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Northland Policewoman Gail Shepherd Remembered For ‘amazing’ Emergency Mahi

Much-loved Northland policewoman Gail Shepherd has been remembered for her "amazing, no-nonsense" leadership and determination to help others during major emergencies, including when Cyclone Gabrielle hit.

National emergency response specialist Al Lawn acknowledged the Houhora constable during the recent Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Forum in Whangārei, where 300 people gathered.

Kaitāia-born Shepherd (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kuri, Ngāti Hauā), died on April 20 following being struck by a vehicle while off duty and walking her dogs in Helena Bay, north of Whangārei. Several thousand people attended Shepherd’s three-day tangi in Te Kao near Cape Reinga before she was laid to rest at her family’s cemetery Tūtūmaiao wāhi tāpu.

Constable Gail Shepherd, seen here at Waitangi Day in February 2021, was remembered for her emergency management and civil defence work at the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Forum
Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

A Police spokesperson said on Thursday that the investigation into Shepherd’s death remained ongoing.

Lawn, as first visiting speaker at the civil defence emergency management forum said he wanted to acknowledge Shepherd and remember the important part she played in Northland’s emergency services and the wider civil defence environment.

Shepherd, played a major community role in Hokianga’s Kohukohu as part of the Cyclone Gabrielle civil defence response co-ordinated by Northland Civil Defence in February 2023. She was at the time sole charge officer at Kohukohu Police station, responsible for the remote and far-flung north Hokianga.

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Shepherd provided assurance and community safety 24/7 as part of the emergency services response component.

She was active at the Tauteihiihi (SUBS: correct) Marae community welfare centre at Kohukohu, working in the background to keep residents safe and provide for them over the roughly 20 days many were without power.

Speaking after the forum, Far North Mayor Moko Tepania said he appreciated Shepherd's commitment to keeping whānau in North Hokianga safe through the cyclone.

About 300 people from Te Tai Tokerau's Civil Defence community and beyond attended the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Forum. Photo: Supplied

He had called in by helicopter to the marae twice during the response, including when the Royal New Zealand Air Force was doing remote north Hokianga food deliveries.

Tepania said Shepherd, in gumboots with a tea towel over her shoulder, had turned down a request to talk about the marae welfare mahi to visiting media who also arrived by helicopter.

Tepania said she replied, “Why would I do that, that's your job, or get some of the others to do it, I'll keep doing mahi in the background”.

“She was an amazing, no-nonsense servant leader,” Tepania said

Meanwhile, when contacted by Local Democracy Reporting Northland after the forum, Far North Area Commander Inspector Riki Whiu said Shepherd was typical of many of his rural staff who put the community first during emergencies.

Whiu said he was “truly thankful, humbled and blessed” to have staff like Shepherd responding during the cyclone.

“In particular Gail. She never fussed about anything, never asked for much, but gave heaps verbally and physically.”

He said Shepherd had continued to carry out her normal duties during the cyclone response, although somewhat restricted by the weather and circumstances.

“She was a passionate daughter, mother and grandmother who enjoyed her work and her contributions to what she did.”

Whiu has known Shepherd for her entire 15 years in the Police and her whanau for many more.

“She had her grandparents’ DNA of “work hard”, look after people and service to others.”

He said Shepherd was well connected to her people and had made her own and police resources available to those in need during the response.

Shepherd bought a generator to allow the Kohukohu Police house water pump, fridge and freezer to operate during North Hokianga’s extended cyclone power outage.

“However, she thought a local whānau who were in more need than she was could do with it ... so gave it to them to use,” Whiu said.

Police then purchased a bigger generator to run more of her household needs and the Police radio.

“It takes a special kind of person to work in an isolated area, in particuar within Police. There are many challenges for sole charge staff in particular our wahine who put their hands up to do that type of work.

“Her maturity as a mother, grandmother and her life experience gave her the edge and grit to do what she did,” Whiu said of her emergency response involvement.

Whiu said Shepherd had been focused on moving back to the Far North from Whangārei to work because she loved her people and she wanted to be among them.

“ hard as it was for her, she did anything and everything to get home.

“Gail knew working at home was a challenge, but she looked that in the eye and said ‘bring it on’,” Whiu said.

“Gail took her job seriously and whether it was just her normal duties or critical incidents there were never enough hours in a day for her and nothing was ever normal, that’s why she was a good member of our blue whānau.”

Whiu said Shepherd was passionate about helping others, particularly women and children.

Each year, she would use annual leave during Waitangi celebrations to take the crew of waka ama wahine she had been working with to paddle in the celebrations.

Shepherd was appointed the sole charge Houhora police officer earlier this year, after the station’s previous incumbent her brother Constable Leon Shepherd moved on from that position.

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