It was 1989 when Paul Matheson first put his hand up to be a councillor for Fifeshire Ward.
He had been working as a public relations officer for Nelson Tasman and complaining to the then mayor that he didn’t get enough funding.
“So, he said ‘if you’re such a smart bugger then run for council’. So, I did and became the top polling councillor.”
So began Paul’s foray into local body politics that will almost come to an end this year. He has decided not to run again for Nelson City Council.
“Initially I thought I would just give it a go. The best part of being a councillor is that you can actually make people’s lives easier and better. That’s your job. You have to stay on the ground. The community own you 24/7.”
He should know. After doing his first term as a councillor he had a shot at the mayoralty and lost. Then he took a break and came back and won the mayoralty. He carried on for nine years.
“You can only do so much of that,” Paul says. “It’s full on.”
It was made all the more stressful in that his wife had only died six weeks before him starting the job.
“I think for the first 12 months I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.”
Paul became a solo dad to his three children.
“So, we are a pretty close unit now.”
Paul says it’s rewarding work but he tells new councillors not to go looking for pats on the back.
He came back to council six years ago as deputy mayor and a sometime mentor for first term councillors. However, he says he laments some of the behaviour that now goes across the council table.
“It’s a shame that some councillors can’t just have respect for each other. Making smart remarks that aren’t even funny.”
He says that current mayor Rachel Reese, who has signalled she will run again this year, has been “struggling at times”.
“She really needs to relax a bit and engage with other councillors with what she is doing.”
Running a for a third term he says the public will throw you out if you are close to being boring.
“You have to understand that.”
But it was a string of health scares that led Paul to reconsider running himself. He had a heart attack in 2016, then last year he got septicemia and his hip popped out several times. Then he had to have surgery to open up some arteries pumping blood to his brain. Over Christmas he also had cataracts removed.
“It was a case of around middle of last year I had a talk to the kids. They said ‘we have lost mum, we have only got you’.”
So Paul decided not to run but he will instead stand for the District Health Board. After all, he has had enough experience with it these past few years.
“Too many people who get to my age either die or become a pain. There are men my age who don’t volunteer. They have skills that they can share but just need to be encouraged.”