Hamilton residents often take a walk by the river or feed the ducks at the lake to relax, but for Hamilton man Bill Featherstone the city's parks and gardens have been his job for 44 years.
Mr Featherstone, who has been Hamilton City Council's manager of parks and gardens for 15 years, dropped that responsibility when he retired yesterday. Now he is looking forward to enjoying the parks as a leisure activity.
"I think I'm going to enjoy them more," he said. "Going for a stroll along the river or sitting beside the lake are things I'm going to indulge myself in. I think it's going to be wonderful."
The 65-year-old grandfather of six recalls his first job as a young man with the city council was working as a gardener at what is now known as the Victorian Flower Gardens at Hamilton Gardens.
"I was reluctant to come and work for the city council and my intention was to stay three years. I have stayed 44.
"People who choose to work in local council frequently have a high level of idealism," Mr Featherstone said. "Once I realised that, I had no desire to leave and I couldn't think of anything more worthwhile."
This realisation was helped along by offers of promotions he could not refuse.
Over the past four decades he has played a key role in developing a large area of undeveloped land earmarked for parks and gardens since before the 1970s.
He was also happy to go the extra mile in his job, learning Te Reo later in life to help better understand all aspects of the community.
Sitting outside The Verandah cafe at Hamilton Lake, Mr Featherstone said he still finds it hard to believe the city's transformation.
"In the 1970s we realised that a great majority of that land was undeveloped and people were growing up and leaving home before the council had developed their park."
Most of Hamilton Gardens had been a sand quarry and a dump in the 1970s.
"There was four acres of development up there at that stage and that's the way it remained until 1986," Mr Featherstone said. Perhaps the changes since then are why he includes Hamilton Gardens, along with greater recognition of local Maori historical sites and the establishment of walkways in the city, among the greatest achievements he has played a part in.
On Monday – his first proper day of retired life – he will be relaxing at a mystery destination organised by his wife, Aloma.
He laughingly explains that she planned the trip when she heard him telling someone they could call him about work if they needed to do so.
They also have a holiday in Spain planned for the not-too-distant future and before he embraces the next stage of his life.
Mr Featherston doesn't know exactly what lies ahead, but he has already committed to voluntary community work, as well as exploring all the parks and gardens he has spent so much of his life developing.
"I will still be out and about," he says as he waves us off.
- Waikato Times