Joanne Conroy - A woman who gets the job done

4 minutes read
Posted 15 February, 2024
Joanne being invested as a Commander of the order of St John by then Chancellor of St John Dr Steve Evans in 2018

Joanne being invested as a Commander of the order of St John by then Chancellor of St John Dr Steve Evans in 2018

A life of governance and community service started at 16 years old for sixth generation West Coaster Joanne Conroy – a woman who gets the job done.

These natural tendencies would eventually lead to a life in business and property management where her talents were quickly recognised, and a senior governance role within St John’s.

Growing up in Greymouth, Joanne’s dad was a fisherman, and the family frequented their baches at Jackson Bay. “I just remember the freedom growing up on the Coast. I don’t remember the rain,” Joanne says. “We’d make huts in the bush, go fishing in the dinghy. We’d be gone for six to eight hours before anyone became a bit concerned that we weren’t home for tea,” she grins.

Fresh blue cod, crayfish and whitebait were plentiful around the family table and while her dad owned a wholesale fish company Joanne and sister Lynn (Cain) would be roped in to work. “We’d go during our school lunchbreak and count oysters into pottles for which we got a cream bun and pottle of yoghurt.”

A strong U18 West Coast representative basketballer and netballer, trips to compete, including to Australia, got her time off at Grey High School.

At 16, Joanne became secretary and treasurer of the Kotueku Surf Club. “I did it for the good-looking boys initially, then to help the community.”

However, it was as a winner of the local Seddon Memorial Medal for which she’s most famous in Greymouth. “We sat a day-long exam before high school, and I won the girls’ medal. Funnily enough, people still remember that. I was on the front page of the paper.”

On her 1981 OE to the States, Joanne and a friend travelled with a former Greymouth exchange student, Kathy Evison, who became a famous American actress, starring in SeaQuest and Beverly Hills 90210. “It was a big adventure for a couple of West Coast girls. I’ve since been to see her in her Beverly Hills home.”

Back home a lack of enthusiasm for diving saw Joanne quit marine biology at Canterbury Uni after one year and work in Queenstown hospitality while studying extramurally.

She managed Able to Signs then became the first assistant manager of O’Connell’s Pavilion when it opened in 1987, quickly taking over as manager, in her mid-20s.

Joanne then joined MacProperty, managing the district council’s property portfolio and in 2003 set up her own company, Lakes Property Services, contractor to the council, which became APL Property. She owned that until 2016.

“There were a lot of controversies to deal with looking after the council properties. Squatters had to be moved on, one I had to evict from under the Shotover Bridge,” she says. “Another guy was living in a cave on Skyline Hill. You had to be thick skinned. Housing shortages are not new.”

Her business won Chamber of Commerce Best Service Business Award two years running and also Best New Business, in the mid-2000s.

Somehow, she and husband Danny juggled raising three kids, Joanne also finding time early on to chair Queenstown Plunket and serve as secretary of St Joseph’s PTA before Marty Black invited her to join the local St John Ambulance committee in 2005. “I became chair of the South Island Regional Trust Board of St John and sat on and chaired various national committees.” First an Officer, Queen Elizabeth II even recognised her skills, appointing her as a Commander of the Order of St John in 2018. That same year she became a JP.

The years after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake had been tough and in her senior South Island volunteer role Joanne was pumping out 15 hours a week, also running her business. “We had a lot of building to do, and money issues. Many of our buildings were deemed earthquake prone,” she says. “You just have to be organised. You can’t procrastinate. You’ve got to keep focusing and make decisions on your feet.”

On a lighter note, Marty met then Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae at an investiture about 2009, casually inviting him to officiate at a Queenstown ambulance blessing. “Marty got in the poo for not going through the official channels,” grins Joanne. “Vanessa van Uden (Area Committee) and I were on our hands and knees in the toilets scrubbing the floors in our posh frocks because he and his wife were coming.”

After selling APL Joanne became its contractor doing council work until joining the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust as part-time executive officer in 2021, conservation and the outdoors in her West Coast blood.

She’s been deputy chair of Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust for almost nine years, served on the Citizen’s Advice Bureau Board, is chair of Sky City Queenstown Community Trust and sits on various regional and national boards, including Quotable Value.
“I don’t think I will ever retire properly, although we’ve just become Grey Nomads,” she says. “We’re absolutely blessed to live here, tramping and walking. If you’re feeling a bit down just look at the mountains.”

Joanne Conroy

Joanne Conroy


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