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Debbie Thurow


For many in Nelson and Tasman, the first lockdown in 2020 was an opportunity to smell the roses.  The weather was great, and it was  time  to appreciate simple pleasures. 


Free to reflect, over half of our small team decided to have a reset, which led to a changing of the guard at Eyebright.   The staff that left were replaced by new entrants. Vittoria and Deborah, and Waimea College student, Emily.

I wrote about Vittoria some months ago.  Now it's Debbie's turn:

During the 2020 lockdown, the board at the World of Wearable Art decided to withdraw from Nelson. When I got wind of this, I set off head-hunting.  My expedition yielded Debbie Thurow.

A ‘must have’ for anyone hoping to work at Eyebright, is a ‘customer first’ attitude.  On this count, Deborah came with glowing endorsement. 

Debbie grew up in the Christchurch suburb of Richmond.  One of her earliest memories was her mother white-baiting in the Avon River near their home.

Enroute to secretarial school she attended Richmond Primary, Shirley Intermediate, and Avonside Girls High.  But the corporate world wasn’t to be her destiny.  At polytech, she found that she had no aptitude for shorthand, or typing.  Her special talents were to be revealed some years later.

 After polytech, the BNZ brought her into their fold, and sat her in front of an MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition) machine. She can’t remember exactly what that entailed, but it must have involved feeding stacks of cheques in at one end and removing them at the other.  

Eventually she was made a teller.  There she caught the eye of a rugged outdoors man who swept her off to Te Anau to join a shearing gang.   Her memory of the MICR machine may have dimmed, but not so, the cold of early spring in draftee Fiord Land shearing sheds.

The duress became wearing, and the romance waned.   Debbie was off to work at the Maruia Springs Hotel. 

At that time ‘The Springs’ was a road house rather than a resort.  She worked ten days on and four days off.  Although, taken on as a kitchen hand, one day the regular chef didn’t return from leave, and Debbie replaced him.

Pub game prowess can be a sign of a mis-spent youth, but Debbie’s aptitude at pool was genetic.  Her whitebait catching mother was also a queen of the table.   At Maruia she had endless opportunity for practice, and many mountain men were humbled by five foot, twenty year old Debbie.

Debbie then returned to Christchurch and a cooking job at a rest home.

In 1985 she married Mike and they found both work and accommodation at the Harewood Road, Methodist Children’s Home.  The home provided a safe haven for forty boys aged from five to thirteen.  Mike was a resident social worker taking care of ten boys, while Debbie cooked for the whole establishment.

The mid 80s was a time of change for New Zealand.  Prosperity from off the sheep’s back and pre-EU mother England, was a fond memory.  By 1985 New Zealand was carrying eye watering debt. The minister of finance, Roger Douglas championed rationalization across all institutions.

Mike lost his job, and with it, his and Debbie’s accommodation at the boy’s home.  They went down the road to work in ‘Bestwood Panels’, a company making veneer covered panels for interiors and furniture.  Debbie was at one end of the line repairing veneer before it was applied.  Mike was at the other end, handling the finished panels.  It was hot, cold, dusty, noisy and chauvinistic.

They escaped to Greymouth and bought a cottage at Coal Creek.  Debbie was hired at the, still being built, Kowhai Manor Rest Home.  She came on as a care giver, but very soon after was made the cook.  She worked Tuesday to Saturday 7am to 2pm (the evening meal was able to be reheated and served by afternoon staff). 

Debbie’s role was more than just cooking, She wrote the menus, managed ordering and maintenance of food stuffs, cleaning, and everything else associated with catering for forty residents.  She had one kitchen hand to assist.

After thirteen years a job drew Mike to Nelson.  Debbie was left minus their furniture, to the sell the Coal Creek property.

Debbie had a number of cooking and food related jobs, but it was her unpaid work that was transformational.  As Red Cross volunteers, she and Mike were on the ground at Pike River, post-earthquakes Christchurch and dealing with trauma after Cave Creek.

Debbie’s membership in the Atawhai Community Church led to two African trips. She and colleagues travelled through Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya,  amongst the poorest of the poor, working on projects to improve sanitation, water and shelter.  There could hardly be such an extreme culture shook, but Debbie reflects with joy on the  experience.

A live-in job taking care of a lady in Christchurch with dementia became one of Debbie’s most difficult roles.  For eighteen months she travelled between Nelson and Christchurch, accelerating the drift apart for her and Mike.  They decided to separate.

In 2016 Debbie advertised for a flatmate.   American born, Sam, was the successful applicant.  Debbie was still commuting to Christchurch. Sam may have of thought, “great,  I get the place to myself most of the time”  but no.  In her absences he and Debbie missed each other so much, that they wanted to commit to being together forever.   They were married in 2018.

Debbie landed a front-of-counter job at the WOW Museum, and was working there when the first Covid lock-down came along.  Soon after she was told that the museum and gallery was shutting down, but barely had she time to consider her unemployed state than I was on the phone offering her a job.

Sam is the guy at Mitre 10 with the accent like mine.

Debbie is now part of the team at Eyebright, dedicated to delighting you.


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