PICTURE THAT "Gone fishin" sign so beloved by comic strip artists.

That's the one Kevin Winters hung out within a week of losing Rotorua's 2013 mayoralty race and a fisherman's what he's become. Gaining his commercial skipper's 'ticket' in 2014, he operates a charter fishing boat and accommodation enterprise at Waihau Bay, based in his family's revamped "bolt hole" bach, bought during his Rotorua mayoralty days.

It didn't need a spin doctor to come up with his venture's play on- words name; Winters Summer Daze. It's his creation, the ideal fit for his change-of-pace lifestyle.

Kevin doesn't deny losing the mayoralty in what was a resounding drubbing hurt-for a week tops, but recounting his life to Our People there's rarely a chapter he doesn't qualify with the 'everything happens for a reason' observation.

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That's the first of them.

Enjoyable as his local body experience was and the dairy farming days that preceded it, he's exactly where he wants to be in life-"following my passion".

Kevin Winters at the arrival of the first trans-tasman flight into Rotorua International Airport in 2009
Kevin Winters at the arrival of the first trans-tasman flight into Rotorua International Airport in 2009

"Fit as", he plans to be even fitter.

"I have to be, Sue [his wife] and I are celebrating our 60th birthdays this year with an Outward Bound course in August."

Their son and daughter have beaten them to it-while at school.

Sue's been a constant in his life since their eyes met not across a crowded room, but a Massey University lecture theatre. She was studying towards a science degree, majoring in maths, Kevin a Bachelor of Agriculture. His initial intention had been to become a vet "but at end of the first year I failed miserably, you really have to be at the top of the top stream to make it, I wasn't". With that BAgS scroll under his arm, he returned to the Otakiri dairy farm on which he was raised; sharemilking for his parents.

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"Sue said 'if I'm going to follow you around the country you'd better put a ring on my finger'. I did. "We borrowed $20,000 from the Rural Bank, bought a herd of 100, it was a bloody disaster. We were badly hit by facial eczema in the first year, half the herd died . . . everything happens for a reason." The Winters cast about for a facial eczema-free property, buying 84 hectares in Reporoa and 240 cows.

Ten years on the property was generating 1000kg of milk solids an acre-for non-farmers that's an impressive figure and one that topped the Reporoa region. After 20 farming years Kevin was ready for change.

"I'd always had a fascination with governance, local body, was heavily involved in Federated Farmers, did a fair bit of lobbying for the proposed Fonterra-NZ Dairy Group merger."

He chaired the local ratepayers' group, taking three tilts at the council's south ward before becoming an elected councillor in 2001.

Knitting sparked his council aspirations, he said.

"I went to a council meeting, saw councillors knitting at the council table and thought "s**t a brick, there's got to be a better way than this."

Retiring mayor Grahame Hall suggested he stand in his stead. "I said 'God, I've only been here three years' but Sue encouraged me."

Both he and his two predecessors had rural backgrounds. Kevin's conscious it's a sore point with some farmers the district doesn't presently have any rural-based councillors. Equally, he acknowledges the sector's tough economic times don't make it easy for farmers to spend time away from their paddocks. When he was elected he brought in a manager and moved into town. He talks frequently of his late parents, bringing them back into the frame when discussing his council days.

Kevin in his rural days.
Kevin in his rural days.

"They were my biggest supporters, my biggest critics, my mother said 'what an opportunity to make a difference'."

Last year his and Sue's mother died on the same day.

"I honestly don't know how we coped, but everything happens for a reason."

Does Kevin Winters believe he did make difference? What legacy has he left the district? The answer comes at gun-shot speed, it's lakes' water quality.

"When I was elected mayor [2004] Lake Rotoiti was toxic. We started the lakes clean-up, now in 2016 eight out of 10 of our lakes are on the mend, Rotoehu's always going to be a basket case because of its location and geothermal influence."

If anyone's an expert on assessing today's state of the lakes it's Kevin. He's spent this summer as the regional council's maritime patrol officer.

"With the exception of Okawa Bay, Rotoiti's now pristine, you can see the fish in most lakes."

If anything makes Kevin bristle it's claims iwi have been kept out in the cold where council affairs are concerned.

"Total rubbish. Iwi played a vital role in the lakes' restoration, becoming vitally involved when the lakebeds were returned to them, people forget that we couldn't have progressed without them in a very active partnership."

Nor is he happy the plug's been pulled on Rotorua's transtasman flights. The controversial airport extension featured large under his stewardship.

"Air fares have never been lower, we should be making the most of them."

Kevin and Sue Winters.
Kevin and Sue Winters.

The Energy Events Centre and completing the museum ready for its centennial celebrations are 'up there' in his personal achievements reflections. There's praise for the support both projects received from then prime minister Helen Clark.

"She did a great job for Rotorua, pumped a huge amount of government funding into each."

Disagree with anything the former mayor's said?

Don't try contacting him for thenext couple of weeks, he's incommunicado-he's gone
fishing-in the Big Game Fishing Nationals.

"One of the few times I haven't won the Bugger All trophy for obvious reasons was when I had a 'please excuse Kevin' note from John Key.

"He said I was busy on official business with him."

KEVIN WINTERS:
- Born: Whakatane, 1956
- Education: Otakiri Primary, Edgecumbe College, Massey University
- Family: Wife Sue, son Andrew, 21, daughter Caroline, 19, (both varsity students)
- Interests: Family, cycling -road and mountain biking, "anything to do with water", "being Sue's domestic goddess", Coastguard: Lakes' search and rescue member 15 years, skipper past five. Politics? "No interest at all now, they were cool at the time, I've no regrets." -Tip for would-be council candidates: "Build a profile."
- On Rotorua: "A fabulous place."
- Personal Philosophy: Live long and prosper."