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10 Minutes with Bob Francis

Written by Maryvonne Gray
on May 01, 2024

The dust is settling after Bob Francis was named the 2024 Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau.

We caught up with Bob, also affectionately known as ‘Mr Wairarapa’, to find out what motivates him, who inspires him and why Masterton is such a special place.

What does winning this award mean for you?

It means a lot to me. I’m still working quite extensively in my community and I suppose it gives some reinforcement to what we do and recognises that.

I suppose the biggest thing for me is that it’s acknowledgement of my region which is quite special to me.

The response from my local area has been amazing, and from friends and colleagues. It’s been quite overwhelming. 

What makes the people of Masterton so special?

I believe we have fostered a culture of openness and inclusion towards newcomers to the district and we’ve established robust local organisations dedicated to serving the needs of our community.

They include economic development organisations through to foodbanks. There also continues to be strong support for a number of environmental projects, including Pūkaha Mount Bruce.

In the main, town and country work well together especially in times of need. Overall I believe we are a caring community that recognises the rights and aspirations of everyone.

What do you think are the key qualities that led to you being nominated for this category?

I work incredibly hard to build relationships and friendships. I have always used that to the best advantage of the district and region. Obviously we’re close to central government here so I’ve got good friends in Parliament too.

One example is the Wellington Free Ambulance that run the ambulance service here. They’re building a new $8 million facility in Masterton and they asked me to be the ambassador. We have raised the money in only eight months.

It’s such a beautiful project and I wanted to contribute by using my networks and connections to find that money pretty quickly.

What work are you most proud of?

For my town to prosper we really had to focus on economic development, advocating for new businesses and working through the major changes that occurred with the restructuring of the economy and the massive unemployment that followed.

Everyone has a right to live and be supported. Right through my career, I have always recognised that the most vulnerable always need support and care. I’m proud of my connection with the two local iwi and I have done quite a bit of work with those living with autism too, which is, I believe , some of the best work I have done.

Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year 2024-31 (large)-1

Bob Francis with Ryman Healthcare's NZ CEO, Cheyne Chalmers, shortly after his win was announced.

Who are your role models?

I come from a family of 10 and had good role models in my parents. My father was a very strong Labour man, he worked very hard. And I had an amazing mother, she was an ex-nurse who nurtured and encouraged us all.

I have followed the lives of a lot of leaders. I’ve been influenced by former Labour New Zealand Prime Ministers, Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk and David Lange. As I have got older my thinking has got broader. Through rugby I have followed Nelson Mandela and I admire him immensely.  

Which organisations are you currently involved with?

I’m chair of Masterton Medical, which has 100 staff and 20 GPs, I am also chair of Biomedical Services NZ Ltd which is a subsidiary of an Australian company, Cabrini Australia.

Then there’s my role with Autism Wairarapa and projects such as the Wellington Free Ambulance.

I chair Wairarapa Aviation Attraction Community Trust – we are progressing a major new development at Hood Aerodrome with the building of a visitor attraction centred around aviation-related assets. This attraction will tell the aviation story of all things related to WWI.

I am also assisting with the development of a homeless shelter in the CBD of Masterton to accommodate approximately 15 people overnight. It is due to open in July.I am also an ambassador for the Cancer Society and I help them with major fundraisers.

What do you still want to achieve?

The new Mayor of Masterton is an old friend, Gary Caffell. The long-term plan is to rebuild the town hall and he’s asked me to help with some fundraising. Wherever my networks can be of assistance, I am happy to help.

I will be 82 in July but I’m still quite driven, and my motivation is strong. I have a really supportive family. I lost my first wife Eva to cancer and my second wife Mary had lost her husband before we met. I’m lucky to have had two beautiful marriages. We’re both keen on gardening so this keeps us very active.

What is your advice to other seniors?

My observation is there are many community organisations in need of significant support to operate well. Meanwhile, there are a lot of retired people who will have been in good jobs and who have skills that can still be of use.

I think there are a lot of untapped resources out there which could be put to good use.

There are so many opportunities for seniors, and there really is so much pleasure in giving and seeing people benefit from that.

 

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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