New wind in his sails

01:43, Jan 31 2009
NEAR NEIGHBOURS: Nelson Mayor Kerry Marshall, left, and his Tasman counterpart Richard Kempthorne congratulate each other at Champion Rd, the Nelson-Tasman boundary.

There's a sense of deju vu attached to the mission statements of Kerry Marshall. Nelson's new mayor, who went through a noteworthy winding-down from local government almost 10 years ago, is now turning the crankshaft on a career set to revive aims and ideals hinted at back then.

The former Tasman mayor said in 1998, in response to an attempt by Commerce Nelson to trigger a radical shake-up of the region's local authorities, that a case for change should at least be investigated.

It would seem that one of the rousingly-named Hands Up group's tickets to success in this year's Nelson election was talk of amalgamation, or at least closer cooperation between the Nelson city and Tasman district councils.

Some high-profile paddies by outgoing Tasman mayor John Hurley overshadowed a considerable amount of work undertaken successfully and smoothly by the councils, and Marshall acknowledges that much has been achieved so far. But where the councils don't agree are the fundamental differences that naturally divide country and town.

Where Marshall sees his advantage is in having intimate knowledge of the district. "I know the four corners of Tasman, and I'm looking forward to it," he said about working with Tasman, soon after his election last Saturday as Nelson mayor.

Marshall, 67, was born and raised in Nelson - a baker's son who was encouraged to get an education, which ultimately steered him away from entering his father's trade.


"The family ended up with a nurse, a teacher who became a politician, and me, a school teacher keen on community service work."

Marshall's brother is former Minister of Conservation and New Zealand's former High Commissioner in London, Russell Marshall, and his sister Maureen is a nurse. The Marshall brothers married sisters, Colleen and Barbara Watson.

Kerry Marshall's interest in sailing was fostered by regular visits as a young boy to the Nelson Yacht Club, or the Aurora Sailing Club as it was then.

"I used to go past the yacht club and hang my head over the rail but no one ever invited me to go sailing."

Years later, as a teacher, he returned to the club and built up the popular learn-to-sail programme, for which he ultimately earned a community award in 1999.

A key lesson was built largely on the popular ditty he taught his students to chant, which now resonates through his own career. Not only did he turn the boat around, he hauled in the mainsheet for a fast ride back to shore.

As a young teacher, Marshall and wife Colleen, also a teacher, lived on Banks Peninsula, where they raised a young family. Son Leighton, a geologist who now skippers a superyacht, and daughter Emma, a lawyer who has recently come home from Europe with a young family, are now in their 30s.

The Marshalls moved back to Nelson in 1980, and a new career direction emerged. In 1982, Marshall became a Richmond borough councillor, and was elected mayor in 1986.

Local authority reform created the Tasman District Council in 1989. Marshall chaired the transition committee and was then elected inaugural mayor of the district.

Colleen Marshall was lured into local politics and stood for the Tasman mayoralty in 2001, but was unsuccessful. Today, she says she is there "100 percent" for her husband.

Marshall's centrist thinking is tempered with a liberalism that possibly stems from spending a large portion of his career in the state sector. It could also be linked to his Methodist upbringing.

"I was raised a Methodist, which was very socialist. The ministers of the day were well-known orators and talked not so much about your faith but what it meant to you."

Conservation is a personal interest of Marshall's, one for which he has become an official crusader. He chairs the Tasman Environmental Trust, which "brokers deals and tries to restore things that have been destroyed". His tenure as chairman of the New Zealand Conservation Authority is due to end next year.

"I'd like to come back in 100 years to see what's been achieved - we're still in the pioneering stage environmentally.

"If you read the Bible, it says God created man and woman and the Earth was created so we could exploit it, and we still are. I don't go along with that."

Marshall doesn't adhere to any particular faith, other than what he sees around him, but where he really feels at home is in the natural environment.

"I get my spirituality from walking in the bush and on beaches. I do a bit of tramping, but my interest in conservation was through no sudden divine inspiration.

"In Banks Peninsula, we lived in an area surrounded with this wind-blown loess from the mountains over rocks, and over that grew this wonderful bush, but one day they cut the whole lot down, and every time my wife went out to play bridge or something, I would have to rescue her because it rained and slips blocked the road.

"I got interested from that point."

Marshall still prefers the title environmentalist above conservationist. "I feel very strongly about the ecological footprint of an urban environment. Richmond, for example, is quite sterile, really - it could be Waipukurau - but Nelson's heritage is evident in its buildings."

Marshall lives in Richmond, in a natural timber house surrounded by bush, at the base of the foothills overlooking the town and Waimea Plains.

"Nelson has a feel about it, that it's being enhanced by people making efforts to design sympathetically. I think there's potential to take that further."

Marshall is well qualified to drive attempts at closer liaison with Tasman. His long list of former roles includes president and commissioner of Local Government New Zealand - a quasi-judicial body that, among other things, helps with disputes between councils.

People perhaps puzzled by his rapid-fire reference during campaign speeches that he could promise, among other things, to get anyone a retired racing greyhound as a pet, might like to know that he chairs a trust set up to re-home the dogs. "They make wonderful pets."

In recent years, he has been running his own consultancy business, the Kerry Marshall Company.

Outside the demands of local government and business, Marshall shares his wife's love of the arts. He particularly likes theatre, having taken to the stage himself as an actor.

"I was speaking to someone the other day who said they'd never heard me give a serious speech. I'm not saying I don't take things seriously, but there is a performance attached to it."

He also argues that, at 67, he's certainly not too old for the job. "In China, I would be too young."

He doesn't deny that his decision to stand for Hands Up, and his election as mayor, were part of a short-term strategy designed to identify Nelson's next potential mayor. But neither does he confirm it.

"Possibly - who knows? The next election will decide that. I have got to a stage where I love Nelson, but I also know there are things not happening here that could happen."

The Nelson Mail