Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn shares with NZ Catholic some thoughts about the role faith plays in his life.
Can you tell us something of your Catholic upbringing?
I started life in a small sawmilling town called Ruru on the banks of Lake Brunner, inland from Greymouth on the West Coast. My father Frank, a Dutch Catholic, migrated to Christchurch from The Hague in 1952. He met my mother Cath (nee Southorn) who was working in Christchurch because the sawmill at Ruru only employed male workers — so Cath was forced to work elsewhere. They married, then it was straight back to Ruru with Frank working in the mill. Mum had 11 brothers and sisters and Dad nine; in fact between my parents and my wife Lynne’s parents there were 42 children.
During the 1950s and 60s every small community had a church, usually a wooden structure similar to a hall, but it did the job as a church with regular Sunday Masses.
When I was 5 years old we moved to Greymouth where Dad worked in coal mines for the rest of his life. I was schooled at St Patrick’s Primary and Marist Brothers High School, which included the large St Patrick’s church which was built in the 1880s. I was an altar boy. I can recall the hours after the huge Inangahua earthquake of 1968 biking in the darkness to church. Throughout the Mass aftershocks were dislodging plaster from the ceiling and instead of the usual half a dozen, at least 20 were in attendance. So much for health and safety in those days.
The brothers and nuns were strict, but they had to be with us Coasters. I had ants in my pants, so at age 15, armed with my Christian upbringing including the 10 Commandments, I started my first job in Greymouth and have been here ever since. The discipline of Christian living has served me well through the years.
Catholic schooling encouraged me to help others in the community, be honest with myself and instilled good work ethics and, to be honest, the fear of failure motivates me.
What part does faith play in your life and work today?
I still attend church services, not every week, but as many as I can. The drop-off in attendance levels has been very noticeable, but the numbers going to church are still good on the Coast. In my job I am constantly reminded “There but for the grace of God go I”. Lots of people have difficulty getting by in life often under different circumstances out of their control like health, family or financial problems.
I was brought up never to turn my back on people who are struggling. I work with many volunteer organisations and have noticed that there are more happy people amongst givers than takers. Giving of time or financial assistance is a habit once acquired rewards tenfold with great satisfaction and happiness as you move through life. Idle time makes mischief, givers never have idle time.
Here in Greymouth our untamed natural wilderness constantly reminds us how vulnerable life is. That’s why I love this place. I will live and die here because in small communities and in the Catholic Church we have each other for support, comradery and friendship when times get hard.
There is nothing worse than loneliness, so churches and close-knit communities should provide comfort which will be needed. Everyone struggles from time to time, but it is essential to remain positive as we know on the Coast there is always sunshine after it rains.
Has your faith ever been tested? Can you explain your answer and give an example or two?
My faith is constantly tested in every day life — that is why the 10 Commandments are so important, but these days are seldom talked about. They are a set of rules which, if followed, give you happiness here on earth and in the afterlife. It takes self-discipline, but the 10 rules are the basis of our religion. Staying faithful to your wife, not stealing, being neighbourly, honouring your mother and father, believing in God and not taking his name in vain is what we believe in.
The Government has told district councils to make a decision whether to allow shops to trade over Easter [Sunday], so after Christmas when it comes up at council I will be tested. We have Easter shop trading out for consultation at the present and in the “shop till you drop” world that we live in I suspect there will be change, but my conscience has already told me how to vote.
Who is your favourite saint?
My favourite saint is St Francis of Assisi because he was compassionate and to quote him “for it is in giving that we receive”. Also St Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) who in our lifetime we can relate to her humanitarian work and dedication to the people of India. She was a selfless, humble person.
What is your favourite hymn?
My favourite hymn is “Here I am Lord”. It is a regular at our Greymouth church and makes a powerful statement. It is also a catchy number which flows well.
What is your favourite Scripture passage?
My favourite Scripture passage is “The Lost Prodigal Son”. It is complicated, but reflects circumstances we all encounter as we move through life. One son squandered his money while the other worked hard and lead his life by the book. The wasteful son sank as low as you can go then realised the error of his ways. He returned to his family asking for forgiveness of his father. This upset the hard working and loyal son, who refused to be part of the coming home celebrations, not releasing the importance of his brother’s redemption and genuine remorse for past actions.
It is important whatever the outcome on any issue never hold a grudge. Move on as quickly as possible. Be positive about other people’s success and if you go down the road of seeking revenge against someone, dig two graves.
What will you be doing for Christmas this year?
I have two grandchildren living in Australia, so Lynne and I will spend Christmas with them. One grandchild will be less than one month old, so it will be quite exciting. Lynne and I have four children ranging from 37 down to 22 years old. They live in Greymouth, Christchurch and two in Australia. Nowadays it is difficult to have the whole family together on Christmas Day. Lynne and I have been married for 39 years and without Lynne’s support I could not live the busy life that comes with my job. Teamwork is so important.
Merry Christmas to everyone and lots of love from the Best Coast.