Former mayor Joan Williamson ‘left a huge mark’ on the Taupō District
Taupō District Mayor David Trewavas has paid tribute to the district’s first mayor Joan Williamson QSO JP, who died yesterday afternoon aged 92.
Mrs Williamson was first the mayor of the Taupō Borough Council from 1986 to 1988 and then served as Taupō District Mayor from 1988 to 2001 after the Taupō Borough and Taupō County Councils amalgamated in 1988. She retired from the mayoralty in 2001.
Mrs Williamson oversaw a pivotal time in the development of the Taupō District. She campaigned to build the Great Lake Centre, foresaw the need for a bypass highway around Taupō and supported council to begin the planning required, and also oversaw the beginnings of what went on to become a major re-development of Taupō’s ageing AC Baths complex.
She was a decisive mayor who led her team of councillors effectively and was well-loved and respected in the community.
During an interview in 2018 Mrs Williamson said the Great Lake Centre was “my pride and joy” and said the official opening night was particularly special.
“When we held the event, someone looked out the window and said ‘it’s snowing!’. We ran outside in our ball gowns and put out our hands. It felt like a blessing. I’ve never forgotten it all these years.”
Mrs Williamson came to local government from a background teaching disabled children. She was elected to the Taupō Borough Council in 1977 and was deputy chairman of the electricity committee, chairman of the parks and reserves committee and deputy mayor from 1983 to 1986 under Mayor Clem Currie. When Mr Currie retired in 1986 she won the mayoralty, becoming the third and last Mayor of Taupō Borough before winning the election for Mayor of the new Taupō District in 1988. It was not an easy job as she had to mould former borough and country interests, urban and rural, together into a cohesive unit and she worked assiduously to achieve this. She made a point of knowing almost everybody and showing up at community functions, big or small.
Mrs Williamson retired from the mayoralty in 2001. Following that, she was elected to the Lakes District Health Board.
She was made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for community service, awarded the New Zealand Commemoration Medal in 1990 and the New Zealand Women’s Suffrage Medal in 1993.
One of Taupō’s most beautiful parks, the Joan Williamson Rose Garden with its array of antique and perennial roses, was named in her honour in 2007. Mrs Williamson said at the time that she was touched by the gesture.
“This will be a beautiful reminder of my 30 years or so in local government and all the wonderful people I have worked with,” she said.
Two awards for local teenagers, the Joan Williamson Award for Community Contribution and the Joan Williamson Shield for Community Contribution at Taupō-nui-a-Tia College are also named after her.
Mrs Williamson’s son John, who is a current councillor on the Taupō District Council, says his mother’s love for her community was matched by the love she had for her family and friends. She also played a big part in his local government career.
“She was an absolute inspiration,” he said.
“One of her greatest strengths was her diplomacy in what she would talk about. She was a real inspiration, not just to me but the whole community.”
Taupō District Mayor David Trewavas says Mrs Williamson was a very popular and effective mayor who knew how to get things done and had left a huge mark on the Taupō District.
“She knew the district inside out and took an interest in everything that was going on, even after she stepped down as mayor. She leaves a huge legacy behind her and the community will always be grateful for her contribution.”
Mrs Williamson is survived by six children. Her 20 grandchildren include Black Caps great Kane Williamson and fellow Black Cap Dane Cleaver, and musician Louisa Williamson although, as Mrs Williamson always insisted, she was very proud of all her grandchildren, as well as her 13 great-grandchildren.