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Ron Mark – many roles, one hat

Wairarapa list MP Ron Mark has packed a lot into life, and he’s far from done yet. The colourful deputy leader of New Zealand First wants to become this region’s electorate MP so his seat in parliament can be said to be a seat truly earned by having secured the trust of the voters of Wairarapa. Reporter CHELSEA BOYLE caught up with Mr Mark at his country home last week. PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV

 

Veteran, politician, country music crooner and social welfare advocate.

The deputy leader of New Zealand First is a man of many roles who wears one distinctive hat.

“That’s a proper hat,” Ron Mark says pointing to the cowboy hat that sat on the back of a dining room chair in his kitchen in rural Carterton.

Having held the town’s mayoralty from 2010 until 2014, it is fair to say he is well known in the area.

But there is still more to the man with the big hat – for one, he cannot resist picking up a hitchhiker.

“I always pick up hitchhikers because I used to hitchhike,” he said.

When the dark starts to set in it would be “irresponsible” not too.

So, when the day is getting longer and Mr Mark has not yet found his way home partner Christine Tracey’s first guess will be that he has found someone to drop off first.

Born in Wairarapa and raised as a ward of the state, Mr Mark has called a few places home over the years.

It would make for long thank you list when he made his maiden speech in parliament in 1996 – Wylies, Seymours, Betty and Albie Field, and Gordon and Sylvia Thorburn all had a hand in bringing him up.

He has fond memories of his time in Pahiatua, the best of them when a sandwich was unpacked somewhere quiet where you could take a horse swimming.

Over the years, he watched his foster father Gordon Thorburn break in difficult horses, and stood in awe of his skill as a horseman.

“Pop really wanted me to be a jockey – I was small and skinny.”

That shared love of horses would show as Mr Mark competed in dressage and show jumping.

“I missed that when I went into the army.”

At just 16 years of age Mr Mark was accepted into the New Zealand Army’s Regular Force Cadet School in Waiouru and would later graduate as a soldier mechanic.

“Not everyone graduated, quite a few dropped out.”

Ron Mark putting up a hot wire on Belvedere Rd. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Ron Mark putting up a hot wire on Belvedere Rd. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

He would later serve in the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces and the Sultan of Oman’s Special Forces.

The longer stints were often unaccompanied and missing his family would bring him back to New Zealand, returning with the Royal Order of Oman and the Oman Peace Medal.

His military mind would again come into focus in 2008 when he witnessed a horrific motorbike crash in the Terrace Tunnel, Wellington, and used his hand to stop the motorcyclist from bleeding out on the road.

A true passion in Mr Mark’s life now is his work with foster families.

This year he was a keynote speaker at the L’oreal Face Your Future conference.

“Which I know sounds strange because all that hair gel is wasted on me.”

But it was an opportunity for him to connect with young people who were facing adversity.

What drove him to do these events, and even to pick up hitchhikers, was his own personal experiences.

“It all comes back to being a foster kid.”

He loves catching up with foster parents at these kinds of events and has words for encouragement for them.

“My foster parents saved my life.”

He said working as a MP he always gravitated towards conversations with  ministers of social development.

“I don’t lie, I don’t bullshit, I get it done.”

Watching Mr Mark set up a hotwire, where he grazes cattle on Belvedere Road, it’s clear his thoughts are not far from the campaign.

Far from content as a list MP, Mr Mark has his heart set on winning his hometown’s electorate.

“I’m tired of Wairarapa being represented by backbencher MPs,” he said.

“I want to make the people here proud of what I can do for them — I can’t do that if I don’t have the mandate.”

The greatest thing about having been Carterton mayor was that the people had chosen me, he said.

If Mr Mark can edge out the competition come September 23, he said the top of his list would be improvements to rural roads and special education.

Ron Mark grazes a small mixed mob of cattle on Belvedere Rd. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Ron Mark grazes a small mixed mob of cattle on Belvedere Rd. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

 

 

 

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