I couldn’t hold back the tears today at the farewell of Leisa Siteine from a massive 20 plus years of service to local government in South Auckland. Leisa was my manager for over six years; she hired me when I was 23, fresh out of art school, and wished me well when I left the role with Auckland Council not long after my 30th birthday.

I wanted to honour Leisa today, as everyone did. I wanted to say that for me, she was a model manager and an inspirational leader. I always felt everything I achieved in my role at Council was a direct result of strong, empowering leadership. She enabled me to see possibilities, opportunities and limitations – and exceed my own perception of my abilities. In different ways, friends and colleagues credited Leisa today for her kindness and her firmness, her nurturing nature and genuine passion and love for her job and the community she served.

Working in Leisa’s team was a safe space – I remember sobbing and being hugged on my darkest days and sharing highs and the satisfaction of seeing projects and events come together. I always respected her firm control over sometimes heated discussions and as local government in Auckland shifted to a unitary model, her bold leadership during what felt like an ethically challenging time.

An ex-colleague noted today that the tone of these acknowledgements felt like a eulogy, a sentiment that in part held me back from speaking openly about Leisa’s departure. It is simply an enormous loss for local government, for South Auckland’s arts infrastructure and service delivery and for the community at large. But fortunately, Auckland Council’s loss is someone else’s massive gain!

Thank you Leisa for teaching me to love my work, serve my community with integrity and fuel the creative fire!