JOHN STEWART OMBLER Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the public service

Wanaka’s John Ombler has received the Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit for contribution to public service, including leading responses to significant crises.

Mr Ombler said he was honoured to be recognised and grateful for public service team work and an “extremely supportive” family.

“I really appreciate that. Looking back on it, especially some of those really tough jobs, I have had opportunities to work with some really amazing people .. During Covid, that was a whole community effort,” Mr Ombler told the Otago Daily Times last week.

The Dunedin-born, Milton-raised man began his career in 1975 at Makarora, as a Mt Aspiring National Park ranger. He worked for Alpine Deer Group as a shooter too.

His 43-year conservation career took him from Makarora to Fiordland, Egmont and Taranaki, Te Urewera, Whanganui and Tongariro national parks.

He held conservation management roles before taking up other public sector roles, including State Services Commissioner from 2008-2014.

He received a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for services to the state in 2013.

Strong Otago connections prompted Mr Ombler and his wife, Marieke Hilhorst, to retire to Wanaka. But “retirement” proved elusive and Mr Ombler continued to hold behind-the-scenes roles, such as heading the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (2014-2016), leading an inquiry into the Waikato District Health Board’s finances (2017) and becoming the All-of-Government Controller for Covid-19 response, including chairing the National Response Leadership Team that advised the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2020).

Covid meant he and his wife joined a large bubble of public servants in Wellington last year, only returning home twice.

“I spent most of my time on one floor in a Ministry of Health building .. it was a huge team effort. Many other people upended their lives to work non-stop,” he said.

In April, he was appointed to an independent local government review panel.