What legacy as mayor and man did Bob Parker hew during his years of toil, tragedy and triumph?
What next for Bob Parker as he hangs up his gold mayoral chains and - that true last ritual of the modern parting of the ways - hands back the entry swipe card to the civic offices?
And also, as the door finally shuts on his two terms as Mayor of Christchurch City Council, how well did we actually know him?
No face could hardly be more familiar given the shared experience of the earthquakes. Nor is there any lack of opinion about his performance as mayor.
But there is something distanced, contained, about Parker's personality - the polished charm that conceals even as it disarms. A frequent comment from those who worked alongside him was that they were never sure they really got to understand the inner man.
However this, with just a week or so to go, Parker can afford to relax. There is the light of heart, end of term, feeling with only Thursday's final council meeting to chair, then the clearing of his desk, the goodbyes to the staff.
He clicks the lid off a takeaway cup of coffee in the mayor's parlour and settles to talk.
So first the question of what next for him? It is natural to wonder.
Parker laughs away the first suggestion - that he might have ambitions to return to the fray as a National Party MP. So many reasons why that rumour is wrong he sighs.
No, the plan is simple. Rest and recuperation. Get some much needed sleep. Have a sabbatical. Regroup and then after a while find what doors are open.
For Parker, this is another chapter in a lengthy career. He is only 60 he points out. "I've got another 10 to 15 years of active working life ahead I hope."
And there will be opportunities. While his standing in Christchurch may be mixed at the moment, nationally and internationally Parker is applauded for his handling of the most extreme events.
Disaster recovery has become a minor industry over the past 10 years as cities begin to appreciate their need to prepare for risks. And Parker is already a fixture on that speaking circuit, with trips to Kathmandu with the United Nations and addresses to the United States Defence Department disaster management centre in Hawaii.
There is a lot to tell. Parker says Christchurch is a textbook case of how a city can be prepared, yet then the event is a thousand times worse than those predictions.
"So there's tremendous interest in our learnings - the very real thing of what is it like, on the inside, of those first few days. You can rehearse through civil defence and emergency management scenarios, but it's a bit like war in that it will never run to plan."
The work has been unpaid, but as ex-mayor, you can see an attractive sideline as an international consultant waiting there.
However he is not in a hurry, says Parker, who confesses he is exhausted, still waking at 3am half expecting a coming rumble. He is not even rushing into any exotic holiday plans.
That brings up another obvious question. Does he see his future in Christchurch or elsewhere?
Parker says he has to stick around in town a while anyway. Even after the October 12 elections, it might take until Christmas for the new council to appoint replacement directors to Christchurch City Holdings and some of the other local board positions he holds. The official chores run on a little.
And although he does not want to dwell on it, his elderly father is extremely ill, his mother needs support. Then his wife, 43-year-old Jo Nicholls-Parker, is finishing her masters degree in religious studies at Canterbury University (having switched course from art curation).
Longer term, he is not sure what his next job will be or where it might take him. But he is a Christchurch boy, a true local lad. And his most pressing plan come his return to civilian life is to start fixing up the inner city converted warehouse unit he and Jo bought a few years back.
"I love DIYing and I've not been able to do as much physical work as would keep me happy. So I'm thinking, right, now I'm going to do some building for a few months. Finally turn the vision we had for the place into a reality."
So did we ever meet the real Bob Parker? There have certainly been the two sides to his time as mayor he says - the soap opera of the media commentary and then the reality of his daily contacts with people.
On-line, the political bloggers still revile him as "the lizard king". And the list of criticisms has become easy to tick off.
Too close to his chief executive Tony Marryatt, too remote from public opinion, the business community and other forms of establishment in a small city like Christchurch where such relationships need nurturing.
Good at glad-handing but also with a snappy temper. Eager to push the city along with bold plans yet a tendency then to get caught out by political naivety, such as with the too hasty purchase of the Henderson properties.
The level of the vitriol can be disturbing. Parker's persona - the professional unflappability - may have something to do with it. If you assume a bulletproof front, then people may feel they are free to blaze away as if it can't hurt.
Parker says he takes comfort in the obvious adage. "When people are directing their pain at you, that's what it is. When they are being harsh, it's actually them expressing their own inner fears and pain."
Thankfully what he will remember more is the everyday reality of the job. "The last three years have been intense, but I wouldn't swap them for anything. The generosity and support from the people I've met has been unbelievable."
