Heart attack survivor reflects on life

Former two term Mayor of Dunedin, Peter Chin, CNZM, has had some time to reflect on what life is all about.

Peter Chin

The lawyer, trustee and now SuperSeniors Champion has always stepped forward to help out on school committees, gala days and to take on roles in Jaycees at Mosgiel, near Dunedin.

His willingness to make a contribution to his local community and local government were behind his appointment as a Champion, part of a group of high profile New Zealanders who are outstanding advocates of positive ageing.

But he’s thought long and hard about life after nearly dying on New Year’s Eve, 2014.

“I was on a plane from Dunedin to Wellington to my son’s for a big golden wedding anniversary and I collapsed on board just as the plane took off.

“Were it not for the fact there was a defibrillator on board and the air hostess and a passenger seated opposite who actually knew how to use it!

"They revived me, the plane turned around, an ambulance came, took me to the hospital and I had a triple bypass.”

He called it “an interesting experience”.

“When things like that happen to you, you reflect back and think what is life all about?”

Challenging years

The heart attack followed some challenging years during which his wife Noleen was diagnosed with Alzheimers after disappearing for 14 hours on a trip to Edinburgh in 2006.

Peter Chin was frantic with worry and relieved when she was found by police in the early hours of the morning although he knew something was terribly wrong.

Noleen remained at home for many years but eventually moved into full time care.

Every day, Peter visits and either takes his wife out or helps with her care.

It was in the 1990s he decided to stand for local government.

“I looked on local government as being an extension of community service which it really was in those days.

“People stood for local government, not because there was a big paycheck associated with it, it was just part of community service – you gave time and remuneration was never an issue because there wasn’t any, to speak of.”

Champion Peter Chin and siblings

Chinese heritage

He is a descendant of Chinese immigrants, and is pictured with his siblings (above).

“My grandfather came to New Zealand in 1910 and my father in 1920 so we’ve been here a long time.

"My heritage is hugely important.”

Peter Chin chairs the Chinese Heritage Poll Tax trust which was set up after then Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised to the Chinese people, in 2002, for the imposition of the tax.

“The trust really is to preserve the Cantonese language, to acknowledge the history of the Chinese in New Zealand, and to be able to educate people.

“There’s a huge, rich history which has never been captured in mainstream history.

“We’re commissioning work to be done on the history of the Chinese laundries, the Chinese fruit shops, the Chinese churches, the Chinese merchants and the Chinese market gardens.”

He says he was easily identifiable in earlier years.

“As you get involved in the community, people get to start to know you - you’re hell recognisable so [they] say, ‘There’s that Chinese guy, he’s popping up everywhere’ so whether you’re doing good or bad, you’re noticed.

“Sometimes it’s a disadvantage because if you like getting a bit boozed, like I did in my younger days, you’ve really got to be quite careful because you’re noticed.”

The former Mayor is also an operatic singer.

“I’ve done a fair bit of singing in the Dunedin scene over the decades and it’s been great fun.

“Singing and the theatre have been lifelong interests of mine.

“You audition and you get into shows [because] you’re Chinese – you’re not going to be the flaxen-haired hero so I got a part in the Mikado – it probably saved them a whole lot of makeup!”


Having stopped working as a lawyer when he became Mayor, Peter Chin decided not to return to law but there’s still plenty to keep him occupied.

“I’m on the Constitutional Advisory Panel and I was on the Flag Referendum Panel, and currently I’m a trustee of the Otago Community Trust; that’s probably my main activity.”

Champion Peter Chin with his sons

So, what is it all about?

“It’s about enjoying life and if, in the process, you’re actually doing things that are of benefit to other people, that’s good.

“People think ‘Wow, you’re doing all these things’ but the reality is I’m not doing it for them, I’m doing it for myself.

"I get the benefit out of it and other people get some benefit so it’s a plus. It’s just being positive.”

Peter Chin appreciates opportunities have come his way.

But he believes there’s no right or wrong way to lead your life.

Peter Chin with his sons

“I think [people have] to do things that give them pleasure and satisfaction so if staying at work gives you that, why do you need to give that part of it up?

“Each person has really got to find their own level.

"There’s no rights and wrongs in the ways that one lives.

"I think so often, people do things or make decisions on the basis of what are my friends going to think about me, or what does the community think.

“Those things, at the end of the day, don’t matter because that expression, ‘To thine own self be true’ - that’s something I’ve tried to live by all my life.

“I probably haven’t succeeded all that well but you don’t actually have to succeed, it’s the journey – it’s the journey, not the destination.”