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Retiring . . . Tony Francis who will retire as road safety co-ordinator for the Hurunui District Council after 25 years and his wife Susan Cambridge. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Road safety has been foremost in Tony Francis working life.

Next week he will farewell the Hurunui District Council where he has been the council’s road safety co-ordinator for 25 years.

He says it is time for someone else to take over the important role, one he took up after a stint as marketing manger for Milburn Cement.

“I didn’t enjoy that much. I really wanted to work in road safety, having started my working life in that area, and it was suggested to me I go out and see the Hurunui District Council,” he says.

The trip from the city out to rural North Canterbury has led to a long association with the council, the Hurunui district and its schools.

“The district council has been wonderful to work for. It is a council where the names of its Mayor, councillors and staff fit on to an A4 sized paper with their first names in alphabetical order.

“It is like a big family,” he says.

Mr Francis has also enjoyed working alongside the police, ACC, the New Zealand Transport Agency and many other organisations on a variety of projects designed to keep Hurunui district residents, young and old, safe.

He believes his long interest in road safety began at an early age in Wellington’s Manor Street, when he was crossing a busy street with his grandmother.

Despite being on a pedestrian crossing the four-year-old was bowled over by a car, an accident which required a trip in an ambulance and a sticky plaster on his knee.

It was an accident that left a lasting impression and one that saw him go on to become a traffic engineer after leaving school.

He began his career in the Transport Department which later became the Ministry of Transport, the Land Transport Safety Agency and eventually the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Mr Francis spent some time in the United States at a university studying traffic engineering and then in 1978 he severed his ties with the government agency and went to work as a consulting engineer doing transport planning.

Then followed his stint with Milburn Cement before returning to work in road safety and his 25 year association with the district council.

“Basically I have worked for 25 years as a consulting engineer with my wife Susan Cambridge, who has done research in “drug driving” which included interviewing 200 people in prisons.

“Her results are still being used by transport authorities today,” he says.

Susan, who was the Christchurch City Council road safety co-ordinator, the first in the country and is the executive officers of the NZ Roadshow, retired about six years ago.

Mr Francis ran many projects in the Hurunui District, including May Car Day which showed a simulated car smash and all the events which follow the death and maiming of people in crashes. The Day was aimed at young people and pointed out the follies of drink driving, speed and other causes of crashes.

He took this to area schools and it later morphed into Drive2Arrive and last year all three area schools benefitted from four mornings of discussion around accidents, road safety and the affects and living with the results of accidents.

“At the other end of the scale we had CarFit for older persons,” he said.

Mr Francis’ work also involved Christmas and safe holiday driving campaigns.

He also worked with the Hurunui Youth Council on speed checks in towns and teamed up with organisations such as Lions Club, Plunket, AA, and trucking organisations to bring home safety messages.

“It has been great fun. But it is time to stop,” he says.

The couple have just settled into a new home following the Canterbury earthquakes and there is renovation work to be done. There is also a model railway that needs his attention after having given up its home – a Guards Van – to the Weka Pass Railway.

Mr Francis will attend his last meeting as road safety co-ordinator next Wednesday.

Previous chairpersons of the committee will attend to help celebrate his “retirement” at the meeting which will be chaired by Mayor Winton Dalley.

“I have had wonderful support from the road safety committee,” he says.