Here’s to Papa and all the volunteers

Zealong Tea Estate


This week is National Volunteer Week – a chance to sing out to the folk who give of their time and energy.

Zealong Tea Estate want to say many cheers to Jim (Papa) Kerr.

Papa has been bringing his own blend of cheer to Gordonton’s tea estate since retiring four years ago.

It all started when he heard that general manager Gigi Crawford was after some plants. The quote she had received was on the high side.

“I said to her, leave it to me.” Not only did he secure a range of indoor and outdoor plants, but at an excellent price – his years as a sales manager kicking in to close a good deal.

The next problem was who was to water them. “I showed some of the girls how to look after them and called by a few weeks later – the water was way up to the top and they were dying.”

The 73-year-old, originally from Ireland and now living in Flagstaff, couldn’t be having with that, so he volunteered.

“Being retired I reckoned it was better to do it myself. So I come out two days a week and I enjoy it.”

He has known Gigi from when she arrived from Singapore more than 21 years ago – “Gigi insists everyone calls me Papa. I knew John, her husband, before I met her. We used to visit the family farm up north, shooting and hunting, all sorts of stuff. “

This means he’s seen Zealong grow, from the start. “It was just pasture, it’s been amazing to watch it grow to what it is today. It’s beautiful here.”

Papa tends to the plants and other tasks, but his key enjoyment is talking with people – staff, visitors… anyone.

“I love talking to people from all over the world, they all come here. Look, I say, I don’t have the answer to what you want, but I’ve got an opinion.”

He arrived ‘with the wife’ from Northern Ireland in1972.

“I’m a country boy, I ended up in the city of Belfast, because that’s where the work was. My dad was a tool maker, he worked in a Belfast shipyard, and came out here in ’70 something with my mum for a holiday, three brothers had come out too. Dad went to Wellington – Rob Muldoon was prime minister – and got a job in the press gallery.”

Papa reckons volunteering at Zealong is just great. “There’s 1.2million tea plants here. I’ve counted every one of them! Keeping active is the secret. I used to play snooker, squash but had to give those things away when my knees started to pack in. This keeps me busy. And the tea breaks here are good.”

Zealong’s Annalese Webber says Papa is a treasure. “He’s a valuable member of the team, and always has lots of advice. He has a passion and he just connects with people.”

If you’re visiting Zealong – keep an eye out for Papa Kerr – a volunteer who would love to chat!

To find out more about volunteering, click here.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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