End of an era for mayoral minder

FIRST LADY: Personal assistant Marie Johnstone
farewells the outgoing Nelson Mayor, Paul Matheson.
MARION VAN DIJK/Nelson Mail
FIRST LADY: Personal assistant Marie Johnstone farewells the outgoing Nelson Mayor, Paul Matheson.

She's been his minder, his bouncer, looked out for his children, groomed him and advised on important mayoral duties, and now it's time for Marie Johnstone to say goodbye to her boss of nine years, Paul Matheson.

Friday was his last day in the Nelson mayoral office, but he insisted he wasn't emotional about it.

"I'm more than ready to move on," said Mr Matheson, who decided some time ago he would not be standing for re-election.

Mrs Johnstone, who has worked as the mayor's assistant since 1995, when Philip Woollaston was mayor of Nelson, said she would miss Mr Matheson's relaxed, laid-back manner.

"He's always liked a good joke. A day never passed without a joke or a laugh," she said.

"He's a person who lets adults be adults - they must take responsibility for their actions, but he was never a boss who was always looking over my shoulder."

Mrs Johnstone and the mayor are close enough that he once introduced her as his mother to Prime Minister Helen Clark.

She said the job of mayor's assistant was complex, but was made more interesting by the various personalities she had to work with. Because she was employed by the council, she would now "inherit" a new boss with whom she hoped to "just click".

"Survival in this job is about not showing any political allegiances," Mrs Johnstone said.

Mr Matheson has publicly acknowledged her on several occasions recently, mainly for the key role she played soon after he was first elected mayor. Mr Matheson's wife Juliana died from cancer six weeks before he took office nine years ago.

"Trying to understand that, and trying to come to terms with the job was very difficult," he said.

Mrs Johnstone was there to guide him through those first challenging weeks, and helped with the Mathesons' three children Justine, Georgina and James. She was also there to advise on Mr Matheson's image, and would tell him if he needed a haircut.

Mr Matheson said he learned fairly quickly during functions with foreign dignitaries, that a mayor reflected the part of the world they come from.

"If you're scratching and farting around, and acting like a pork chop, then that's the sort of place people think you're from."

Mr Matheson said there was no job description for a mayor. It was simply a case of, "here's your office, here are your papers - go for it".

It was always challenging managing the city, while also having to represent it.

"The little things I knew nothing about, Marie was a big help," Mr Matheson said. And his parting shot: "If you didn't vote, don't moan about the council later on."

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