Serving the Whangārei community for half a century

Published on 12 June 2024

Whangarei District Council’s Laboratory Manager, Lois Howe, is in the laboratory and dressed in a white lab coat and looking at a plastic container that she is holding up.

Lois Howe at work in the the Wastewater Treatment Plant laboratory.

What is it about a workplace, or a worker, that enables their relationship to last for 50 years? 

Whangarei District Council’s Laboratory Manager, Lois Howe, has just celebrated (and been celebrated for) her 50th year at the Wastewater Treatment Plant laboratory, but even she can’t pinpoint the exact secret to her longevity at Council.

Although one secret success factor may have been to have an all-absorbing sport – one that has provided satisfaction and a distraction, when work has had its inevitable harder times. In return, having work provided stability when there was a crisis of confidence in her sporting life.

Lois is a world-title-holding archer. She took up the sport in 2004 and has since won multiple world titles. At World Field Archery Championships Lois won a Bronze medal in Female Open division at Waggawagga, Australia in 2011, Gold medal in Veteran division at Florence, Italy in 2017 and a Silver in veteran at Potchefstroom, South Africa in 2018.

This year she plans to celebrate her half century at Council with another trip to the Worlds in Brazil in August. 

“Between 2011 and 2016, I went through a tough patch with sports anxiety and was thinking of giving the sport up. It’s true that archery is 20 per cent physical and 80 per cent mental, so I set about understanding why this affected me so much. This included getting coaching to help me develop a process to go through, step by step, when facing challenges.

“I'd had a strong desire to succeed, and a fear of failing, and things that were 'coulds' had become 'shoulds'. But I am a little bit stubborn and worked at it, and now archery is my relaxation – everything else disappears when I am on the range.

“Learning that process helped me to deal with stress, to focus on what I can control, to pick my battles and become more adaptable to change.”

Lois Howe displays her skills as a world-title-holding archer.

Lois Howe, world-title-holding archer. 

And there has been a lot of change in her role at Council in 50 years. “As I have grown, the job has grown with me,” she says.

Starting as a laboratory assistant at 16 years old in 1974, Lois was by far the youngest person at the plant, and the only female. The ‘black mini skirt and high heels’, which were considered acceptable lab attire at the time, were also noticed by her husband-to-be, Eadon, when she was out getting lunches one day.

They began a relationship that has lasted almost as long as her time with Council. By 18, Lois was juggling motherhood with work. Over the years, while Eadon worked through a range of enterprises, including building, working at the glassworks, the freezing works, deer farming and orchid growing, Lois continued to work in the lab, testing water.

Eadon was also keen on various sports – hunting, diving, fishing, horse trekking and archery. When they turned 40, they purchased a nice boat and went fishing every weekend. The competitive edge was sharp, and along the way the two established the Oakleigh Fishing Club and were members of the Whangārei Deep Sea Anglers Club (WDSAC). Fishing trophies from that time adorn Lois’s office today. She is very proud to have got her name on the Bream Bay cup, twice, for the heaviest kingfish caught at WDSAC in a year.

As an adult, Lois cycled for exercise and, in 2014, they both took up gravel road and mountain biking. In 2004, Eadon took up archery and Lois tagged along but by 2010 Eadon’s interest had waned. It had become a passion for Lois and, with Eadon’s encouragement, the rest, as they say, is history.

Behind the scenes, changes were also happening in the water services/treatment world, with the lab growing and shrinking, and growing again. The lab started offering water testing to the water supply department, then to the community. A new lab was built, new equipment came on stream and the lab gained International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) accreditation.

The Council lab amalgamated with the Northland Regional Council lab, then the regional council moved its testing to Auckland.

Lois Howe and seven of her team members pose for a photograph at the Whangārei Quarry Gardens.

Lois Howe and her Wastewater Treatment Plant laboratory team members at Whangārei Quarry Gardens. 

In the community, the understanding of, and interest in, water quality has boomed. Now the lab’s clients are 30 per cent private customers, 40 per cent fresh water and 30 per cent wastewater testing.

Lois gained her New Zealand Certificate in Science in 1996 and Diploma in Business Management in 2015. Her seniority advanced in line with her qualifications and years on the job, and she became the lab team leader in 1978 with a job title change to manager in 2017.

“I have always loved the work that I do,” Lois says. “I know it is important and valued. The people I work with and the community I work for are what makes it so rewarding. At times it has been challenging and even difficult, but that is life.

“How you approach those challenges often determines the outcome. It is important to my wellbeing to balance my work and my time away from work. I work to live, not live to work.

“I am grateful to Council for the opportunities offered to me and the support given – there has been a lot of both over all these years.

“I have had wonderful managers who allowed me freedom to develop my own style and do my job. To the other departments, customers and contractors who use the lab service, it has been great to work with you all.

“Finally, to my lab family: I have so much love for you all and the biggest thanks. Keep being you, make sure you continue to enjoy each other’s company, continue to laugh and challenge each other.”