Ambassador role a natural fit for Hastings' biggest fan Henare O'Keefe

By Nicki Harper

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Hastings district councillor Henare O'Keefe is relishing his additional role as official Hastings ambassador. Photo/Paul Taylor
Hastings district councillor Henare O'Keefe is relishing his additional role as official Hastings ambassador. Photo/Paul Taylor

Sitting outside a cafe on Heretaunga St on a sunny Hawke's Bay day it's easy to see why Hastings district councillor Henare O'Keefe has been appointed the official Hastings Ambassador.

Almost every second person who walks by greets him with a handshake or a quick hug, making Mr O'Keefe the perfect contender to spread the message that Hastings is a great place to live, work and play.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule created the role after last year's elections to reflect the council's desire to bolster civic pride in the Hastings district.

Mr O'Keefe said his selection was a natural fit.

"Encouraging and promoting the message about Hastings is something I do anyway as do all the councillors.

"I see this as a bridge between all races, creeds and colours - I like to facilitate opportunities between individuals and groups and give people a sense of value and importance, and to create unity - I love making people feel good about themselves."

Feeling good about the Hastings district was an easy sell, said Mr O'Keefe who moved to the district from Ruatoria with his family in 1971.

"We left a two-bedroom tin shack at the foot of Hikurangi Mountain and came here looking for opportunities.

"I was fresh out of school and when I asked where we were going I was told 'we're going to a land flowing with milk and honey'.

"We have never looked back - it's been very good to us, it's fed, clothed and educated our children and grandchildren."

He said the Hastings district was booming in terms of the economy, but that he also wanted to contribute to a "boom in benevolence"

"Bricks and mortar, money and food - they come anyway. Relationships are the real currency to build on and I'm looking for a resurgence of love and desire to help others."

To date he has attended local events in his ambassadorial role, including handing out medals at the Hawke's Bay marathon and attending the Horse of the Year where he opened the Friday night Hastings Heart of Hawke's Bay extravaganza and closed the event on Sunday with a rendition of the national anthem.

He said he also used his regular speaking engagements around the country to spread the word about the district's strengths further afield.

An idea that he was working on was coming up with an anthem for the district.

"I thought I would have a crack at it - it's long overdue and another way to unite us and give us a sense of pride."

A council spokesman said fostering a sense of civic pride in Hastings was something the council was working very hard on and Mr O'Keefe, with his passion and heartfelt love for the area made him a perfect match.

This latest role was just one of many Mr O'Keefe had taken on or been acknowledged for.

A recipient of a Queens Service Medal, he is also a Justice of the Peace, a U-Turn ambassador, and he was named a Kiwibank New Zealand Community Hero in 2012.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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