After almost 30 years of service, Toi Ohomai groundsman Graham Lee is finally hanging up his tools.
The 71-year-old is looking forward to enjoying his retirement, after witnessing three decades of change at the local tertiary institute.
Originally from Palmerston North, he previously worked nine years as a groundsman for Glaxo, and five years before that in parks and reserves.
Moving to Tauranga, he joined the Horticulture team at what was then the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. At the time there were two permanent staff.
“We mowed lawns with a tractor,” Graham recalls.
In time the staff were down to one – himself – as many were made redundant, he remembers how staff were given notice by letter on a pool table.
“Everyone was given a letter, and it wasn't until you opened it you knew your fate.”
He says a number of staff were in tears and were advised to “seek solace.”
He reckons HR has improved markedly since then.
From that point on, he was totally in charge of grounds.
He recalls many buildings on the site for his tools, tractor, and other gear, as well as large glasshouses, shade houses, and a hydroponic area for lettuce.
“Most of these buildings have been demolished, or converted for other purposes.”
They used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and roses, which they would sell at market – something that doesn't happen anymore. He also remembers the orchards with apples and stone fruits, which the students used for practical lessons.
He says his job has been interesting and varied.
“I've done many jobs, from concreting, retaining walls, planting, removing trees, etc. The campus is a challenge to anyone in my position; to have the foresight to look, and know what your next job will be.”
He says his employers don't want him to go, and he'll miss his colleagues.
“I've found many good people at the campus: down-to-earth and eager to help.”
One of his personal passions is for introduced species/exotic plants. He'd like to see more of them used by gardeners and landscapers, I conjunction with natives.
“The climate and lack of frosts, in particular around the Mount and Papamoa, lends itself to sub-tropical plants. They add a nice bit of colour.”
So, what does retirement hold for Graham? He's got a camper that he shares, so he says he'll likely take it touring around the country, especially the South Island.
Before that, though, there's a lot of fishing left in the summer. He's such a good angler, his flatmate refuses to cook snapper anymore – she's over the taste.
After that, who knows? He reckons might try his hand at a little landscaping again, for old times' sake.