Former Prime Minister Helen Clark pays tribute to the late Dame Cath Tizard, who died on Sunday.

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.

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.

Dame Catherine Tizard, as Governor-General. Photo: Government House

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.

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.

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