Community trust chairman stands down

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Chairing the Otago Community Trust has been one of the most rewarding roles Ross McRobie has ever held.

After serving on the trust for nine years, Mr McRobie is stepping down. He will remain a trustee until the end of August, when the Minister of Finance is expected to make new trustee appointments, and then retire from the board.

Former investment adviser John Wilson, of Wanaka, has replaced Mr McRobie as chairman and Diccon Sim, a partner at Gallaway Cook Allan, has been appointed as his deputy.

Mr McRobie said he felt very privileged to have served on the trust for the past nine years and he had thoroughly enjoyed his tenure as chairman since 2015.

“If you look at the absolute goodness that organisation has done over the years, and will do for years and years to come, I played a small part in a big cog to make it happen,” he said.

“It’s been an absolutely rewarding experience, I’ve loved every minute of it.

“The nicest thing of all is it’s often the small grants that you make that make the biggest difference.”

One that stood out was a $2000 grant to a Wanaka playcentre to go towards a new shade sail.

“You think to yourself doesn’t sound a lot’, but it absolutely meant a huge amount to them,” he said.

Mr McRobie said he had enjoyed working with all of the trustees, the chief executive and staff to support the region’s organisations and communities.

But the greatest thrill came from visiting those who had benefitted from Otago Community Trust grants and witnessing first-hand the “enormous contribution” those groups and projects had made to Otago communities.

Another highlight was serving as the convener of the chairs group of all community trusts in New Zealand for about two-and-a-half years, he said.

Mr McRobie was appointed as a trustee nine years ago, after members of the community had recommended him to the Department of Internal Affairs.

He had always had an active interest in philanthropy.

“When I was a kid, I always remember my parents in Invercargill giving away things they grew in the garden, or they caught fishing, and that giving away and giving back has stuck in my mind right up until today – and will carry on,” he said.

At the Otago Community Trust’s board meeting in May, Mr McRobie’s last meeting as chairman, $76,910 was awarded to 12 community organisations in Otago.

The Friends of the Forrester Gallery Society Inc was the largest beneficiary, receiving a $25,000 grant to go towards the purchase and installation of a purpose-built art storage system.

The Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust also received a $12,000 grant, which would support with the cost of installing a kitchen and bathroom in the middle floor of the Loan and Mercantile Building.

After serving as a Queenstown-Lakes District councillor, Mr McRobie moved to Otematata in September last year, where he and his wife, Petrea, had long had a holiday home, and was elected to the Waitaki District Council’s Ahuriri ward.

He was enjoying his new role, and the “different challenges” it presented in the wake of Covid-19.

“They are a hell of a lot different to the challenges we had over in the Queenstown-Lakes district,” he said.

“We’re lucky in our district we’re not as reliant on tourism . . . and we have got a very good, solid, broad group of industries in our sector ranging from agriculture to hospitality to tourism.

“I think we are in a very good position to recover well, to recover earlier than other districts and work on trying to expand our economic base and looking after our community.”