Tizard, Catherine (1931—)

views updated

Tizard, Catherine (1931—)

Lecturer in zoology at Auckland University who was the first woman to be elected mayor of Auckland and the first woman to be appointed governor-general of New Zealand. Name variations: Dame Cath Tizard. Born Catherine Anne Maclean on April 4, 1931; only child of Neil Maclean and Helen Maclean (both Scottish immigrants); educated at Waharoa Primary School, Matamata College, University of Auckland (BA); married Robert James Tizard, in 1951 (divorced 1983); children: Anne Francis, Linda Catherine, Judith Ngaire, Nigel Robert.

Grew up in a working-class community in New Zealand; met and became engaged to Robert (Bob) Tizard during the second year of her Arts Degree at Auckland University; married (1951) and had four children within six years; left in charge of home and family, while husband's political career flourished and he spent much of his time in Wellington (capital of New Zealand); returned to university and took courses in zoology (1961); eased herself into university teaching; took an interest in civic affairs; elected to the Auckland City Council (1971); made several television appearances and widely broadened her public-speaking experience; was elected mayor of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city—the first Labour mayor and the first woman to hold the post (1983); was re-elected twice and, during her third term of office, was offered the position of governor-general of New Zealand (1990), an appointment she held until March 1996.


Dame commander of the British Empire (DBE, 1985); Freedom of the City of London (1990); Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG, 1990); Honorary Doctorate in Law, University of Auckland (1992); Suffrage Centenary Medal (1993); Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO, 1995); Companion of the Queen's Service Order (QSO, 1996).

It was a particular source of pride to Dame Catherine Tizard to be in office as governor-general during the 1993 centenary, when New Zealand celebrated being the first nation in the world where women won the vote. She felt, as she had on several occasions over her years in public office, that she represented the achievements of women of the past, present and future both at home and throughout the world.

Having been a young mother of four children under seven with an ambitious husband working away from home, she could always sympathize with the strain and exhaustion that the "average housewife" has to cope with. She took a full part in organizing what would now be called self-help and support groups in her neighborhood, joined and ran the PTA and then, when her husband lost his seat in the 1960 elections, returned to college to complete her own degree.

Her perception of her remarkable career is mainly that it has been a series of "happy accidents." For instance, her job in the zoology department at Auckland University came about, she says, because "the students, bless their unknowing little hearts, were pressing for more internal assessment, less cramming for exams." She was the perfect choice for tutoring and demonstrating because she "didn't mind the meniality of it and needed the money."

Similarly, Tizard joined the Auckland City Council when her husband put her name down because the Labour Party needed another candidate. To her astonishment, she was elected. She continued as a councillor and university lecturer until, after an unsuccessful first attempt, she won the Auckland mayoralty in 1983, a challenge that she had set for herself when her marriage began to disintegrate. She realized she would need a new direction. Tizard built her reputation for "good-humored, sensible politics" by speaking "just plain common sense," she said, or "what someone else is dying to say but just doesn't dare to." She went on to win two more mayoral elections. Her proudest achievements during this time were the building of Auckland's Aotea Center (used for conferences, civic functions and the performing arts) and the hosting of the 1990 Commonwealth Games—both of which were fraught with political and financial difficulties.

New Zealand is a member of the British Commonwealth, and the reigning monarch of Great Britain has to have a "local" representative to perform official duties at various functions. Though tipped to become the first woman governor-general, Dame Cath (as she then liked to be known) honestly thought she was too partisan and probably too outspoken for so diplomatic a role. But she was thrilled with the appointment. "I cannot ignore the fact that it is another male bastion that is crumbling," she said. "I don't think I did it by myself, but it's nice to think that a previously held male position is now open to both sexes." She brought her boundless energy, enthusiasm and charm into what had been a somewhat remote and starchy office. "I am going to have to start being dignified from now on!," she conceded. One of the first things she did was to employ a male housekeeper and female footmen at Government House in Wellington.

"I was born averagely intelligent, averagely healthy, averagely good-looking, and into an averagely sane family," said Tizard. "In many ways I feel I have lived an ordinary, typically New Zealand life, with nothing ostentatious or remarkable about it. Yet things have come together remarkably well for me."


Material supplied by Government House, Wellington, New Zealand.

Bonnie Hurren , freelance director, actor, lecturer, Bristol, England