Watts' Departure Marks End of an Era
After more than four decades with the Waimate District Council, Parks and Reserves Manager Graeme Watts has clocked out for the final time.
With a career spanning almost 45 years, Graeme has worked for five superintendents, an equal number of Chief Executives, and alongside hundreds of colleagues.
Graeme, affectionately known to most as “Wattie”, recalls the day it all began – a somewhat heads up from a family friend to speak with the then Parks Superintendent Reni Laplanche, and ask for a job.
Just two days later and Wattie had switched the classroom stationery for a wheelbarrow and spade, joining the team as an Assistant Gardener and soaking up everything there was to know about the horticulture industry.
“I went in to see Reni on the Friday and by Monday I was cutting the hawthorne fence at Victoria Park. From that point, I never really looked back and have been fortunate enough to work my way up the ladder and progress my career,” he said.
“I love it, love the variety the role brings and I’m going to miss it a heck of a lot . . . it will definitely be mixed emotions when that final day arrives.”
Taking a trip down memory lane, there’s been dozens of highlights – far too many to recount in one article, but it’s fair to say, Graeme has left a sizeable mark on the district.
In fact, looking around, there wouldn’t be too many areas Wattie wouldn’t have had a hand in at some point – helping to maintain and develop the district’s stunning parks and reserves, and going on to lead the team for the best part of 26 years.
“It’s difficult to pin point one or two special moments or high points, but overall I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve during my time with Council.
“From implementing the utility sheds and smoko room for the team at Victoria Park, through to the establishment and growth of our camping grounds and Lakes destinations, the development of the Oval, and all of the regeneration and planting work that has been carried out at Knottingley Park and Arboretum – there’s so many great things we’ve been able to do, and I’ve met a lot of great contacts along the way – the support has been first class.”
No stranger to change, Wattie has seen it all.
From the introduction of utes and ride-on rotary mowers, to a suite of technology and other must-have tools – gone are the days of operating tractors, towing workers on trailers and walking behind big reel mowers.
Asked what he will miss the most about a life without Local Government, Wattie simply smiled and said, “the people, it’s always the people”.
“I really enjoy the support I get from the people I have worked with, in the past and to this day. More often than not, they have all shared the same vision for the parks and reserves and that’s been great,” he said.
“There are other things I could say, but it would take another 45 years to tell them. I’ve always considered myself lucky enough to have had a great mentor in Reni (Laplanche), and am thankful that I have always had staff willing to work as a team and go the extra mile.”
Despite officially taking a step back from the every-day management duties with Council, he maintains he will be keeping a watchful eye on future projects as they come to fruition.
“I’m not retiring as such, but moreso taking a step back. I thought that after almost 45 years, it might be the right moment to move on and enjoy some more time with my family.
“Work wise, there might be something else out there down the track, but for now, it’s going to be a real change of mindset to transition away from a job I have loved for so many years . . . it’s all I’ve ever known in my working life.”
Though with four lively grandchildren in tow, it’s hard to imagine he won’t already be somewhat occupied as he takes time out to reflect on what can only be described as a remarkable career.
Watts officially finishes with the Council on Friday 28 August.