Obituary: Campaigner never gave up

By Tom Johnson

2 comments
Derek Williams fly fishing on Lake Tutira in 1999.
Derek Williams fly fishing on Lake Tutira in 1999.

Many times over a 20 year period Derek Williams, who passed away yesterday aged 77, must have felt like de Cervantes epic character Don Quixote when making submissions to local authorities.

He could justifiably feel that he was futilely "tilting at windmills". While it is hard to be a "prophet in your own hometown", Derek had the satisfaction before he died of knowing he had been proven right in many of his submissions, particularly in his area of expertise, on matters of water and sewerage infrastructure, health and conservation.

Born at Matfield in the Tunbridge Wells, Kent area of England, he served as a 20-year-old in the Persian Gulf with the Royal London Fusiliers and then in Cyprus with the Royal West Kent regiment against the Eoka terrorists.

He attained the non-commissioned rank of corporal. Operating under threat gives people a resilience and determination to both survive and succeed.

He developed the pugnacity of a pitbull so it is unfortunate that his efforts were thwarted by personality clashes with local authority elected members.

He came to New Zealand because of his love and experience of fly fishing. The Tukituki River at that stage was regarded as one of the top 10 trout rivers in the world.

His initial motivation to be involved in local body issues was the community environmental and health issues of old primary treatment substandard septic tanks being a serious health issue at Bay View and Jervoistown.

He had experienced the problem and its successful elimination in England. Through his work in this field he had the knowledge and experience of how to rectify it.

Unfortunately personality politics resulted in the sensible solutions being ignored.

As an example, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council adopted (2012) Plan change 3 variation 3 driven by him for over 20 years for the cessation of the operation of old primary treatment septic tanks.

Derek advocated this in 2001 when he stood unsuccessfully for council in Napier. Dr Nicholas Jones of the DHB Community Health Unit confirmed the necessary actions will take place.

There are many more documented examples of his advocacy being correct but also being ignored.

Probably his major contribution has been in the field of anti-pollution of the environment as in the case of Lake Tutira and the Tukituki River.

He regarded the loss of its status as a top 10 trout river in the world as an indictment against the poor decision making of the local authorities concerned, done with a lack of understanding and forethought.

The river has been degraded by excessive water draw-off and substandard sewerage disposal. Again he made many submissions on the state of the river.

It was fitting that in the idyllic surrounds of Lake Tutira which had meant so much to both of them, Derek married his "soulmate" of 39 years, Te Mauri Tawhai.

Together they had raised and planted many native trees at the lake as well as in other areas of Hawke's Bay.

They had also agonised over the poor decisions that had resulted in the lake's pollution problems.

They made repeated visits to the lake over the years and now have a track dedicated to both of them.

Derek is survived by his daughter Elaine, her husband Trevor, two sisters in the United Kingdom and two grandchildren, and Te Mauri's large whanau.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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