Poet for the people remembered

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2012
Joe Bell
HAYLEY GALE
FINAL STANZA: Former Golden Bay Community Board chairman Joe Bell with board members Karen Brookes, left, and Carolyn McLellan at Joe's final board meeting, at the Collingwood Fire Station in 2010.

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Joe Bell was a tireless advocate for Golden Bay. The former chairman of the Golden Bay Community Board died last Sunday evening after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last December.

His wife, Margaret Bell, said he died peacefully at home in Milnthorpe.

Joe, 67, served five terms  15 years  on the Golden Bay Community Board, including six years as its chairman, before stepping down in 2010.

His successor in the chair, Carolyn McLellan, said Joe had "a huge community heart".

"He loved Golden Bay and he wanted the best for Golden Bay."

Joe lived in Golden Bay for 20 years, after selling his 17 acre kiwifruit farm in Appleby. This was where he had his first foray into local governance as an advocate for improving the stop banks on the lower reaches of the Waimea River.

He convinced the Catchment Board that they did not need to do a $250,000 study and instead an inspection during a flood revealed that the banks had not been built to their original design height. A $30,000 improvement solved the problem and more than two decades later, Joe was thrilled to get a call from an Appleby farmer saying the banks had held up in the December 2011 floods.

He strongly believed in community representation and fought the Tasman District Council when they tried to abolish community boards in 2006. Motueka Community Board chairman David Ogilvie said that his work on the issue was "absolutely crucial".

"I don't think we would have community boards today if it hadn't been for Joe's work", said David.

He said Joe was "meticulous in all his research. That was one of his crowning features."

In some memoirs Joe drafted a couple of months ago, he said he "was not a politician but a community worker", who despised the "duplicity of politics".

As a community worker, he was involved in countless Golden Bay groups, from the Bainham Hall Committee to Keep Golden Bay Beautiful, the Milnthorpe Park Society, the Takaka Village Green Acquisition Society and Management Committee and many community environmental initiatives such as Golden Bay self reliance, stream and coast care and revegetation projects such as the Para Para Historic Reserve.

A month ago, Joe was given the first Golden Bay Award, for his commitment to the community. Community leaders including the manager of the Golden Bay Community Workers, the chairman of the Golden Bay Work Centre Trust and a representative of the community board presented him with a painting by local artist Sara MacReady at his home.

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In March Joe was honoured by "A Special Night for a Special Man", a tribute at the 17th anniversary meeting of the Live Poets at the Mussel Inn in Onekaka.

Joe had helped to found the Live Poets in 1996.

Joe was too ill to attend but at the time he said he was "moved and humbled by the tribute". At the tribute fellow poets talked about his love of poetry, which often addressed local issues.

"He knew how to get a message out in a poem without being so controversial," said Victoria Davis.

Carolyn said Joe was "an impossible act to follow for anybody in any job. He's a true gentleman and always had Golden Bay's best interest at heart".

Joe's three adult children were with him when he died and the family had a private service and cremation on Monday. There will be a public memorial service this Saturday at 10.30am in the Collingwood Area School Hall.

- Nelson

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