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The people of the Kopu Bridge Society and Trust are deeply saddened that our wonderful volunteer Ian Thomas passed away in 2019 at the age of 89. 

Ian was a bridge pilot in the 1950s as a teenager. His father was a bridge pilot too. Ian courted his sweetheart Brenda at this time and they spent many happy times on the Kopu Bridge. Ian and Brenda married and lived in Thames where they brought up a family.

Ian taught a group of society volunteers how to operate the swingspan and we are so grateful he has passed his knowledge of so many decades ago, down to so many people so we can open this bridge.

Ian has been with us from the start.  Always ready to help and impart his knowledge of the Kopu Bridge on to us. He taught us how to open it and right to the last he was wanting to teach people how to open it.   He is a great loss to our organisation. 

“Just like a brought one” cheerfully replies retired Historic Kopu Bridge Pilot, Ian Thomas when asked how the bridge was working after just getting a long overdue greasing.

In a community effort, Historic Kopu Bridge Society (HKBS) volunteers and members of Thames Venturer Scouts did maintenance, greasing the bridge ahead of the Historic Kopu Bridge Open Day on Sunday 13 March. The old bridge built in 1928 opened and closed perfectly during a pre open day test.

Mr Thomas first opened the bridge at the age of 15 in the 1950s when he assisted his father Archiebald (Archie) Thomas, to open the bridge for river traffic. When HKBS asked Mr Thomas to become involved again four years ago, he was delighted to accept, although it had been sixty years since he had last opened the bridge.

The bridge has now been opened as part of the Thames Heritage Festival three times since the new bridge opened and remains under threat of demolition.

The Society is calling for more volunteers to help with the bridge in various ways, including training to be part of a team of bridge pilots. 16 year old Thames Venturer Kale Buchanan is in training to do the job, as is the first ever female Bridge Pilot, Sereena Burton.

Craig Jones of Visitor Solutions, who is working on the Thames Town Promotions Project, will also be visiting the bridge on Sunday to see it in action. HKBS believe the working bridge will draw more tourism and economic benefits to Kopu and Thames. They see the Kopu Bridge as an important heritage “gateway” to the Coromandel and its rich heritage, as well as a recreational asset for locals and visitors.

“The bridge has had a successful first life contributing to the growth and success of its community. Now it’s ready for a second life of contribution” says Robin Byron, Architectural Heritage Advisor at Heritage New Zealand. Kopu Bridge is the last remaining operational swing bridge in New Zealand and holds Heritage New Zealand’s highest possible heritage value, Category One.

Written by Kim Buchanan March 11 2016

Thank you Ian. We will always remember you and how you helped us.
You will be very missed.

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