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Rodney (Rod) Graham QSM

Many communities have people who quietly go about the business of looking after people. Ōtaki has Rodney (Rod) Graham, who received a Queen’s Service Medal in the King’s Birthday honours.

Rod has made two significant contributions to Ōtaki. He is chair of the Cobwebs Community Trust, and past-president of the Ōtaki Pottery Club.

His involvement with Cobwebs means he gets to see the sometimes desperate need some people have in the community. He has always felt compelled to help.

“Some people really need help from charities like ours,” he says. “What’s hard to see is elderly people who often need it the most, but are the least likely to ask. They don’t like to put a hand out for help.”

Rod not only helps through his role as Cobwebs chair, but also is often seen carrying boxes of food supplied by Kaibosh to locals who need something to tide them over.

Rod came to Otaki College in 1971 after a year at Ōtaki School. He recalls the college artroom had some basic materials for creative students, but not much more. It was tucked away at the end of a teaching block where other “serious” activities such as geography and history were taught.

Rod was instrumental in having art at the college better recognised as a career choice and as an avenue for creativity.

After three and a half years at Levin’s Waiopehu College, he was appointed deputy principal of St Peter Chanel School in Ōtaki, where he helped to establish bilingual education within the kura, which was then a first for Ōtaki.

Rod is a foundation member of the Otaki Pottery Club and was president for 22 years. A well-recognised established potter himself, Rod has helped elevate the pottery club to a level where it has its own facilities within the Ōtaki-Māori Racing Club complex. The cleverly named Tote Modern is now a busy gallery with regular exhibitions, and a workspace for pottery club members.

It has its roots in the art that Rod taught at Ōtaki College, right up until 1978. His passion for pottery meant the college developed a well equipped pottery facility where students of all ages could learn about the ancient art. The workshop became home to the Ōtaki Pottery Club for 30 years before it moved to the racecourse.

Rod sees general education and art as entirely compatible and complementary to each other. He returned to Ōtaki College as a resource teacher of learning and behaviour (RTLB) in 1999 until he retired in 2014.

“Kids who have difficulty learning in a traditional sense need an avenue to express themselves and to succeed.

“The kids who are ‘failing’ in other subjects are able to find lots of success through clay, which builds their confidence and sense of achievement.

“Clay is a great way of engaging people because it is a tactile substance; very therapeutic.  It’s a fun activity.”

Rod Graham honoured for community work



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