Fond farewell

Phil Hunnisett
Phil Hunnisett

"Where's Phil?" is the likely call from people visiting the Marlborough District Council office in Blenheim.

Customer services officer Phil Hunnisett ended his 16-year shift at the front desk in Blenheim on Thursday and his manager Janet Boyce predicts he will be missed.

As well as being dependably "patient" and "friendly", Phil was also the only male on the front desk for a long time. That made him the first person many men would approach for information about building consents, water-takes or resource consents.

Speaking during a break from his duties last week, Phil agreed. He has often heard men asking if something they wish to build or install on their property is permissible, then refusing to believe a female officer telling them it isn't.

"I would come along and say exactly the same thing and they would accept it! I guess there's just some stuff they accept from a man but not from a slip of a girl."

Born in Sussex, and educated in Kent, Britain, Phil set off to explore the world. He drove overland through Europe and Asia and travelled through countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan.

His trip ended in Australia, where he met his future wife, Glenda, a Kiwi. They went back to Europe for a couple of years and married in England.

"Then, as another winter was coming we decided we didn't want to live in England any more and we came here in 1982. By that stage I was ready for a mortgage, lawnmowing and babies."

While in Australia, Phil studied social work at a college in Brisbane and he felt well equipped for his first job in Marlborough, supervising Project Employment Programme (PEP) workers who were planting trees for the Wither Hills farm park.

Sadly, his hopes of turning wayward youth into stalwart citizens weren't so easily fulfilled.

"I had up to 12 recalcitrant young people who didn't really want to be there," he remembers.

"I thought I would get them working, get them into good work routines, get them enthusiastic.

"I even got them new work boots ... but the next day they turned up in their old gumboots because they had sold their new boots."

Trees were planted, though, and Phil is feels proud of his involvement starting the Wither Hills Farm Park. The Marlborough District Council seemed pleased with the results, too, and employed Phil to look after its street trees, eventually employing him indoors.

"Since then I've been wearing a tie and doing office duties."

Initially the customer services team took turns answering phones or working on the front counter. Then one woman wanted to work on the phones fulltime and Phil took on her front desk duties. That made him happy.

"I like dealing with people - and people can be more abusive on the phone."

Ending his job a year before his official retirement means he can take a three-month holiday home to Britain. Leaving on Wednesday, he will spend a week in Canada, a month in England, then travel up to Scotland where his sister will celebrate her 60th birthday.

Back in Blenheim, he will do a six-week term on the council's rates rebate scheme, then retirement will officially begin.

Plans then?

"I have a lovely big garden but I wouldn't want to be there every day. I need people so I'll probably do some volunteer work to keep my people skills up."

The Marlborough Express