Ōkaihau farmer, businessman and community stalwart Ken Rintoul was “one of nature’s gentlemen”, former Mayor John Carter says. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A champion of the community, a tireless advocate for the North and “one of nature’s gentlemen” — that’s how Northland businessman and community stalwart Ken Rintoul is being remembered.
Kenneth Alan Rintoul died at his Ōkaihau home on Tuesday surrounded by his family. He was 60 years old.
He was found to have a brain tumour in 2020 but, according to his death notice, he approached that diagnosis in the same way he approached life, “with optimistic determination and an ambition to beat the odds”.
In recognition of a lifetime’s service to the community, Rintoul was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.
At that point he was already too ill to travel to Wellington so the then Far North Mayor John Carter performed the investiture ceremony in Ōkaihau on June 19.
“He’s one of nature’s gentlemen. His involvement in the community — not just in Ōkaihau, but across Northland — was absolutely tremendous,” Carter said.
“He also had significant input into Waka Kotahi, where his great challenge was introducing some common sense. He was a strong voice for Northland. It’s sad it’s happened when he was still so young.”
Carter said even Rintoul’s diagnosis did nothing to dampen his vision or enthusiasm for Northland.
In recent years he built a new home he called Waihou Valley Estate and was developing a mountain luge, events venue and accommodation to complement the nearby Twin Coast Cycle Trail. The project would bring great benefits to Northland, he said.
Rintoul studied carpentry after leaving Northland College with School Certificate. The civil engineering business he founded with his wife Phyllis in 1989, Rintoul Civil, became one of the biggest contracting firms in the Mid North.
He served on the Northland Transport Committee and as a director of Far North Holdings, and led a significant shakeup of firefighting in Northland as the inaugural chairman of the Northern Rural Fire Authority.
He was a long-time member of Ōkaihau Lions, mentored youth through the Young Enterprise Scheme, served on the boards of Ōkaihau Primary and Northland College, and had a stint as president of Kerikeri Football Club.
Rintoul contested National’s Northland candidacy but later set up his own political party, Focus NZ, to represent rural voters he believed were being ignored at that time.
Rintoul’s tireless advocacy for Northland sometimes led to friction with government officials, such as in 2021 when he was dropped from the Waka Kotahi board after disagreements about the region’s share of road funding.
He still held a number of directorships at the time of his death, including on the Top Energy Trust and Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust (TTTWT), which is developing a series of storage reservoirs in the Mid North and Kaipara.
Dover Samuels, a former Māori Affairs MP and fellow TTTWT trustee, said his contribution to the trust was unparalleled.
“He was a very practical person. We couldn’t have done it without him. His experience and local knowledge saved us from a lot of mistakes we would’ve made if we’d followed advice from the normal channels.”
While on the board of Waka Kotahi, Rintoul had been deeply concerned about Mangamuka Gorge but his advice on alternative routes was ignored, Samuels said.
“Had that been taken I’m confident State Highway 1 would still be open … One of the giant tōtara of Ōkaihau has fallen. It’s a sad, sad day,” Samuels said.
A remembrance service will be held at 1pm on December 5 at Waihou Valley Estate, 390 Horeke Rd, Ōkaihau.
He is survived by his wife Phyllis, children Jeremy and Christy, and granddaughters Isla, Olive and Penelope.
Through the death notice his children expressed their gratitude “to the surgeons, doctors, nurses and carers who supported dad and mum throughout this journey”.