Plaque unveiling: Retiring Kaye opens new Elim block

Nikki Kaye with her successor Nicola Willis at Elim Christian College Junior Campus in Golflands. Times photo Wayne Martin

She may have bowed out of Parliament but Nikki Kaye still has a punishing schedule.

Immediately after her emotionally-charged valedictory speech in Parliament on Thursday, Kaye – who served as the deputy leader of National Party for a short time – caught an early morning flight from Wellington for an official launch of a new facility at Elim Christian College Junior Campus in Golflands.

Her successor Nicola Willis, who is stepping into Kaye’s shoes, flew in the night before and took an early tour of the modern Luke Brough building on the school campus – named after the founder and senior minister of Elim Christian Centre.

Overlooking the all-weather sports ground that accommodates around 12 learning spaces for middle school, the building is designed by Jasmax – award-winning architects of Te Papa Museum.

At the official launch, just as Kaye, former Minister of Education, was about to unveil the plaque, principal Murray Burton cautioned her. “The date on the plaque says March 20. But then Covid happened and we postponed the event. It was too expensive to change the date on the plaque so we left it at that,” he said.

The event was attended by Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown, candidate for Botany Chris Luxon, the board of trustees and officials from the Ministry of Education.

Burton said this official opening is one of the last two schools that Kaye is attending before she retires from politics.

Front row: Simeon Brown, Nicola Willis, Chris Bethwaite, Nikki Kaye, Marilyn Brough, Christopher Luxon. Back row: Pastor Steve Green, Shanley Gamble, Murray Burton, Pastor Luke Brough, Danie Vermeulen and Bill Kathagen. Photo Wayne Martin

“We would like to thank her for her service to the nation and for her courage, resilience and perseverance, despite the odds,” he said as everyone gave her a standing ovation.

Kaye shared two inspirational stories with the students about youngsters who had made an impact on her. One was about Barry, who had a disability and applied for more than 100 jobs until he got one. “He just stepped up to the challenge and persevered.”

She also spoke of 13-year-old Gabby Devine who was diagnosed with cancer at an early age. “Though she was miserably sick, she prepared care packages to deliver to hospitals. I met Gabby and wanted to give her the Young New Zealand Youth Award but unfortunately she passed away before that. Later, both John Key and I presented the award to her parents who were so overwhelmed.”

“However you are tested in life, the values of Elim Christian College is the greatest gift you have.”

Principal Murray Burton thanked Nikki Kaye for her perseverance, courage and service to the nation. Photo Wayne Martin/Times

Talking to the Times about retiring from politics after the September general elections, Nikki Kaye, a breast cancer survivor, said, “I am going to miss walking into any home, school or business and talking to the people and listen to them share their stores or not being able to make a change in their lives.

“But then again I have worked 100 hours a week for a very long time and have contributed a lot to New Zealand. I have put my body on the line and need to replenish it.

“I am going to use this time to reflect, to heal, to rest. I will read, reconnect, go running, spend time outdoors and try to be a good aunty. I have got lots of job offers but I am not going to take up anything right now.

“When I do, I know it will be something that is to do with helping people. But right now I am happy to pass on the torch to Nicola Willis.”

Nikki Kaye was at Elim Christian College Junior Campus to officially launch the new Luke Brough building. Times photo Wayne Martin

The new National Party spokesperson for Education Nicola Willis says she has learned a lot from Kaye just watching her. “Nikki has the ability to inspire”.

With a post-graduate diploma in journalism, Willis served as a research and policy advisor to former PM Sir Bill English, and as a senior advisor to another former PM, Sir John Key in 2008.

The mother-of-four says she has big shoes to fill.

Flying back to Wellington for a family dinner to celebrate her daughter Harriet’s ninth birthday at her favourite pasta restaurant, she says being a mother “keeps it very real”.

“I can see the world through their eyes as well as get a better understanding of issues that students, parents and teachers we are dealing with.”

She gives credit to her “extraordinary husband and mother-in-law” as well as good friends and the community that supports her enough to do her job.

“I am excited about having Judith Collins as our new leader and look forward to earning more support from the people.”