Mayor’s fam­ily miss his home cook­ing

Central Otago Mirror - - CENTRAL NEWS - By MARY-JO TO­HILL

When Ber­nice Lep­per’s hus­band Tony be­came Cen­tral Otago district’s new mayor two years ago, her big­gest fear was that she would lose her cook. To a large ex­tent that is ex­actly what hap­pened, be­cause home life has def­i­nitely changed, with a hus­band more used to head­ing off to work in his gum­boots now just as likely to leave the house in a suit, and not get home un­til late. How­ever, he still cooks, re­gret­fully not as of­ten, ac­cord­ing to the Lep­per’s two chil­dren Blake, 25, and Brie, 23. ‘‘I used to be good, but I’d got out of the habit and the kids tell me I’m hope­less and they much pre­fer Tony,’’ Mrs Lep­per, known as ‘‘Bernie’’, said. Re-vis­it­ing her cook­ing skills is just one of sev­eral things she has had to come to grips be­ing mar­ried to the mayor. ‘‘I’d never saw my­self as a may­oress. It just didn’t seem ‘me.’ But ac­tu­ally I’m really en­joy­ing it. It’s a priv­i­lege.’’ As a third gen­er­a­tion Cly­deEarn­scle­ugh-ite, the el­dest daugh­ter of Peter and Wilma Paulin, she has comes from a fam­ily with strong com­mu­nity ties. Mrs Lep­per is in­volved with sev­eral high pro­file groups such as Alexan­dra Com­mu­nity House Trust, which she chairs, and as a trustee of Cen­tral Lakes Trust. She is also Cen­tral Otago REAP man­ager. ‘‘I find my­self go­ing to oc­ca­sions wear­ing numer­ous hats.’’ A mar­riage cel­e­brant long be­fore she be­came a may­oress, she has al­ways had to have plenty of ‘‘wed­ding out­fits’’ in the wardrobe, mostly bought from Alexan­dra stores, which she also puts to good use on may­oral out­ings. ‘‘It’s been really good to have an ex­cuse to have not just one, but three pairs of shoes!’’ What Mrs Lep­per has loved most about be­ing may­oress so far is the cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies, where she wel­comes new New Zealan­ders and reads out their tes­ti­monies. ‘‘I really en­joy meet­ing them and hear­ing their sto­ries.’’ The scari­est thing has been the Alexan­dra Blos­som Fes­ti­val par- ade, where the may­oral cou­ple is re­quired to drive down the town’s main street as part of the pro­ces­sion. ‘‘That’s been the hard­est thing be­cause it’s so pub­lic. Walking with a group would be much eas­ier.’’ The may­oral team are keen on mul­ti­sport, hav­ing en­tered the Gold Rush as veter­ans ev­ery year. When Mr Lep­per de­cided to run for mayor, they de­liv­ered his fly­ers by bike. As mayor, nat­u­rally he cops a bit of flak, which he can­not help but bring home. ‘‘He mulls it over, and of­ten we try to think of the is­sue from a dif­fer­ent an­gle, step­ping back from the emo­tion.’’ Both from teach­ing back­grounds, they met at the Craigieburn Ski Field in Can­ter­bury. He was a long-haired, laid-back lad from the Hawke’s Bay with a de­gree in his­tory who wanted to travel. She was short-haired, more stu­dious with a dou­ble de­gree in his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy, who wanted to fo­cus on a teach­ing ca­reer. ‘‘It took me a while to warm to him,’’ she laughed. They did not start go­ing out un­til the last week of their course. Mrs Lep­per took a teach­ing job in Motueka, and he soon fol­lowed, be­com­ing a re­lief-teacher, part­time forestry worker and white­baiter. They mar­ried, and went overseas trav­el­ling for three years, coming back to Cen­tral to work on the Paulin fam­ily or­chard in 1984. Mrs Lep­per even­tu­ally went to teach at Dun­stan, with a two-year stint at Cromwell Col­lege. Mr Lep­per be­came man­ager of the Earn­scle­ugh Ir­ri­ga­tion Scheme, and dur­ing that time he was a hands-on fa­ther to their young chil­dren, be­com­ing a coun­cil­lor at amal­ga­ma­tion time in 1989. ‘‘He was chief cook and bot­tle­washer while I worked and he en­joyed it, pick­ing the kids up even when he didn’t have to.’’ But when he de­cided to run for mayor two years ago, she was happy to sup­port him. Still work­ing full­time her­self, they cher­ish their home life to­gether. ‘‘Some­times I feel like we’re never at home. It’s our san­ity place.’’ They work hard at keep­ing some sort of rou­tine. He gets up early and tends his vege garden, then they have break­fast to­gether be­fore head­ing off to their var­i­ous du­ties. And will the may­oral team be stand­ing again in the 2013 elec­tions? ‘‘Yep, we’ll go an­other round.’’ ‘‘Some­times we pinch our­selves and ask each other ‘how did we get here?’ ‘‘How did I end up mar­ried to a mayor and rep­re­sent­ing a com­mu­nity like this?’’

Photo: MARY-JO TO­HILL 627230458

Mar­ried to the mayor: Ber­nice Lep­per at home with her dog Rosie.

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