Paddy Stafford-Bush, JP, local identity and tireless community advocate, received a Queen’s Service Medal for services to the community in the New Year’s Honours list. She professes to be stunned by the honour, and during her interview with Channel Magazine frequently steered the conversation away from herself to the community groups and projects she has worked with.
She says events like the recent the Belmont kaitahi (community dinner) epitomise why she has been so passionately involved in all manner of community events over the last three decades-plus since she arrived in Bayswater.
“I have been – and still am – an active member of the Bayswater Community Committee. I believe in that networking and support we can give each other. Today we have a very different community to what we had 30 years ago, but at the recent kaitahi we had more than 120 people turn up. What was so delightful was the number of young people, the number of middle-aged people and the number of older people, and everyone was working together for a common goal which was to strengthen our ties to our community. It was such a successful event…. There were lots of wonderful helpers who had been coming and going all day, giving their time. That’s true community.”
Paddy insists that the outcomes that have been achieved are not solely hers and that so many other people are involved in the things she’s been involved in. The QSM, she says, was acknowledgment of the support she’s had from her family, and for all the groups and all the people she’s worked with over the years.
And what a line-up of groups, starting with the formative influence of being a playcentre mum at Takarunga Playcentre. Playcentre, she says shapes you. “It showed me how powerful a collective could be, gave me the confidence to work collectively and democratically, and taught me about communities and decision-making.”
Then there were the hockey teams she’s played in at local, national and Masters level; the development of the Rose Centre; the formation of the North Shore Heritage Trust; the Auckland Conservation Board; the North Shore Events Centre; Devonport Rotary which she joined after she retired from local government; and no doubt more that she was too modest to talk about. All in addition to a full-time teaching job before she was elected to local government as a member (and chair for two terms) of the Devonport Community Committee under the North Shore City Council regime.
With her interest in the environment primed by subjects she’d taken at university (and no doubt heightened by the prevailing ethos on the community committee), perhaps the next logical progression was an invitation to sit on the Auckland Conservation Board. “That made ne aware of greater Auckland and all the wonderful reserves and spaces we have for public use, the importance of public and open space, and how once green space is taken, you can’t get it back. In the same way, with heritage, once you take it away you can’t get it back. Yet those are the things that make a community what it is.”
Paddy reiterates that none of her achievements have been hers alone. “To be successful, you need to have a good group with you who also share the common goal. I’ve been blessed with many good people. Receiving the QSM,” she says, “has given kudos and credit to the groups I’ve been involved with. It’s not about me, it’s about them, and it’s validated what they’ve done.”
By the same token, as she reluctantly concedes, groups need leaders to help them steer the path they take; they need someone like Paddy who’s able to take the reins and advocate for causes they are committed to. “While I felt a bit uncomfortable about accepting the QSM, it was lovely to receive the comment from a fellow Rotarian: ‘Paddy, if you hadn’t been there leading and collecting people to do something, it would never have happened.’
Nowhere was this more evident than in the establishment of the Rose Centre in Belmont 25 years ago. She became involved through her teaching role at Takapuna Grammar School, and was “thrust into the position of chairing the steering group and bringing three disparate groups together”. Belmont school wanted a hall; Company Theatre needed a venue; and the community needed a heart, a meeting place. Paddy says the outcome was “wonderful. That was the big one; that made me realise the importance of community.” She’s now the Rose Centre’s patron, still actively involved, mentoring, helping with promotion, and following closely its meetings and events. And while she’s not a member of Company Theatre, she is a member of the Rose Singers, a “group of people who like to sing”, who get together weekly to sing together, and who perform twice annually to raise funds for the community.
Paddy was also a founding trustee and chair of the North Shore Heritage Trust, which was set up under the auspices of the North Shore City Council. In the last decade and a half it has supported more than 140 projects across the North Shore with small grants to achieve positive heritage outcomes. Early projects supported by the Trust included conservation plans for The Victoria Theatre and the Northcote Hotel; another was the replacement of the veranda above the old bakery in Hinemoa Street in Birkenhead. She has only recently retired from the Trust, having stayed on to assist in the transition from North Shore City Council to Auckland Council.
When she retired from local government, Paddy joined Devonport Rotary, where she continues to be actively involved in the club’s fundraising projects, most notably at present the Devonport Fine Homes Tour, and Sculpture on Shore in support of Friend of Women’s Refuge.
Amongst work, politics, and the various organisations she was involved with, Paddy continued to play sport. In inimitable style, as she reached a “certain age” and had seemingly reached the use-by date when you could no longer play for a team, she became involved in Masters sport and was involved in setting up the bi-annual trans-Tasman Masters hockey series, now the biggest hockey event in New Zealand.
Paddy has now forsaken hockey for seemingly more individualistic sporting pursuits, ones that have taken her on extraordinary journeys to remote places across the globe and in New Zealand. She took up skiing when she was 50, and a recent painting (another of her recently developed skills) provides a potent reminder of the ski safari she did in January, skiing from refugio to refugio across the Dolomites in Italy. But even painting and skiing are enjoyed as part of a community. She skis with a group of “same time next year” friends who travel annually for ski adventures in North America or Europe. “And I love it!” Painting's social side again involves Paddy as "organiser"; she has gathered a small community of friends who get together for a “social unwind” and to share their artistic pursuits.
She’s also an avid off-road cyclist, here and overseas, with trips across Vietnam and another around the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and across Tanzania into Uganda recorded in just two other of her impressionist acrylic paintings that act as memories of the journeys she takes.
At one stage, she confesses, “I did go through a phase of race walking”, where she won the gold medal in her age category in the World Masters games. Being goal oriented, she promptly abandoned the sport, there being no higher goals to achieve.
Paddy is also passionately committed to the Booby Stafford-Bush Foundation, a trust established in memory of their son who was killed 16 years ago. With the support of their other two children, she and husband Brian set up the Foundation as a “living inheritance” for Bobby. “This was an interesting thing to do,” she says. The focus of the Foundation has been on sponsoring young people with high potential, as Bobby himself had. “Lots and lots of little things, because if you’re in sport, art or culture it’s very hard to get funding. It’s also a bit of a mentoring role. It’s been fabulous.”
Coming back to her receipt of the QSM, Paddy says, “I was blown away. I think it comes back to what I said before: the fact that people care about what’s being done. It’s real community pride and it’s the collective good that comes out of it. It’s not just me; it’s all those who have been part of whatever [we’ve achieved], and the pride to be associated with it.
“I have never been frightened to stand up for a particular thing, and to stand tall for values and beliefs. I just see it as being part of the community. You can choose to be part of a community, or you can choose just to live in a community.”