While Parker has been painted as an isolated person, he says the earthquakes have forged wartime bonds with many in the city.
"I was down at the fire station the other day and there were some of the guys from the darkest hours when we were working side by side." And there are so many others from that time who will be connected for life. "The police, the ambulance drivers, the military, the urban search and rescue."
As mayor, he had the unique privilege of seeing people at their best. "The earthquakes were an enormous tragedy, but fate put me in a place. By chance I ended up in a role at a time when the storylines of history converged on our city."
Parker is talking matter of factly about his time as mayor now and there really does not seem that much of a mask waiting to be let slipped. The media indeed can paint the world in hyped colours. But even well-known people turn out to be just people.
Seeking the patterns that might explain him best, one thing that comes through strongly is his fascination with real-life complexity - especially cities as organisms, a mixture of necessary rules and structures but also creative vitality.
This hooked him right from the start with Christchurch he says.
One of the oddities of Parker's mayoralty is that he often seemed an outsider, not properly a local - perhaps because he made his name as a television personality broadcasting from Wellington, then Auckland, before returning through the back door as former mayor of the now merged Banks Peninsula.
However he is as Christchurch as they come, raised in the Heathcote Valley, a pupil at Cashmere High. And still hugely nostalgic for the city of his youth.
His dad, Bob senior, was a plumber. "I can remember coming into the city in his truck to get supplies. Prossers was the plumbing supply firm and had this great big warehouse in the centre of town with lots of people and low tech systems - workers who knew where to find a washer or where some old tap had been hidden."
To young eyes, the four avenues - still with its tin smiths and smelting plants - seemed a hive of activity, the bustling centre of the known world. Parker throws out his arms in emphasis.
"Christchurch was everything. Wellington was like a foreign country, the equivalent of going to New York - Benmore Dam was the biggest hydroelectric project in the Universe, Mt Cook was the tallest mountain, the Avon was a mighty river, as far we were concerned."
So when he moved to Akaroa in the 1990s, post television and between marriages, and became involved in local politics as a Banks Peninsula community board member, what gripped him was the inside view of how a township ticked. "I've never seen myself as a politician," says Parker - a reason why being a party MP has zero attraction.
But the secret intricacies of a community's running he found addictive.
So this is what he has now enjoyed on a grand scale as mayor of his hometown.
"What I'm going to miss is the people you get to work with - the staff who have got so many different skill sets, so much knowledge. As a young guy, I never saw myself as a team person, but in local government what I've loved absolutely the most is working with the experts and planners right across the system."
This is why the future of Christchurch as a well-engineered urban environment has been so important to him. And why his favourite relaxation is city exploring, walking or cycling to get the feel of a place, noting what works and being able to understand why.
It explains Parker's enthusiasm for process - his long involvement with the Urban Design Strategy for Greater Christchurch for instance. And also the reason why he was often at odds at the council table.
Parker says he genuinely is not that political, having voted for all the parties - whoever seemed to have the most intelligent leadership at the time. So political game-playing quickly gets under his skin.His is the formal approach where there are rules to the game and losers fall in behind the majority rather than go off to leak and conspire.
And Parker certainly did not follow the folksy style of his predecessor Garry Moore, who held open park bench ''meet the public'' chats every Friday lunchtime in Cathedral Square.
In Parker's view, a city is that paradox of an organic machine. But it probably is true that he was always more comfortable with Christchurch's organisational processes than the sometimes uncontrolled energy of its political hurly-burly.
Continuing to pick the patterns, it becomes plain that Parker is also used to making his own way in life. And that this is a big thing for him.
Again, his 12 years with the big red book on TVNZ's This Is Your Life creates the suspicion that he is the cue-card reading show pony his detractors claim. But the truth was that Parker bought the New Zealand production rights to the show himself, determined to have control over his own projects.Then when he came back to Akaroa, he was starting up marketing and high tech business ventures.
''I'm used to being self-employed, going from job to job most of my life,'' he says. Local government feels like the exception, which is why he can see himself carving out yet another career in the years ahead.
''I'm excited about it - even if every now again you get that little flutter of fear.''
So there it is. Parker with the observer's detached streak and the healthy self-regard of a self-made man. But also a romantic about his city and equipped with some exceptional people skills.
There were some bad decisions made along the way - the Henderson properties is the one people will not let go - but history is probably mostly going to remember his leadership during Christchurch's greatest crisis.
