Queen's Birthday Honours: Yvette Corlett made a Dame weeks after her death

New Zealand's first woman to win an Olympic gold medal has been made a Dame seven weeks after her death.

Yvette Corlett, then Williams, leapt into the history books in 1952, winning gold in the long jump at the Helsinki Olympics.

At her funeral in April 2019 it was commented several times that she should have been made a dame.

What was being kept a closely guarded secret was that she had.

"She had a letter about 10 or 12 days before she died confirming that she'd be made a dame," brother Roy Williams said. "Which was very nice but it was very sad that she didn't last long enough to have her public acknowledgement of it."

Orders cannot be made for people who have died, but because she received the letter before her death and - crucially - had accepted the honour, the award stands.

Winning Olympic gold was her greatest sporting achievement, but it wasn't her last, breaking a World Record two years later among a range of national athletics titles.

Even after she swapped the track and field for family, athletics remained a big part of her life, founding the Pakuranga Athletics Club, teaching PE for 14 years and sitting on a number of athletics boards.

Her family say while delighted to get the top honour, she may not have been so keen on the title of Dame.  

"I'm not sure, she was a very understated and very modest type person," said Williams. "But at the same time the fact that it was the ultimate royal honour, she'd have been very, very excited about that."  

Her family will accept the honour at a ceremony in Auckland in August on her behalf.


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