Biggest fear realised

23:04, Feb 22 2013
Bernice Lepper and Rosie
Bernice Lepper at home with her dog Rosie.

When Bernice Lepper's husband Tony became Central Otago district's new mayor two years ago, her biggest fear was that she would lose her cook.

To a large extent that is exactly what happened, because home life has definitely changed, with a husband more used to heading off to work in his gumboots now just as likely to leave the house in a suit, and not get home until late.

However, he still cooks, regretfully not as often, according to the Lepper's two children Blake, 25, and Brie, 23.

"I used to be good, but I'd got out of the habit and the kids tell me I'm hopeless and they much prefer Tony," Mrs Lepper, known as "Bernie", said.

Re-visiting her cooking skills is just one of several things she has had to come to grips being married to the mayor.

"I'd never saw myself as a mayoress. It just didn't seem ‘me.' But actually I'm really enjoying it. It's a privilege."


As a third generation Clyde-Earnscleugh-ite, the eldest daughter of Peter and Wilma Paulin, she has comes from a family with strong community ties.

Mrs Lepper is involved with several high profile groups such as Alexandra Community House Trust, which she chairs, and as a trustee of Central Lakes Trust. She is also Central Otago REAP manager.

"I find myself going to occasions wearing numerous hats."

A marriage celebrant long before she became a mayoress, she has always had to have plenty of "wedding outfits" in the wardrobe, mostly bought from Alexandra stores, which she also puts to good use on mayoral outings.

"It's been really good to have an excuse to have not just one, but three pairs of shoes!"

What Mrs Lepper has loved most about being mayoress so far is the citizenship ceremonies, where she welcomes new New Zealanders and reads out their testimonies.

"I really enjoy meeting them and hearing their stories."

The scariest thing has been the Alexandra Blossom Festival parade, where the mayoral couple is required to drive down the town's main street as part of the procession.

"That's been the hardest thing because it's so public. Walking with a group would be much easier."

The mayoral team are keen on multisport, having entered the Gold Rush as veterans every year.

When Mr Lepper decided to run for mayor, they delivered his flyers by bike.

As mayor, naturally he cops a bit of flak, which he cannot help but bring home.

"He mulls it over, and often we try to think of the issue from a different angle, stepping back from the emotion."

Both from teaching backgrounds, they met at the Craigieburn Ski Field in Canterbury. He was a long-haired, laid-back lad from the Hawke's Bay with a degree in history who wanted to travel. She was short-haired, more studious with a double degree in history and geography, who wanted to focus on a teaching career.

"It took me a while to warm to him," she laughed.

They did not start going out until the last week of their course. Mrs Lepper took a teaching job in Motueka, and he soon followed, becoming a relief-teacher, part-time forestry worker and white-baiter.

They married, and went overseas travelling for three years, coming back to Central to work on the Paulin family orchard in 1984.

Mrs Lepper eventually went to teach at Dunstan, with a two-year stint at Cromwell College. Mr Lepper became manager of the Earnscleugh Irrigation Scheme, and during that time he was a hands-on father to their young children, becoming a councillor at amalgamation time in 1989.

"He was chief cook and bottle-washer while I worked and he enjoyed it, picking the kids up even when he didn't have to."

But when he decided to run for mayor two years ago, she was happy to support him. Still working fulltime herself, they cherish their home life together.

"Sometimes I feel like we're never at home. It's our sanity place."

They work hard at keeping some sort of routine. He gets up early and tends his vege garden, then they have breakfast together before heading off to their various duties.

And will the mayoral team be standing again in the 2013 elections?

"Yep, we'll go another round."

"Sometimes we pinch ourselves and ask each other ‘how did we get here?'

"How did I end up married to a mayor and representing a community like this?"

The Mirror