Hazel Barnes is back – after spending the first five months of this year battling health issues, the 83-year-old Waipā councillor has returned to council for the last time.
She hopes to conclude her remaining time in council either physically or virtually, before she steps down in October. Barnes started the year recovering from femoral bypass surgery.
Complications from the surgery, which included numerous infections, saw her re-admitted to Waikato Hospital three times and her interactions with council limited.
“It was an awful time for me, being so ill really. I thought to myself ‘you can either die doing this or you can get some energy and get cracking, it’s just your leg, not the rest of you,’” she said.
“I am really satisfied even though I’ve had a hell of a five months, it is over.”
She attended a Kihikihi Residents and Ratepayers meeting last week, as well as a full council meeting on Tuesday via Zoom. Barnes is happy to be back at council and reports her recovery is going well.
Since becoming reintegrated with the community again, she says her decision to retire from council has become more difficult.
“It makes it so hard for me to give up, what does it matter that I am 83?”
She said that there is much to be done in Kihikihi, and despite leaving council, she does not intend to stop being an advocate for her community, nor cease her work as a justice of the peace.
“I do not intend to let go off my local committees. There is so much to be done in Kihikihi, and there is so much that is not being done.”
Barnes said that because she has learnt the “route into council”, she can help her community better communicate their needs to them.
“It’ll make things easier for the community,” she said.
By no means does she want to slow down, however, Barnes is looking forward to taking some time for herself once she does steps down from council.
“I think at the age of 83, I better get some of my life in, because I have spent all my life doing things for others and raising my family and doing things for the community. I am quite looking forward to time for myself.”
Barnes’ service to the community was recognised in 2020, when she received a Queens Service Medal for her efforts. She has been a Waipā District councillor for nearly two decades, a justice of the peace for three, worked as a nurse for 13 years, and a social worker for 15.
She hopes whoever fills her spot in council later this year is an “excited person” who considers the needs of the entire Waipā, not just their local area.
She also wants to see mayor Jim Mylchreest re-elected. “We have got to get Jim back. He is honest, he knows everybody, and he is very very fair,” she said.
After leaving council, Barnes hopes to get out her camera again and travel from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. In her youth, she travelled the world and was an avid photographer, but laments how little she travelled nationally
“You’re dead a long time, aren’t you?” she said, when explaining her travel ambitions.
“I never accepted the fact that I was getting old. I’m not, and I never will be, I will never accept that label. I don’t like being 83, but I am proud of it. Because in those 83 years, I have lived.”