Unofficial mayor was into everything


If Papatotara had a flag it would have been lowered last week to mark the passing of its unofficial mayor, Hughie Erskine.

Unofficial because there were no elections but mayor because for most of his 88 years there he led the way and to be fair so did his dad and his before him.

Erskines have farmed at Papatotara a long time, Hughie's grandson Terry the fifth generation on the farm.

Papatotara hasn't seen many changes but it has had some and the passing of its mayor comes in as quite big one as did the loss of its little school some years back.

The whole family had gone to that school and mourned its closure.

People would say where the heck is Papatotara?

Beyond Tuatapere, they would be told, beyond by a few Ks out to the mouth of the Waiau River, practically on the beach, a beautiful place to live and farm.

Hugh Erskine cut his teeth on that school committee, one of the first he chaired to help in his community.

He was a farmer first but a committee man in a close second.

Over the years he was, his family said, on "a horrendous number of committees", saving schools and halls and district balls, organising pet shows and concerts, welcomes and farewells.

He'd have been pleased at his own, family and friends sharing stories of his skill as a marksman, whether deer stalking or smallbore shooting, of his involvement with Tuatapere Lions, where his work gained the international organisation's highest accolade - the Lloyd Morgan Trust fellowship.

He was generous with time and talent, could make and fix things in his workshop or in a Hump Ridge hut. His elder son Graeme said his dad was a practical man.

"He didn't mind problems. He liked finding solutions and he was good at that."

He shot smallbore rifles for Waiau, Western Southland and Southland, becoming president, selector, eventually president - of the lot.

Many of his interests were lifelong. He kept nine sets of books at one stage but was clever with figures and didn't make a meal of it. And he had married a woman who did not begrudge time he spent on community matters.

Joyce Shepard, born in Tisbury, went to Tuatapere as a 20-year-old to work for the legendary Dr Elder but met and married her Papatotara man within the year.

They had been together 64 years, looking forward to a 65th celebration, when he died.

Joyce lives at their retirement home in King St, Tuatapere, the family all in Southland - Valerie Scott in Te Anau; Pamela Erskine, Lorneville; Graeme in Invercargill; Murray at Winton.

The Erskines have nine grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews through the Horrell and McCracken families of Western Southland.

The Southland Times