Ross Paterson's hands sum up the life of a Kiwi district mayor as well as any words could.

Large fingers covered in rough skin and scattered cuts, his wife of 45 years, Robyn, tells me he surprises those with "town" handshakes.

Paterson, who announced in April that he would not run for re-election next month, has been in local body politics almost half their marriage.

He was elected to Western Bay of Plenty District Council in 1995 and since then has spent seven years as deputy mayor and the same as mayor.

In the 90s the community-minded Pahoia farmer became concerned about the number of properties being cut up and sold off as orchards, grazing and lifestyle blocks. Urban and rural people living side by side presented challenges the farming district had not faced before.

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"It's just a complete change in the district's character," he said.

Then there were the roads. He knew the district's kilometres of metal roading were not up to coping with the surge in population.

The 73-year-old's connection to the region stretches back a lifetime.

He grew up with his parents, brother and three sisters, on the family dairy farm at Te Maunga. The farmhouse sat where the Baypark Speedway pits are now and the cowshed has been replaced by the auditorium of ASB Arena.

He used to cut hay on the site of Girven Rd and Baywave.

"I can remember when the Mount stopped at Central Parade," he said.

Paterson was a foundation pupil of Mount Maunganui College and a strong member of Mount Maunganui Surf Life Saving Club.

Somewhere in his collection is a silver medal for surf canoeing at the New Zealand Champs.

He met Robyn, who now works as a community magistrate, at the beach and she recalls feeling out of place visiting him in the cowshed wearing her white school dental nurse's uniform.

The couple moved to a 180-acre block at Pahoia in 1972.

"It was all just big green paddocks," said Paterson.

They had "no money" and lived in a cottage held up by "700 square feet of bora holding hands," said Robyn.

They had three children in three years and built a four-bedroom family bungalow on the same farm.

In 1982 they sold the cows and moved into the deer industry.

"It was a new emerging industry and that's the sort I am. I'm interested in getting into something new, something positive," said Paterson.

Passionate about roading, within three years on council he was chairman of the roading committee and has been co-chair for the Road Controlling Authorities Forum for the past seven years. The national forum meet about four times a year.

In 2001 he became deputy mayor to Graeme Weld.

When Weld passed away from cancer in November 2008 a by-election was held and Paterson was elected over sole opponent, Norm Bruning, in March 2009.

"I was ready to step up," Paterson said.

When he's not in his office, the community or chambers you'll find him on his farm - now downscaled to 40 acres, looking after about 100 deer.

Ten years ago the couple built their dream home on the hilltop overlooking the harbour, with a breathtaking view stretching as far as Whitianga on a clear day.

Initially hesitant about his decision to give up the mayoral chains, Paterson will miss having a voice and the political sway to get things done.

"It's 21 years of investment here that's given me those contacts," he said."How do you push the button now?

"I've had such a long association with the district and I've seen so much change. I've seen the change and I've worked forward with the change. I haven't been afraid of it."

The couple's three children, daughter Jodie and sons Scott and Trent, each have three children of their own.

Jodie is a GP and the couple's sons are farmers at Paengaroa and Karapiro.

The nine grandchildren range in age from 15 down to 5 and are often visiting.

The younger ones pull brightly-coloured mattresses from the garage into their grandparents' bedroom and sleep on the floor.

"It's like a marae," jokes Paterson.

The family has grown up with an understanding and respect for their parents' significant roles in the community.

"Robyn has showed a lot of tolerance and support for my role in local government and they have missed out. The demands of local government is 24/7 and there's times I missed things with the family," Paterson said.

The couple rarely watch TV in the evenings, preferring to share their day over a nice glass of red.

Patience, tolerance and love are the secrets to a long and happy marriage according to Paterson.

"It's allowing each other to do their own thing but still having a life together," adds Robyn.

Being mayoress has been a privilege, Robyn said.

"We just feel we know this place so well. We've met some excellent people and have become friends with some very good people."

But being mayor never stops.

"You've got to love the job - and I do love the job. You've got to keep the blood pressure low and not react," Paterson said.

