FIFTEEN years ago Leo Payne had an idea: he thought he could do something about the state of the Rochester Cemetery.
Sitting in the cemetery now, he’s surrounded by manicured lawns with memorial benches scattered around and a toilet block for visitors.
‘‘There was grass this high,’’ he said, gesturing about two feet off the ground.
‘‘I was involved in cleaning up the cemetery — when we started we had a shovel. But we gradually built that up with tools, mowers and a whipper-snipper.’’
He became part of the Rochester Cemetery Trust in 2003, where he slowly took on more roles and responsibilities.
Leo said there were days where 15-20 people would come out to the cemetery to clean up and confessed sometimes he spent time ‘‘just doing the rounds on the ride-on mower’’ cutting grass.
Or coming along for the spread put on for morning smoko.
‘‘We have a terrific crew, we’ve got a toilet block built. When we came out here, it was all bare ground so we’ve done a fair bit of work,’’ he said.
‘‘When we have our working bees, the ladies will bring out a sponge and there’s still a bit of a debate as to who has the best.
‘‘That’s what the group is like, everyone has a bit of fun and a laugh.’’
Despite the mountain of work the group has done, Leo is humble when he talks about the contribution of the group — and from himself — over the past 15 years.
‘‘Mum and Dad are buried out here, so I would always come and visit. So when I saw the height of the grass, I thought I could do something,’’ he said.
That was when there was only the monumental graves, with the lawn section being developed later on and now being expanded.
At one point, Leo held the positions of sexton, secretary and treasurer — simultaneously.
‘‘It’s been a great experience and I’ll still be fairly involved with the Friends of the Cemetery, I like to come out and see what needs to be done,’’ he said.
‘‘But we all have to acknowledge George Wright, he did a hell of a lot for the Cemetery Trust.’’
Leo said he’ll always have something to do, with his work cut out for him at home and being an occasional tour guide at the cemetery.
‘‘People come out to find their loved ones, and sometimes they’ll come up to me asking ‘do you know where such-and-such is?’’’ he said.
Cemetery Trust secretary Wyn Hodgens said the organisation was thankful for Leo’s support.
‘‘People are often not aware of how much some people give to organisations, but believe me, when the cemetery is mentioned, your name always seems to be at the forefront,’’ Wyn wrote in a letter to Leo.
‘‘You should be very proud of the legacy you have left — it will be hard shoes to fill.’’