For nearly eight years, Jan Pitout was well known in the Bay as the Business Association manager, with several years also as editor of Newstalk Blockhouse Bay, the Beacon’s predecessor. Blockhouse Bay had been a large part of her family’s lives, with her children Dale and Amy students at Lynfield College, and Jan working at Blockhouse Bay Primary for a number of years.
Already involved in community events as a face painter, in 2007 Jan was asked to organise the Santa parade, which she ended up doing for the next seven years, and which almost straight away morphed into the manager role for the Business Association.
Then in 2015 Jan seemed to simply drop out of sight. So where has she been, and what is she doing now?
One often knows when it’s time to move on, and it was time for a new challenge for Jan. She felt she had done what she could in the Bay and when her next challenge presented itself, she knew it was what she needed.
The ASB Waterfront Theatre - the new home for the Auckland Theatre Company - was about to be constructed and Jan’s new challenge as administrator for ATC gave her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: being part of the setup of a brand-new $37 million theatre from its inception.
Jan was enjoying her work with ATC and life was good. Then in April 2016 everything changed for the Pitout family when son, Dale, aged 19, took his own life. Nothing could have prepared them for this sudden tragedy. Dale was, as they later found out, suffering from anxiety and mental health issues, even though to his friends and family had appeared on the outside to be the fun loving and caring young man that he had always been, had sheltered his depression from them and chosen not to speak about his fears. Their lives changed from that moment in a way that only parents who have lost a child could know.
A few months later an unexpected door opened for the family when a home and business became available in Parau – Keepin Katz boarding cattery. “Everything came at the right time, it seemed like a gift from Dale” said Jan. “We needed a distraction, and this was perfect. We took over the property on 2nd December 2016, fully booked with 100 cats, thrust in at the deep end into cattery life.”
“It was good, though,” she continues. “Lots of things to do, lots of maintenance work, it kept us busy for two years trying to upgrade to a state where we’re happy with it. We built the office, conservatory and new units, and totally revamped the older units behind the house. There’s still a little bit more work to do and we haven’t even touched the house, but it’s kept us busy and that’s what we needed.”
Jan and husband, Andre, still work full time; daughter Amy manages the cattery and Jan does the accounting and advertising for it. “Between us we make a really good team,” says Jan. “It really helped ground us for those terrible months that came after Dale’s passing because we had to think about the cattery. We’re getting there. It’s a lot of work, but it’s like therapy. If you’re having a bad day, feeling a bit low, you’ve got animals to care for which distracts you, and of course,” she says, stroking a purring Abyssinian boy, Scooter with a smile, “You can always come in here and stroke the cats.”
Jan enjoys the relationships they have built with the cats' owners over the last couple of years. “It satisfies a part of my gregarious nature to have to speak to people, which isn’t a large part of my role in the theatre. I’ve always enjoyed interacting with people, and my time in Blockhouse Bay definitely ticked that box. However, here we get to know families, their cats and I find it satisfying.”
Moving forward, the couple try to help everyone they can. They often have families approach Andre for help. Andre is passionate about suicide awareness, and runs the Auckland marathon raising money for the Mental Health Foundation. “We’ve had t-shirts printed with Team DALE - Depression Awareness Let’s Educate” says Jan.