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Francis leaves Pukaha after long tenure

Bob Francis with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Pukaha last year. PHOTO/FILE

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Bob Francis is feeling good about his decision to stand down as chairman of the Pukaha Mt Bruce Board after 14 years in the role.

“The recent covid-19 lockdown gave me space and time for personal reflection and to assess where I was at with my life,” he said. “It feels right to step down from the board.”

Francis said he was proud of what he, the board and management had achieved at the Pukaha National Wildlife Centre and was leaving with it in a strong position.

“With the confirmation of PGF [Provincial Growth Fund] funding and the beginning of the biggest investment in Pukaha’s history now under way the time is right to step aside.”

Francis was talking about the construction of a bespoke education centre including overnight stay facilities and a nocturnal boardwalk.

It’s a long way from when Francis first got involved with the forestry restoration project in 2004 and raised $500,000 in a ‘telethon style’ fundraiser.

The board was established in 2006 and Francis has chaired it
ever since.

He led a restructure of Pukaha operations to make it more commercially viable. And he worked towards developing the centre into a major conservation site and a significant visitor centre.

From this position, the trust went on to own the assets at the centre and took over management of the 942ha site from the Department of Conservation.

Francis is credited with establishing strong relationships with key partners, Rangitāne and DOC.

“Bob played an important role working with Rangitane in terms of our Treaty of Waitangi settlement and the significance of Pūkaha as key redress,” Rangitāne’s partnership representative from 2001 to 2014, Jason Kerehi said.

“However, the greatest achievement is his contribution towards restoring the dawn chorus.

“All of those efforts; the pest control, the fundraising, leveraging those relationships, improving the visitor experience, rallying a local community to support and a steady hand at the helm were all for the biodiversity of our native flora and fauna.”

Francis said personal highlights included the development of the kiwi house and the free flight aviary, and taking Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern around Pukaha late last year was a “very special event”.

Francis remains involved with half a dozen boards including chairing Five Rivers Medical and the Wings Over Wairarapa Community Trust which oversees the biennial air festival.

While he is stepping down from one role, he is stepping up to another. Francis told the Times-Age he is engaged to Mary Blakemore and wedding plans have been made for later in the year.

“I’ve given Pukaha my all for many years. It has been onerous at times but also rewarding and I am proud of what we have done. But I am now ready for some free time with my new partner and family.”

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