When Clifton Thomson steps down from the position of general manager of Purewa Cemetery & Crematorium at the end of July he can look back on almost two decades of improvement and innovation in this beautiful corner of St Johns.
It has been a period of consolidation and expansion, not only in terms of bricks and mortar development of its chapels and reception rooms but in the introduction of many New Zealand ‘firsts’ such as live streaming of funerals, digitalisation of cemetery records, identification of Notable Graves, online plaque ordering, and the introduction of many new memorialisation options.
Today Purewa offers unrivalled facilities in its chapels, reception rooms, grounds and crematorium.
‘‘Purewa is dear in the hearts of many Aucklanders, and it’s always been the Purewa Cemetery Trust Board’s desire to provide a facility that reflects this affection,’’Mr Thomson says.
‘‘I’ve been very fortunate to have the backing of such a proactive Trust Board. They are a truly outstanding group of Trustees with essential areas of expertise plus an appreciation of all aspects of maintaining a world-class amenity like Purewa.’’
Mr Thomson’s career is probably unique today, having graduated from gravedigger to crematorium operator, sexton, parks supervisor and eventually to management of a private entity operating without the benefit of Council funding.
After serving in the New Zealand Navy he began work in 1980 as a gravedigger at the North Shore Cemetery and Crematorium – a physically taxing job as all digging was done by hand.
From gravedigger to sexton, then assistant management, cemetery, parks and reserves management – the combination of outdoor and office responsibilities were to stand him in good stead.
In 1994 he was appointed manager of Waikumete Cemetery and its 302 acres, a role he carried out ably for six years until the ‘‘ultimate opportunity’’ at Purewa in 1999.
At the time the cemetery was in some disrepair; one of the first tasks was to prevent further cave-ins in the oldest sections of the cemetery. Gradually the beautiful gardens of today were created, followed by major extensions of the chapels, creation of the Lounge of Remembrance, a new administration block, high-tech upgrade of the crematorium; technology advances including a new website and family search capabilities; the Walk of Memories, columbarium niche walls, St Johns Lounge, children’s mosaic path – beautifying and future-proofing the park facilities.
Mr Thomson is most proud of the way Purewa has been able to develop within the community and maintain good relationships with local residents and the local board.
‘‘It’s a living space, at any time you come here you’ll see the park being used and enjoyed, and even in mourning people are being treated to the best possible experience.’’