John Wardell. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE.

Farmer, politician, volunteer and ‘great father’

EMILY IRELAND
emily.ireland@age.co.nz

Wairarapa lost “one of nature’s last gentlemen” in a fatal car crash last week.

John Wardell, 74, died on Thursday when his car crashed into the War Memorial Bridge near Te Kopi Rd in Gladstone.

Wardell, from a pioneering Wairarapa family, served on the Masterton County Council from 1983 until 1989, and then on the Masterton District Council until 1992.

Masterton councillor David Holmes, a friend, and former neighbour of 51 years, said Wardell was “one of nature’s last gentlemen”.

“He’d probably be the oldest living resident in the Te Whiti area which the Wardell family had a lot to do with.

“Johnny is the last of the legends really.”

Former Masterton mayor Bob Francis echoed Holmes’ sentiments.

“John was a great guy and the community is feeling the incredibly sad loss today,” he said.

“He made an excellent contribution during his terms on council and was really respected by his colleagues.

“It’s a massive loss to the family. I know they will be feeling the loss terribly.”

Wardell and his wife Loes, had four children – Tanya, Melissa, Amanda, and Peter – and raised them all at Te Whiti.

His daughters Melissa Mebus and Amanda Thow told the Times-Age that they were lucky to have had a dad like theirs.

“He was such a kind, loving father and role model to us kids in many ways,” Melissa said.

She recalled how her father was always “a big part” of whatever community he was involved with.

He was one of the first Contiki tour drivers in Europe in his 20s, where he met his wife Loes while skiing in Austria.

He drove the Gladstone School bus when his children were at school, and most recently volunteered to read with children in schools, drove cancer patients to treatment appointments in Wellington, and also helped with Meals on Wheels.

He was a keen walker, cyclist, and tennis player, and loved nature, but his health took a hit in 2018 when he had heart surgery.

“It took him a while to get back on his bike, quite literally, but he did get back on it,” Mebus said.

Wardell was a sheep and beef farmer, but he also spent the last 13 years of his working life as a parliamentary services officer at the Beehive in Wellington.

Wardell’s family had been farming on the banks of the Ruamahanga River for more than 140 years, and his grandfather, Herbert Wardell, who was born in London in 1830, became Wairarapa’s first resident magistrate.

Wairarapa Archive historian Gareth Winter said he knew Wardell well from his many visits to the archive where he had donated some valuable records his family held.

Wardell was a “quietly spoken generous man, friendly and gracious, and he loved to talk history”, Winter said.

“He was a gentle man and a gentleman.”

Others in the community said Wardell was a man who had made an impact on many lives.

“He was the most charismatic, warm, and thoughtful human being,” a family friend said.

“He always made you feel like the most interesting person in the world.

“His smile and genuine interest in all people made him truly unique.”

Wardell is survived by his wife Loes, children Tanya, Melissa, Amanda, and Peter, and 11 grandchildren.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson extended her condolences to the family.