Warm farewell for Lorna marks the end of an era

BIG LEGACY: Lorna Langford hands over the keys to the Bainham Store to a relative, Sukheta Langford.
BIG LEGACY: Lorna Langford hands over the keys to the Bainham Store to a relative, Sukheta Langford.

A prestigious "end of an era" celebration provided a fitting retirement for one of the nation's best-known and longest-serving postmistresses, Lorna Langford, manager of the renowned Bainham Store.

In true ceremonial fashion, Miss Langford rode in a black vintage Ford car driven by Golden Bay Community Board chairman Joe Bell to be greeted by a waiting crowd of more than 200 people outside the country store.

National representatives of New Zealand Post, West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor, friends, relatives, past employees, Bainham Rural Women and members of the wider Golden Bay community turned out to wish Miss Langford farewell.

Clearly overwhelmed by the occasion, an emotional Miss Langford told the crowd that for one of the first times in her life, she was speechless.

A series of speeches, tributes and bouquets followed, the first by Bainham Rural Women representative Carolyn McLellan, who told Miss Langford: "Lorna, this is your day."

While most people spent 40 years of their lives working, Miss Langford's 61 years' service was "incredible", she said.

"You've spent more than one-and-a-half working lives at one shop."

Mr Bell recited a poem he had written about Miss Langford, entitled The End of an Era.

Having started work at the store in 1947, Miss Langford's length of service was probably the longest in New Zealand, he told the crowd.

"Lorna is a legend."

Presenting Miss Langford with a special plaque, NZ Post representative Peter Jameson said Miss Langford was indeed the longest-serving member of NZ Post's staff.

"Lorna is also one of the leading lights of tourism in New Zealand. We owe her a huge debt around that."

Also thanking Miss Langford for her contribution to tourism, Mr O'Connor, the Minister of Tourism, said he had just returned from a conference in Rotorua, where many people he had met remembered the Bainham Store and Miss Langford, in particular.

"If there is a place to represent New Zealand, this is it. It's absolutely beautiful, and most of the world is trying to retain or regain something like this.

"This occasion truly is the end of an era, and it's a huge task to carry on with this on behalf of the community. Thank you for representing New Zealand and for what you have done for tourism."

A former Sunday School pupil of Miss Langford's, Meredith Thorpe (nee Langford), recalled Miss Langford's teaching as giving her the foundations of a Christian faith that had continued to this day.

Mrs Thorpe said Miss Langford was a woman "of strong moral fibre and spiritual integrity".

"You're an incredible woman," she told her.

Miss Langford's cousin, Doug Langford, said a search on the Internet about Bainham had come up with more than 20 pages of information, most of it about Miss Langford and the store.

The youngest speaker was nine-year-old Megan Zeller, Miss Langford's neighbour, who delighted the crowd with her account of life in Bainham.

Rural delivery postman Brandon Sparrow described Miss Langford as a "people's person" who had "an extraordinary ability to engage people and listen to them".

Following the speeches, Miss Langford officially handed over the keys to Sukheta Langford, her uncle's granddaughter, who is taking over the running of the store from today.

The crowd then made its way to a reception at the Bainham Hall for afternoon tea, more reminiscing about times past, and the ceremonial cutting of a cake baked specially for the occasion.

"It has been overwhelming. Thank you all so much for what you have all been to me over the years and for making this such a wonderful day," Miss Langford said.