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Going full-tilt still suits woman of many parts

Flagstaff Team

Tina Frantzen was many things – teacher, businesswoman, local-body politician and mother – before launching herself into an artistic career. As she looks back on 50 years in Devonport, Frantzen tells Helen Vause about her indefatigable drive to just ‘get on with it’.

Going strong… At 75, Tina Frantzen still rows three times a week and has just mounted a retrospective exhibition of her paintings, poems and photographs

When Tina Frantzen was a child, there was no lolling about for breakfast in pyjamas. Her mother was a firm believer in getting up, getting dressed and getting going – to dive into the day. Seven decades later, that’s still the routine that works for Frantzen.

The 75-year-old, who heads over the Harbour Bridge well before seven on three mornings a week to get on the water with her rowing buddies, says she’s always been a “get on with it” kind of girl.

To Frantzen, living life at full tilt makes perfect sense: you want to fit it all in, do the things you love as well as the activities you have to do.

This month, the apparently indefatigable Frantzen has been meeting and greeting visitors to the Depot Artspace, talking about her paintings, poems and photographs that make up a kind of retrospective of her life and her 50 years in Devonport.

The joys, sorrows, loves and losses are all there in her words among the works on the walls.

But make no mistake, she’s not done yet. No way is she hanging up her paint brushes, oars, walking shoes or camera any time soon. “I know I’ve done a lot in my life and I know sometimes I just get too busy. I know my enthusiasm sometimes drives everyone a bit crazy. But it’s the way I love to be,” she says.

In this full life of Frantzen’s there have been distinct phases, but many of the themes have run continuously, such as her eternal optimism.

Among them are the teacher, the business- woman, artist, actress, writer, photographer, Devonport Borough Councillor, mother, partner, wife, solo parent of a decade, rower, athlete, singer – and probably a few we’ve missed.

Frantzen was born fighting: her mother had septicaemia.

The sickly infant Tina was named Noelene, because she was a Christmas baby, and she eventually thrived.

Her father died before she was a year old, but, “Mum could do anything. She sewed, she was a florist. She was an incredibly hard worker and such a strong woman. To me she made everything look possible.”

And she passed on those ingredients for a great life, says Frantzen. “Great genes and a positive attitude.”

When Frantzen and her first partner settled in Devonport five decades ago, she was pregnant with her first child, Simon, and had had an early career in Australia as a paediatric dietician

She had been the first of her peers to bring an infant specialisation to her new job in Auckland.

Neither that career nor the partner were to be long-lasting. The partner returned to the Northern hemisphere, leaving Frantzen a solo parent. Undeterred by slender finances or circumstances, she’d made up her mind that teaching was her path and enrolled at teacher-training college.

Sixteen happy years teaching chemistry at Westlake Girls High School followed, with a creative side-serving of school shows – and all the music, drama, and energy that comes with them.

“I loved it. I loved the kids and I loved the work,” she recalls.

Meanwhile, there was a new relationship and another baby boy.

With a full-on workload and a young family, Franzten heard the call of another challenge: the late-1970s fight to stop the proposed development of Ngataringa Bay.

She joined the team fighting the project and won a seat on the local borough council. “It was so important to step up to that battle and stop a plan that would have forced such awful change onto Devonport. I was seven months pregnant with Nick at the time and I remember clambering up and down steps to go door-knocking. I was exhausted, my life was already so demanding, but it was wonderful to be part of it all. It was a real privilege to be on the council at that time.”

Life was full and busy, but once again Frantzen wondered about what might come next – and was open to possibilities.

The insurance industry beckoned, luring her out of the classroom – on a leave of absence, initially – and into the world of business. As a single parent with a mortgage, once again she took a leap of faith.

“It was a risk, I suppose, at that time. But, happily, I prospered.”

Perhaps buoyed by the buzz of success, her daredevil streak came forward. She went in for skydiving, paragliding and caving – the latter a big personal challenge for a claustrophobic person.

Then she took herself off to Outward Bound.

In 1998, her single-mother era ended when she met her third partner and future husband, tax expert Terry Boucher, at a writing course. And yes, laughs Frantzen, he is 16 years her junior. More to the point, she says, he is a hero, a friend and a wonderful listener.

In 2002, a personal tragedy changed her direction overnight. Her eldest son, Simon, was killed in a car accident, aged 31.

“I know I’ve done a lot in my life and I know sometimes I just get too busy. I know my enthusiasm sometimes drives everyone a bit crazy. But it’s the way I love to be.”

She sold her business and turned her attention to developing another lifestyle. The grief of those days is echoed in some of her artwork and writing today.

Frantzen came from a creative family but was unsure where her real talent lay. She took formal lessons in painting, life-drawing and photography, to find the best artistic path to pursue.

It turned out to be the right thing to do at the right time in her life. Her creative projects have taken her all over the world, working and researching. She’s exhibited often and was very pleased to be a finalist one year in the Wallace Art Awards.

Coming up to 70, Frantzen faced another life blow. She battled cancer, then had double hip replacements.

Certainly, it was tough, she reflects, but every ounce of her positive attitude helped get her through.

Ever-active, and sometimes restless, Frantzen has always been a big walker, covering considerable distances alone around the local mountains, coastlines and urban streets.

“I always walk towards the sun.”

And it has been on those countless long solo walks that her poems have taken shape, and the images of her photos and paintings have cemented themselves in her mind’s eye – or in her cellphone camera.

During this Covid year, the toy bears in our windows captured her imagination.

With other creative work parked momentarily, she set about producing a series of three children’s books centred on those bears.

Already in some schools and libraries, the bear books were a collaboration, a piece of our history she feels couldn’t be missed.

Her three early-morning rowing sessions out on the harbour with a masters group of women rowers help keep her fit and energetic.

She’s proud to note that they’ve made it to two world-rowing competitions.

“Being out there on the water, working together, is like nothing else,” Frantzen says. With her 76th birthday coming up, there’s another exhibition to be pulled together and a big cycling holiday this side of Christmas. “I’ll be happy that I’ve lived the best life possible if I can get to the end with the ex- citement and enthusiasm of a child and the wisdom of adulthood.”

This article originally appeared in the 29 January 2021 edition of the Flagstaff. Read online here.

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