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University of Waikato celebrates four top alumni

August 22, 2011

University of Waikato celebrates four top alumni

A politician, a war historian and two businessmen are University of Waikato Distinguished Alumni for 2011. The Honourable Hekia Parata, Dr Chris Pugsley, Paul Bowker and John Erkkila were presented with their awards at a dinner on August 19.

More than 200 guests attended the black-tie dinner at the University’s Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts which was hosted by the university’s Chancellor and former Prime Minister Jim Bolger and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Roy Crawford.

Hekia Parata was the first Māori woman to be elected Waikato Student Union president. She graduated with a BA and MA (in Māori) from Waikato and moved to Wellington where she carved out a distinguished career in numerous public and private sector organisations for almost 30 years and ran a private consultancy with her husband Sir Wira Gardiner. She was elected to Parliament in 2008 on National’s party list and is currently Minister of Women’s Affairs, the Minister for Ethnic Affairs, acting Minister of Energy and Resources, and the Associate Minister for ACC and for the Community and Voluntary Sector.

Ms Parata is quick to acknowledge the value of education. "Early and continuing education has been the springboard for my professional choices. I believe successful education experiences transform the lives of individuals, their families, their communities – and their nation.''

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Dr Chris Puglsey completed his PhD at Waikato after he retired from 22 years in the New Zealand Army. His thesis was published as On the Fringe of Hell - New Zealanders and Military Discipline in the First World War, and he’s since gone on to write 15 military books. Dr Pugsley lectures in war history at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England. He’s recognised internationally as an authority in his field, is a senior adjunct fellow at Canterbury University and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

“I am humbled and feel something of a fraud for being recognised for pursuing my hobby. As I tell my friends and colleagues, ‘The Queen pays me to indulge’; not many people are so fortunate.”

Over in the Bay of Plenty, Paul Bowker came to Waikato when he needed to increase his management skills and enrolled in an MBA. He’d studied construction management in South Africa but decided he needed to broaden his skills to take his career to a new level. Mr Bowker is responsible for Devonport Towers in downtown Tauranga. He has since gone on to become active in the business community and strategic development of Tauranga. He’s vice-president of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce, is a board member of Tourism Bay of Plenty and the ministerial appointment on the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic Council.

John Erkkila chaired the Waikato Hospice community fundraising campaign which raised $8 million for the new facility in Hamilton. He is now chairman of the Hospice Waikato Foundation.

Mr Erkkila graduated from Waikato with a Bachelor of Science in 1985 but moved straight into business, first managing a hotel then starting his own insurance brokerage. In 1996 he joined Murray Ferguson to start New Zealand Home Loans. Today there are 58 franchises from Whangarei to Invercargill and the business employs more than 200 staff, has $3.8 billion of loans and $22 million of insurance premiums under management.

In 2006, New Zealand Home Loans sold a 51% share to Kiwibank, but Mr Erkkila remained as CEO until April this year and is now an Executive Director. He has a boat building facility in Tamahere, and is developing as a tourist adventure farm near Cambridge.

The annual Distinguished Alumni Awards recognise and celebrate Waikato University alumni who have made an outstanding contribution to their profession, to the community, to the arts or sport, or to more than one of these areas since graduation from Waikato University.


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