Helen Clark's moving tribute to Dame Catherine Tizard

  • 01/11/2021

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has written a moving tribute to Dame Catherine Tizard, joining a chorus of others who have paid respects to the former Auckland Mayor and Governor-General who died aged 90.

"I was deeply saddened to receive news last night that Dame Catherine Tizard, former Governor-General of New Zealand and former Mayor of Auckland had passed away," Clark writes. 

"Cath Tizard was a very important person in my life. We first met in 1971 when she was campaigning for and then elected to the Auckland City Council. Cath went on to serve four terms on the Council, and to be elected as Mayor of Auckland City three times.

"As Sir Paul Reeves' term as Governor-General neared its end, minds turned in the Fourth Labour Government to who could succeed him. New Zealand had never had a woman Governor-General, and many of us in government, including Margaret Wilson who was chief political advisor to Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer at the time, believed that it was time. Cath was seen as the outstanding choice, and agreed to serve. She took office after the change of Government in 1990, and enjoyed the respect of all sides of politics.

"After retiring as Governor-General, Cath kept up a busy public life, serving on various boards and committees, supporting many charities, and maintaining her strong interest in arts and culture.

"Cath was born of Scottish migrant parents who settled in Waharoa where her father was an engineer at the dairy company. She attended primary school there and then Matamata College, before coming to Auckland University in 1949 to study zoology. She married Bob Tizard, then an aspiring parliamentary candidate who rose all the way to become Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand. Their daughter Judith succeeded her father in his Panmure electorate when he retired from politics. Thus, Cath was very close to the heart of New Zealand politics for decades.

Dame Catherine Tizard.
Dame Catherine Tizard. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Cath's voice was always a progressive one across the spectrum of human rights and for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Many young women of my generation saw her success in public life and knew that that door could open for us too. We admired her forthrightness and directness - no one would walk away from a conversation wondering what Cath thought about the issues discussed.

"On a personal level, Cath was always a good and generous friend to many. She kept the loyalty and friendship of former staff at Government House and at the Council throughout her life.

"Since Cath's health has failed in recent years, she has been lovingly supported by her children. My thoughts are with Anne, Linda, Judith, Nigel, and all Cath's descendants now; her passing leaves a huge gap in their lives. Cath was a great New Zealander and will be very much missed by all who knew her."

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Photo credit: File

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also paid tribute to Dame Catherine. 

"Dame Cath was a true trailblazer for women in public life," Ardern said.

"She took her first steps into governance on her local play centre committee, while raising four children. She was elected to the Auckland City Council in 1971 and in 1983 became the first woman to be elected Mayor of Auckland. 

"On leaving that role, she became our 16th Governor-General and also the first woman to hold that office, from 1990 to 1996. 

"As Governor-General she succeeded in making the office of Governor-General more accessible for New Zealanders."

Dame Catherine was a member of the Order of New Zealand, and a Companion of the Queen's Service Order, as well as holding four separate damehoods. 

"These honours reflected her extraordinary life of public service," Ardern said.

"On ending her term as Governor-General, she continued her involvement with a large number of community and arts groups.

"In everything she did, she demonstrated her remarkable qualities of leadership and determination, combined with a down to earth approach and an irrepressible sense of humour.

"Our thoughts are with her family at this time."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

Opposition leader Judith Collins also paid respects. 

"I had the pleasure of meeting Dame Cath many times; often at civic events, or events supporting the arts, and often in the presence of her daughter, former MP Judith Tizard," Collins wrote. 

"Dame Cath, always a Labour woman, would, nevertheless be pleasant, was interested in political matters, and would occasionally share a remembrance.

"Also a Matamata College 'old girl', I think she liked seeing other women achieve.

"My sincere condolences, and those of the New Zealand National Party, go to Dame Cath's family and friends.

"She was a trailblazer, both as Mayor of Auckland, and as Governor-General.

"May she rest in peace."