hinds Arundel Road and were there until seven years ago so we didn’t quite make 50 years on the farm.”

Getting to the council table
Stuart was always interested in politics and it was after he joined the Hinds Lions in 1984 that was the start of his political journey.
“I was encouraged to go a little bit further in Lions and I wasn’t sure, but a friend of mine was an office holder in Federated Farmers and asked me to come along and become junior vice president.
He worked his way up to president and then past president which exposed him to the workings of local government.
“You submitted to the council on annual plans and long-term plans and you thought ‘blight it, they wouldn’t listen’.”
He recalls attending a public meeting in Hinds where then councillor Ken Lowe, “an ardent Methven councillor”, was speaking about spending money on something in Methven, when Stuart decided to pipe up.
“I said ‘Methven, they’re a pack of parasites up there on the district’ and boy did that get a reaction.”
It’s a comment that may not have helped when he then stood for election in 2007, as the old ward system had him at the mercy of the Methven voters and he was unsuccessful.
Under the new ward system in the 2010 elections, when the current eastern and western ward split, he was elected to the council. Four terms later he decided it was time to step aside while he was still at the top of his game.
“It wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it or I wasn’t keeping up.
“It was just time.”

Councillor Wilson tell it like it is
As a councillor, Stuart was a straight shooter, often firing a sharp-ended question, strongly worded statement, or infamously calling for a point of order.
He was unapologetically honest in his opinions, direct in his approach, and almost unwavering in his convictions.
Stuart could be persuaded by a strong argument, but he was never afraid to call a spade a spade and question “why on earth” someone would say it’s a shovel.
“People can be swayed by an argument of course.
“Sometimes you think that for the betterment of the district my opinion might be better this way or that way.”
But that’s the kind of person needed at the council table, he said.
“Not someone who shares an opinion in the tearoom and is then a yes man at the meeting that doesn’t stick to their guns.
“Even if it’s (a vote) 8 to 1, you may as well lose saying what you think and that’s what makes democracy work.”
He said he learnt early on that a councillor should avoid at all costs to abstain from a decision.
“If you sit on the fence, what’s the point of you being there?”
He wasn’t afraid to ask the question or say what he thought – even if got him in hot water occasionally, because that’s the role of an elected councillor, he said.
When Stuart flicked his microphone on, staff would bristle in their seat in case they were in his sights.
It could be a short, sharp serve, a pointed question, or seeking clarity.
Earlier this year a KiwiRail manager was left startled after he bore the brunt of one such tirade, with Stuart telling him of his incompetence over the prolonged timeframes completing the Walnut Avenue upgrade.
He said councillors need to ask questions to know how the cogs move to ensure they have things moving in the right direction, that’s why there are no stupid questions but there can be stupid answers.
Stuart would speak his mind, straight to the point and then sit back in his chair to hear an answer, but never one to let an unacceptable excuse slide by, and then listen to the other councillors’ views.
He said he was always conscious of only speaking when it was necessary.
“Experienced councillors can have too much to say.
“When I first got on, there was a group of very experienced councillors and they always had an opinion on every single thing.
“It took a brave new councillor to contradict them at times.
“In the last term, I had to be conscious I didn’t use my opinion to influence everybody else.”

Road warrior
He was at his best when it came to roading.
Stuart was driven to improve the district’s roads, continually campaigning for better outcomes, more funding and answers from contractors.
“I tried really hard on our roading network. I really did.”
He fought Waka Kotahi for more funding at every opportunity often focusing on the “bane of his existence” Arundel Rakaia Gorge Road, almost considered a swear word in his house, that gobbles up far too much ratepayer funding.
Stuart, try as he might, battled through the pronunciation of Waka Kotahi, a phrase he uttered countless times but seemingly never the same way.
“I look at Liz [McMillan] every time I say it and she’d say I got it wrong.”
His pronunciation may have been off, often because he was too caught up in railing against the Government agency, but he was trying as he adapted to the increasing use of Te Reo.
In his valedictory speech, he admitted the only blight on his council tenure was the condition of the roads.
But it’s safe to say they would be in a worse state without Stuart’s dogged determination for better outcomes.
Determination and dedication were keys to Stuart’s 12-year stint but that’s how he reckons it should be anyway.
He is a firm believer that being a councillor is about dedicating yourself to serving the community.
That’s why you can count the number of meetings he missed in 12 years on one hand.
“I might have missed one as I had a funeral to go to.”
He was there to do the job to the best of his ability.
“I wasn’t there to personally achieve anything, just do the job as best I could.
“The opportunities in a democracy are so great, making decisions on behalf of everybody.”
He did all the reading and attended every full council meeting and committee meeting he could so that when it came time to make a decision he had all the information.
“If you are going to go on council you have to be prepared to give it your best.”
It’s a big commitment and no-one could question Stuart Wilson’s commitment to the role.
The straight shooter with his community always on his mind.

  • By Jonathan Leask