Meet the letter writers: Paul Evans-McLeod

DENISE IRVINE
Last updated 14:13 13/01/2014
Paul Evans-McLeod
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ

'I do it to inform and to provoke': Letter writer Paul Evans-McLeod .

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Our regular letter writers are familiar names to readers.

In recognition of their dogged commitment to writing letters and the contribution they make to social and political debate in our Hamilton Denise Irvine spoke to some of them. 

It started when Paul Evans-McLeod read something that tweaked him, made him think "that's a load of rubbish". He sat down, wrote a response. It got published, it went from there.

We're talking letters to the editor here, and in the past 10 or 12 years, Evans- McLeod has become one of the Waikato Times' regulars. Sending missives on a wide range of local and national topics: workplace bullying, attitudes of young people, water meters, the machinations of city council, telcos' service (or lack thereof), boy racers dodging fines, to name a few issues.

He can't remember what the original letter was all about, there have been many more since then. "I write when the mood takes me, when something tickles my interest. I do it to inform and provoke. I want people to respond. It's not for self- aggrandisement."

Sometimes he deliberately provokes - " in a gentle way" - to make people think. He doesn't want people to be too apathetic, or too obedient, take things at face value, without question.

He's also motivated by injustice, and he doesn't like it when elected officials fail to do their jobs. "People are being harmed by their failure to act." He's also concerned about young people who think the world owes them a living. Having said that, he wants to acknowledge there are many fine young people too.

Sometimes he writes to take the piss. Friends notice when he does this. He's never kept clippings of his letters, he's got no idea how many he's written, they're probably all in his computer files somewhere.

In print, Evans-McLeod, 61, can come across as a bit of a curmudgeon. In person, at his Hamilton home, he's friendly, his conversation as wide-ranging as his letters.

He's got an inquiring mind, he's dogged, he's a voracious reader, he researches widely, and he has an abiding dislike of bullshit.

Because he's got a distinctive surname, he's taken some "interesting" phonecalls about his letters at all hours of the day and night from people.

A few years back he wrote a letter about the internal issues within Tainui, and said that the late Maori Queen, Te Atairangikaahu, may be turning in her grave. A Tainui kaumatua challenged him to come onto his marae and make his assertions in person. Evans-McLeod said he would, but the man didn't get back to him. All these exchanges took place publicly, in the Times' letters column. A Tainui woman he knows told him he was right on the money with his comments.

McLeod's bent and ability to argue his corner goes back to childhood in Waitoa, near Te Aroha. He and his twin brother were the youngest of 10 children, their father worked at the Waitoa dairy factory for 47 years. "We didn't know we were poor until somebody told us. We were well loved, and well fed."

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Meals were eaten around a large dining table, the food was always fresh from the extensive garden, and the debate and conversation sounds as wide-ranging as the letters Evans-McLeod writes today.

"Dad would start a discussion about something, next minute everybody would be in, boots and all."

Evans-McLeod and his twin were allowed to participate, even though they were young. "You were listened to, as long as your discourse had merit. You needed to be sharp in knowledge and facts. You had to substantiate your point of view."

So Evans-McLeod honed his skills in the crucible of the family table, and the ethics prescribed. He quotes his personal mantra of, "accept little, believe no one, corroborate everything." He says you can live in fear, or you can address the fear. "If you don't know something, ask."

He also mentions this advice from his mother: "If you can't be good, be careful. If you can't be careful, buy a pram. If you have to buy a pram, the next time you visit, you should have the pram, and the lady on your arm."

The Evans-McLeod children were taught never to quit, to be honest and trustworthy, your word was your bond, a handshake was all that was required. In an ideal world, everyone would be like this.

But the world is not ideal, Evans-McLeod has at times been severely disappointed in his personal and working life.

He's touched on his work issues in his letters. In short, he says that in 2009 he was micro-managed out of his telecommunicatioms job over a false customer complaint. He'd been with the same company for 39 years and three months, he was crushed by what happened. It went against his ethics and morals.

He's applied for numerous jobs since, hasn't been successful, he's gone from a good income to the dole, it has required some serious budgeting. He supplements his income -"when I'm winning" - from playing Texas Holdem poker online.

Good friends, neighbours and a productive vegetable garden are all important to him. He and wife Robyn have four daughters between them, there are two grandchildren expected in the New Year. He and Robyn help others, just as others have helped them.

Evans-McLeod has had bouts of severe depression throughout his life, he's had a strong support from those close to him. He wouldn't be here without it. He has a Facebook page on workplace bullying, and he's supports people who are suffering from this.

He's still fighting over the loss of his job, he has a blog on this, too, and he's aiming for a petition to Parliament on his case next year. He says he was lied to, he doesn't like it.

The lad from Waitoa says, "I've got good homespun values and I get really pissed off when people abuse this." Expect to hear more from him in the letters column.

- Waikato

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