Sitting having a beer in the Koro Club in Auckland just over five years ago with a recently retired bloke I'd done a number of overseas trips with over the years, I asked him what he planned to do with the rest of his working life.
He was too young to retire and up until recently he'd been the boss of more than five thousand, so had plenty of management experience. He said he hadn't given a great deal of thought to it but he expected something would come up that interested him.
He was then just plain old Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, recently retired head of our armed forces. These days if you give him his full title you're forced to take a breath on the way to, His Excellency, the Governor-General, the Right Honourable, Lieutenant General, Sir Jeremiah Mateparae, followed by at least another dozen letters.
So how did he get the job? His appointment was a popular one across the political spectrum and he's conducted himself in his usual humble, beneath the radar sort of a way.
The prerequisite for the job is to know the Prime Minister, or to know someone who knows him and he respects.
On one of those trips overseas Jerry, as we all knew him then, shared a tent with Key in the highland of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and the pair obviously got on well, as they did on previous trips together. But this one, less than a year before he scored the top political appointment in the land, obviously sealed the decision.
And his just announced successor, another who's barely recorded a blip on the public radar screen, Dame Patsy Reddy, also got to know Key recently by heading, along with Michael Cullen, a snoop on the snoops, recommending a one-stop spook shop for our spies.
The latest appointment's raised the question whether it should be the Prime Minister alone making these sorts of decisions. It's a question that was originally posed way back by Governor George Grey 160 years ago, who tried three times to have the appointment made by a majority Parliamentary vote. The second time was defeated by just two votes.
The official line is that the appointment is made by the Queen on the advice of the PM. There is no legal requirement for him to consult anyone else - although with MMP there's an expectation that he will tell other Parliamentary leaders what he's planning.
That's news to the Greens who didn't hear a squeak from the ninth floor of the Beehive, while some, not all, were simply told the name that was going to Buck House for ratification by HRH.
Most going into the job wouldn't be drawn by the $330,000 salary package, although the fancy State Houses, servants and limos that go with it, aren't to be sniffed at.
But it's a prestigious rubber stamp job and the appointment to it should be more transparent.
So Dame Patsy Reddy is soon to be our Head of State, the top political job in the land, that by law appoints and can sack the Prime Minister.
Surely that in itself is enough to have the appointment responsibility taken out of the hands of the very person who could live or die by it.
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