People were the most important thing, he said.

"Your openness and making them feel comfortable. You become quite open and talk readily to people any where, any time."

He credited three successful terms as mayor to the staff at Western Bay.

"You surround yourself with good people and it makes you look good, it's very true," he said.

Since announcing his retirement he has received cards, phone calls, emails and comments from complete strangers, thanking him and wishing him well.

"People I don't even know come up and say thank-you - it gets you," he said.

Paterson plans to "take the summer off", but not before spending a couple of weeks working on the property.

"Robyn has got a few thoughts there," he said.

He plans to spend more time with his grandchildren, particularly the older ones who will soon be heading off to university.

The boat will see the light of day again with Paterson planning plenty of family wake boarding trips - he'll be the driver.

He also wants to spend more time with Robyn, who will continue to work part-time.
"There is life after local government," he said.

HIGHLIGHTS OF MAYORLTY

- The performance-based roading contract in 2002.

A first in New Zealand, this contract shifted risk from council to the service provider. The contract resulted in significant cost savings and has since been replicated across the country. These savings were used to seal a further 105kms of roading in the Western Bay.

- SmartGrowth
Instrumental in the growth of the Western Bay sub-region, SmartGrowth had provided solid direction in a growth area.

- TECT All-Terrain Park
This park could host national and international events as it grows. It took noisy sports away from urban Tauranga and was ideal for motor sport, shooting, 4WD and mountain biking.

- TEL
The $455 million project was the largest outside of Auckland and integral in bringing exports to the Port of Tauranga.

- Building strong relationships with tangata whenua, iwi and hapu
Working on housing, water and waste water. Making sure they have what they need to raise healthy, happy families.

WHAT OTHERS SAY

Tauranga MP and Transport Minister Simon Bridges

Bridges classes Paterson as a friend and said he was happy to let the Government know when it needed to do more or wasn't getting it right.

"He's been a great mayor for the Western Bay and allowed that community to - in a sense - punch above its weight," he said.

He mentioned Paterson's firm hand shake.

"He's not of the latte-swilling set, he's a fair dinkum farmer."

Bridges said Paterson was a practical, hard-working man who was mayor out of a sense of service rather than self-gratification.

He's been lucky to lead one of the fastest growing areas in the country, he said.

"He has consistently put aside small, parochial interests for the entire Western Bay, including Tauranga, and that's allowed us to achieve a lot in roading."

The harbour crossing, TEL, cycle ways, SmartGrowth and the development of special housing areas were all projects Paterson had been strongly involved with.

"He could have taken a narrow view but he was bigger than that," Bridges said.

Paterson would stand up and be counted when he needed to, he said.

SmartGrowth independent chairperson Bill Wasley

Wasley said he would miss the experience of both Paterson and Tauranga City Mayor Stuart Crosby around the SmartGrowth table post-election.

"Because of the knowledge and experience and history they have that was very helpful in looking forward."

Paterson had been involved since 2001 and had a knack for outlining the issues very clearly, as well as possible solutions.

He understood the advantages of working in partnership and was a strong advocate to Government SmartGrowth's behalf.

"He could see the benefits of the councils and tangata whenua working together. That's the way to influence Government and achieve things for the Western Bay."

He had been instrumental in the planning of the TEL.

"He's not aloof in any way and certainly very clear in what his view is on certain matters."

Western Bay of Plenty deputy mayor Gwenda Merriman

"His openness and accessibility has been the highlight of my time on council with him.
His style has helped me formulate my own," she said.

Merriman said Paterson had done a great job in keeping the whole of the Western Bay at the forefront of the council's deliberations. "It would have been so easy to focus on just the big issues."

Paterson had worked hard to make the council relevant across the whole of the Western Bay - coastal, rural and urban areas.

"He has created partnerships with neighbouring councils to a far greater degree than any previous mayor. This has led to cost savings in several key areas. He is known up and down the country, having chaired national bodies and served on numerous regional committees.

"He has been constant in his desire to get the best he can for the Western Bay."