He had recently returned from a year in Kabul as New Zealand’s first resident ambassador to Afghanistan, and prior to that had been Defence Attaché in Riyadh, from where he was accredited to Kabul. He had also served in Port Moresby and Jakarta, and with United Nations missions in the former Yugoslavia and Timor Leste. For his services to New Zealand and the United Nations in Timor Leste, he received the New Zealand Gallantry Star.
It was no wonder then that the previous Joint Committee Chair Janie Annear, Mayor of Timaru, said at the time:
Neville’s leadership experience in high pressure situations, combined with extensive negotiation skills and mana, will be invaluable to Civil Defence and the people of Canterbury”.
As I said at the last Joint Committee meeting, that was 100% correct. We have been fortunate to have someone so experienced in stressful and complex environments.
Neville Reilly joined the Canterbury Civil Defence Group at the time our subregion was still in the throes of responding to and recovering from the catastrophic effects of the 2010/2011 earthquakes.
A steady and calm leadership style was called for and Neville had that in spades.
I know when I became Mayor in 2013, Dame Margaret Bazley who was the Chair of Ecan at the time, told me how fortunate we were to have him. I told her about his retirement.
“He made an enormous difference from the day he walked in the door. He transformed the way civil defence operated in Canterbury.
He is a great people person – and built an incredibly strong team.”
These skills were called to the fore with a number of events, not all of which were civil defence emergencies, but all crises of one kind or another:
Flooding, drought, the Port Hills fire, Hurunui/Kaikoura earthquake and tsunami warnings, the gas explosion at Northwood, and the mosque terror attack.
I found an article where Neville was described as one of the most highly decorated people in the Defence Force, but it then went on to say ‘he is modest’.
And he is. Listening to him speak on calls of Mayors and others involved in emergencies, I have noticed how he always begins by congratulating others for all they are doing. He is the epitome of the servant leader – with all the attributes that entails.
It has been an honour and privilege to serve as the chair for two terms in a role that is near and dear to my heart and to know that I had the ability to call on the experience and integrity of someone of Neville’s calibre.
I wish you well in your retirement.
You have been recognised by your country for your gallantry, and it is our turn to honour you tonight for your service to our region.