A Bay of Plenty local government representative has been nominated for Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, alongside Rotorua-born Dame Valerie Adams.
Lyall Thurston is a Bay of Plenty regional councillor and a member of Lakes District Health Board. He joins 10 other semi-finalists, including epidemiologist Michael Baker, Tokyo Olympic gold medallist and Bay of Plenty woman Lisa Carrington and East Coast MP Kiri Allan.
Thurston was recognised for "advocating vociferously" for the disability sector for almost 40 years, according to a statement from the awards on Monday.
The Government mandated folic acid in wheat flour in July this year, something Thurston at the time said was "a gift for babies yet to be born".
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting today , Thurston said he was humbled to have been nominated.
"It's an impressive line-up.
"I feel like the water boy on the field [of semi-finalists]."
He said he felt the honour was not just for him but for the many scientists and academics who had assisted him in his quest for folic acid in bread.
Thurston said two semi-finalists from Rotorua showed "we as a town punch way above our weight and make our presence known both nationally and internationally".
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said without Thurston "shaking that tree", central government and industry may never have had the "nudge" it needed to include folic acid in bread and help prevent neural tube defects.
"In my eyes, he is an absolute hero."
She said he had been "unrelenting" in his advocacy and the honour was fitting.
"When I rang him yesterday, I was tearful. It's the greatest accolade for this guy, who has boxed on."
Chadwick said Dame Valerie Adams was "inspirational", and through coaching the elite athlete had shown she was "giving back, not just revelling in her own success".
Lakes District Health Board chairman Dr Jim Mather said on behalf of the board he recognised the "tremendous lifelong commitment" Thurston had made to the community.
"His sense of civic duty and commitment to equitable health outcomes for all is outstanding.
"Ka wani kē e te tuakana Lyall."
Fellow health board member Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said Thurston was a "fitting finalist for this prestigious award".
"It honours his lifetime commitment of working proactively in the health and disability sectors but also recognises his active involvement in Rotorua and district.
"In my many years of working with Lyall, I love the fact that he'll use words wisely and sparingly. We've gone head-to-head on a number of issues but he never personalises the argument."
She said, most importantly for her, that Thurston always recognised people and said hello.
"You can't call him stuck up."
A "worthy semi-finalist", she hoped he would win the overall award.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder said Thurston was well deserving of the "great accolade".
"He's had community service at the heart of what he's done for a long time.
"You couldn't ask for a more committed individual."
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said both Thurston and Adams were "wonderful New Zealanders" who had "achieved a huge amount in their respective fields".
He said Rotorua was extremely proud of Adams, and Thurston had worked for "what seems like a lifetime" in disability advocacy.
"They both have my absolute admiration."
He joked that he expected they would both get first equal in the top award.
Tauranga was also well-represented among the semi-finalists, with Rangipo Takuira-Mita in the running for Young New Zealander of the Year and Erin O'Neill up for Senior New Zealander of the Year.
Musician Stan Walker, who lived in Tauranga as a child, was also among the semi-finalists for Young New Zealander of the Year.
Semi-finalists will be considered for the next round of judging, when they will be reduced to three finalists, which will be announced in February.
The Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards gala dinner in Auckland will follow in March.
A statement on the awards website said there had been thousands of nominations across seven awards categories, and the semi-finalists each had an "outstanding impact on Aotearoa" and had led "boldly" by example.
KIWIBANK NEW ZEALANDER OF THE YEAR SEMI-FINALISTS
• Dame Hinewehi Mohi DNZM (Havelock North)
• Dame Judith Anne Kilpatrick DNZM (Auckland)
• Dame Valerie Adams DNZM (Auckland)
• Professor Michael Baker MNZM (Wellington)
• Hon Kiri Allan (Gisborne)
• Judge Andrew Becroft (Wellington)
• Lisa Carrington MNZM (Auckland)
• Lyall Thurston QSO JP (Rotorua)
• Melissa Vining (Southland)
• Tā Tipene O'Regan (Canterbury)