RIP John Edgar

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I received some very sad news yesterday that John Edgar had died.

I first met John over 20 years ago. After a hiatus caused by children and starting a legal practice I had become involved in politics again, and somehow ended up being the Chairperson of the Titirangi Labour Electorate Committee. At the time Waitākere Council was in the control of a right wing grouping called Go Waitākere which had as one of its major policy platforms allowing for the subdivision of the Waitākere Ranges.

We wanted to change that and talks in earnest started with the Green Party and the Alliance Party to work on on a campaign for the next election.

At the same time other groups were talking. Various community groups spearheaded by Penny Hulse and Carolynne Stone were also upset at what was happening and in Council were the defence trying to hold back the carnage that was being wrecked to Eco city. And the environmental groups, of which there are many out west, were resolute in their opposition to Council’s proposals and determined to change things.

John was at the forefront of the environmental groups. Even then he had led the Waitākere Ranges Protection Society for a number of years.

It was clear to me then that he was a formidable leader. He was an extraordinary artist as well as a networker, and thanks to him the campaign that we ran at the next election had the blessing and support of the Waitākere artistic community. I cannot describe how important this was.

John had a keen scientific brain as well as immense artistic talent. He devised a process that allowed his partner, Anne Robinson, another exceptionally gifted artist, to construct extraordinary glass pieces and cooled them in a way that they were completed safely.

He was completely principled in his approach to issues, clear in positions that he adopted yet able to explore pragmatic resolutions.

His organization prompted the then Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams to describe the plight that the Waitākere Ranges was facing with these words:

Many of the environmental attributes important to most I spoke with are at risk in the longer term; it will be death by a thousand cuts. It will not be the intent of all involved; the legislation and district plan will be adhered to; the aspirations of individual families and developers will be accommodated in a fair and just way – but the end result will not satisfy the majority!  

This is why a strong, self-reinforcing vision of how the community wants the Waitakere Ranges to be in the future is critical. The key attributes that are important must be identified and measures to maintain them, developed.” 

Thanks in no small part to John’s leadership Team West had a great campaign and had Bob Harvey elected as mayor, Sandra Coney and Paul Walbran as Regional Councillor’s, a significant majority on Waitākere City Council and an almost shut out on the community boards.

Then the Waitākere Ranges Protection project started. This involved implementing the desire held by Jonathan Hunt since 1975 to get legislative protection for the Ranges. It was to address the warning given by Morgan Williams of what was required to provide meaningful protection for the Ranges. The political stars were aligned, we had a Council elected on a platform of providing meaningful protection for the Ranges and we had local MPs and a Government that were keen to achieve this.

Things became complex and progress was slow. There were differences of opinion on Waitākere Council between those who thought that the process of drafting and executing the law had to be careful and had to bring locals along with them. There was a contrary view, held by John as well as me that we had the mandate and should just get on with things.

John became frustrated with the pace of progress and resigned as Chair of Team West and in 2004 stood as an independent for Council. I delivered pamphlets for him. I thought he would have been an exceptional Councillor, bright, principled, determined, understanding, networked.

He missed out, but not by much. My comrade Denise Yates and I suffered the same fate. John responded by getting us both seconded onto the executive of the Waitākere Ranges Protection Society.

The next three years were cathartic as John led us through a campaign to persuade waivering councillors to support the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area Bill, a local bill submitted from Council to Parliament.

The campaign worked, Waitākere City endorsed the bill and it successfully made its way through Parliament. The decades of insistance by locals that the Waitākere Ranges should be protected finally received Parliamentary approval and made its way into law.

We had a great celebration. I had the opportunity to present John with a framed copy of the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area Act. John had this wonderful response about “in case of emergency break glass”.

That comment has stuck with me and every time an issue about the Ranges appears a read of the Act provides support and guidance.

Since that time I have had regular contact with John. Emails from him tended to appear at 7 am, clearly the first thing he did every day was address issues concerning the protection of the Waitākere Ranges.

And as the issues appeared he was at the forefront of advocacy for action and change. He championed action about Kauri Dieback. Nothing less than a science based principled protective response to the crisis was sufficient.

His greatest strength was his ability to nurture and grow a diverse network of talented people and get them to contribute to the protection of the Waitākere Ranges. I was one of hundreds he persuaded to get involved. After meeting him and talking to him it was clearly the right thing to do. Protecting the Ranges is such an important job. John was always very persuasive.

A funny thing has happened about the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area Act. 13 years ago it was very contentious. In 2008 National opposed it at every step as did United Future and New Zealand First. Nowadays the vast majority of westies cherish and support living in the Heritage Area. It has become a talisman for how exceptional our area is.

John’s love for the Waitākere Ranges was complete.

He will be missed. The Waitākere Ranges are in much better shape because of him.

I was aware that John was not well and had been trying to get a chance to publicly acknowledge him. It seemed only right. Ecomatters awarded him the Kahikatea Award late last year which is the supreme award for Westies who contribute to the environment. Regretfully John could not be there. Nor did he appear at the Local Board celebration just before Christmas. On behalf of the Board I had intended to give him a gift of a book and to publicly acknowledge him. It was the least that we could do.

I have a magnificent Kauri on my property that stands on the crest of a ridge. It provides tranquility, artistic inspiration and a sancturay for local flora and fauna. It sequesters carbon and holds the ridge intact. It provides us with fresh air and clenses the water that flows through the valley. It strengthens Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa. I think I will call it John Edgar.




  1. Lindsay Waugh says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories of John. I had the pleasure of meeting John over several meetings as he undertook a commission to make memorial stones containing ashes of my late husband. The respect he showed was very moving and he also made a video of to reinforce the integrity of his process. These stones are treasured possession for the family members left behind and I’m indebted to him for undertaking this sensitive commission

    1. Greg Presland says:

      Thanks Lindsay. He really was a unique human being. I am really glad that I knew him.

  2. Marilynne Bell says:

    What a wonderful heartfelt tribute to John Edgar. I knew him as a sculptor but had not appreciated his environmental impact on the lands he loved and fought for so vigorously.
    Marilynne Bell, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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