The true test of a mayor's character. And a time when nobody seems to doubt that there was no mask and what they saw was what they got.
Six things you never knew about Parker:
He is a proud petrol head: Well, how can he call himself a true South Islander and not be, asks Parker?
Yes he has had his run-ins with boy racers. They gathered in intimidating mobs around his home when one of his first mayoral acts to try to ban cruising. But he has plenty of sympathy with their desire to meet up and share their enthusiasm for cars.
Parker's current pride and joy is a four litre MG V8, a souped-up special edition that came out in the mid-1990s. "They did a few for the Tokyo motor show to raise brand awareness."
When the British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Christchurch earlier this year, Parker took him for a spin around the block.
He also likes to take an annual road-trip with Jo. "Last year we went up though Arthur's Pass, Reefton, up to Mapua and into Takaka. Then back around to the Marlborough Sounds where my younger son's wife's family have a bach."
He composes ambient soundscapes: Parker is keen to lower expectations about this one.
He loves all kinds of music he says - even bagpipes - and he plunks away on his rock guitar. So a minor hobby is trying to make some music himself. He and Jo take a digital recorder to capture various noises.
"We have these little competitions. We go places and if there is a really interesting sound - it could be the repetitive rhythm of a machine - we tape it as source material. I nurture fantasies of creating in the warehouse a total audio- visual environment to live in."
It goes back to when he had a marketing business in Akaroa, a solo operation where he produced video commercials. So there is that continuing technical interest - and background ambient tracks is a level of composing to which he can safely aspire.
"Rest assured, I would never subject other people to it," he laughs.
He had a Mururoa yacht: Back in his television days when he lived in Wellington, Parker owned a bright red 36 foot steel sloop.
"It was called 'Flamboyant'," he admits. "You had to ask." But he is not to blame for the name. It had been one of the famous Mururoa peace flotilla boats protesting the French nuclear tests.
"She'd actually been rumble searched by the French and they'd ripped out a lot of the fittings. You'd always be finding another broken hinge."
The outline of the big dove and olive branch logo remained visible on the mainsail. "The stitching was still there, you could see it if I ran it up."
For the summer holidays, he would sail it across the treacherous Tory Channel while his then wife and three boys followed on the ferry.
"Yes, great memories of navigating the Marlborough Sounds with my kids."
He nearly made it in Las Vegas: Again while living in Akaroa, between his careers in television and local government, Parker was looking to turn his studio production experience to good use.
With a partner to do the design and building, Parker started Timeframe International as a joint venture with Jade Software, creating a cheap pre-digital era video editing machine.
Patents were applied for. And with a big world market among wedding video firms and others looking for affordable production desks, Parker went to the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, seeking a manufacturing and distribution deal.
A major firm showed interest, but Parker says basically they got scammed out of ownership of the idea - protecting intellectual property is harder than it looks.
"So I spent one night walking around Las Vegas with my business partner thinking we had made it. We hadn't, but it was a great night."
He was "Reckless Rob": What else did boys do in 1960s Christchurch, especially when they lived around the Port Hills, but build dangerous go karts?
Parker's was a bit special. "Dad managed to get an old control column out of a Wellington bomber. We grafted that on to my rope steering system and so I had the best control wheel in the whole Heathcote Valley."
So it was "Reckless Rob" and his best mate "Killer Kev" Sullivan who used to shoot down another mate "Deafie's" long steep driveway.
"We used to race down and try to avoid shooting across Bridle Path Rd at the bottom."
He has cats: You would guess Parker was a cat rather than a dog guy. Right now he and his wife, Jo, have a Devon Rex and also one of its completely hairless cousins, a Sphinx cat.
It is hard to call a Sphinx cute even if some believe them stylish. But Parker says the personality is what wins him over. "I'll blame Jo. I don't think she could resist them. But they're very smart. And when they stretch, they have these incredibly sleek bodies."
One of the stories that got Parker into trouble as mayor was being caught with a litter of Devon Rexes in his "no cats" Gloucester St apartment. A neighbour spotted the kittens sunning on the deck. The move to the warehouse has now solved that.
Parker had cats in Akaroa too.
Soon after moving into his tumbledown historic property, a stray turned up to keep warm by the fire. Pretty soon there was a nest followed by kittens - "the Walnuts" as he called the new family. So cats have always been welcomed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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