Good evening ladies & gentlemen. Welcome to this special farewell reception and a Happy New Year to you all. My name is Derek Syme and I am the president of AmCham in New Zealand.
Firstly, I would like to welcome our guests of honour Ambassador Mark Gilbert and Nancy Gilbert.
I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to our other VIPs here tonight
- - His Worship the Mayor, Phil Goff
- - Deputy Mayor, Bill Cashmore
- - US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Candy Green
- - US Consul, Melanie Higgins
- - Other diplomatic corps members
- - Sir Bob Harvey and Dame Wendy Pye
I would like to thank EY for allowing us to use their facilities for this evening’s farewell reception for US Ambassador Mark Gilbert and Nancy Gilbert.Well it has been a whirlwind 2 years since Ambassador Gilbert & Nancy arrived in NZ. Without scarcely a pause, they have undertaken their roles with enthusiasm and focus that is second to none. The Gilbert’s have crammed in so much that it is hard to know where to begin when talking about their great achievements.
Thank you also to Mike Smith and IBM for your sponsorship of the evening.
There have been several significant highlights during the Ambassador’s tenure over the last 2 years and I will touch on just a few…:
- 1) The visit of US Vice President Joe Biden including a highly successful reception, where the Vice President spoke and met a number of our members. – The night was a real highlight for me as I managed to get a great selfie with the Vice President!
- 2) The arrival of the USS Sampson, the first US warship to visit NZ for over 30 years and its key role in assisting with the Kaikoura earthquake, in a time of real need.
- 3) The visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to NZ and his trip with the Ambassador to Antarctica.
- 4) The signing of TPP in Auckland by USTR Ambassador Michael Froman. Ambassador Gilbert played a significant role in securing Ambassador Froman to speak to our members following the signing.
- 5) The inaugural Air NZ flight & service to Houston where the Ambassador joined the trade mission with Minister Steven Joyce.
- 6) We have also had the arrival of United & American Airlines services from San Francisco & Los Angeles, furthering business and tourism links with the USA.
- 7) The Ambassador lead highly successful business delegations from NZ to the Select USA Summits in Washington in 2015 & 2016.
- 8) The Ambassador and Nancy joined the AmCham board visit to AmCham in Sydney in 2015. He also played a significant leadership role in the success of AmCham Australia’s visit to NZ late last year and his participation has ensured stronger ties between the two AmChams.
He has worked diligently to reach as much of the New Zealand business community as possible, giving his time to speak to social entrepreneurs and tech start-ups, as well as larger corporations and industry groups.
Ambassador Gilbert has also worked tirelessly to bring together academia, industry and government in order to better facilitate an exchange of knowledge and skills. This included the visit to NZ of Dr. Dave Newman (NASA’s Deputy Director) and Ambassador Gilbert is following Rocketlab’s progress with keen interest.
In summary, the ambassadors’ energy levels are truly remarkable and an 8 hour working day is completely irrelevant.
But it is not all about Ambassador Gilbert, as Nancy has also played an important and significant role supporting him.
One of Nancy’s highlights was the Wahine Toa leadership conference which brought together 140 Maori women from across the country. This group held discussions on civic engagement, women’s empowerment, and networking among communities of Maori women and across the Pacific.
The Gilberts successfully secured President Obama’s Special Assistant for Native American Affairs, Karen Diver, to keynote at the conference and engage with iwi leaders, civil society organizations, youth groups, and parliamentarians throughout New Zealand.
Nancy is also a big promoter of the tourism relationship, especially with her expertise as a former business owner of a tour company in Florida. This shone through when the Embassy hosted the “National Parks” IMAX film.
The Gilberts have also championed the exceptional growth in NZ wine sales to the USA… (please note that Ambassador Gilbert may have been “personally” responsible for significantly increasing those numbers!)
But it is not just what you have both done during your time in New Zealand… it is how you have done it… And on this front, we think its been all class.
You have not only achieved a huge amount but you have created many lasting friendships along the way.
For those of you following the Ambassador and Nancy on Twitter you will have seen many accolades flowing from throughout NZ over the last week which shows how much of a difference they have both made.
They have even found time to pull together a “YouTube” photo montage of everyone they have met in NZ during their time here. They are without doubt one of the best tour guides and official photographers in NZ, having taken some amazing pictures of NZ’s best scenery. Perhaps the NZ Tourism Board should seriously consider a consultant’s role for them both in the future!
The Ambassador and Nancy have lifted diplomacy to a whole new level and while we wish there were “4 more years”, we have to say farewell for now. You will always be welcome back in NZ and we wish you all the very best for whatever the future holds for you.
We would like to present you with a small token of our appreciation which reads… “In recognition of the outstanding contribution you have made to the United States/New Zealand relations during your time in New Zealand. You have been a true friend and supporter of New Zealand and AmCham.”