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Icon of the West: Janet Clews

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Janet Clews (3)Dubbed “The Queen Mother” by Sir Bob Harvey, Janet Clews CNZM, QSO, JP has been a mayor and councillor in West Auckland, serving for 50 years, which is a West Auckland and possibly a New Zealand, record. She was also the first and so far only, woman to be a West Auckland mayor.

Janet Clews and her husband of 58 years (the late Ernie) were teachers by profession and she was a much loved teacher at Glen Eden Primary school. She is a stickler for proper English and at the councils she served she was, depending on point of view, either the “go-to-girl” if you wanted something properly proofread, or the “grammar police”. It was not that she was unkind, far from it, but nothing escaped her eagle eye and nobody wanted to let themselves down.

Janet Clews managed for many years to combine a full-time teaching career, being mother to three sons, her political service and council reporting for a long gone newspaper. Indeed it was her reporting skills that brought her to the attention of then councillor, Dr. Harold Moody, later Mayor of Glen Eden. He convinced her to stand in 1963 when she became the first woman councillor in Glen Eden. At 30, she was also the youngest woman councillor in New Zealand, a record she held for several decades.

She became Glen Eden Mayor in 1983 serving until Glen Eden’s amalgamation into Waitakere City in 1989. She was a Waitakere City Councillor for the next 21 years and rounded out her extraordinary career in politics, with three years as deputy chairman of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board.

And no, that word “chairman” is not a mistake. Janet Clews was adamant that “chairman” was an office and not a gender; both men and women were chairmen and she was proudly chairman of Waitakere City Council’s Finance Committee (and other committees and boards).

In a parallel career, Janet was a founding Trustee of the Portage Licensing Trust, a position she continues to hold, and was for a time, its president. She remains a director of West Auckland Trust Services, the commercial company that runs the businesses owned by the Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts.

Waitakere is an historic part of New Zealand and the Glen Eden Railway Station is one of its most historic structures, preserved a short distance from its original location, thanks to the Glen Eden Railway Station Trust of which Janet was a founder and remains chairman.

The station was gifted to Glen Eden during Janet’s mayoralty. So when Kiwi Rail tried to sell it for removal, she proved council ownership. Then a trust was established to restore the station on its current site in the heart of the township where it continues to serve the travelling public.

Waitakere City Council completely refurbished the historic Chapel of Faith–in-the-Oaks in 2010.

Janet Clews was made a QSO in 1989 for her community service and in 2011 became one of only 40 New Zealanders to be made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.