True trailblazer for women: Aucklands first female mayor and NZs first female Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard dies at 90

Auckland’s first female mayor and New Zealand’s first female Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard has died, aged 90.

In a statement on Sunday night, the family said their “beloved Cath” passed away after a long illness “at home with family around her, as she wished”.

“She was a woman of amazing energy, intelligence and warmth. She had a long and distinguished life of public service. She was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother; and a confidante, mentor and friend to many more. We will miss her more than we can ever say.

“In the current circumstances, we cannot and would not ask others to join us to farewell her. She had wanted a private cremation, and as she was both a scientist and a good citizen, so it will be.We hope to arrange some way to honour her memory in public, in future.

“We are grateful to all her friends, and to our extended family, and to the carers, especially her GP, who have also supported and loved her over the years.”

Tizard paved the way for New Zealand women by smashing through several glass ceilings during her career in local body politics.

During her long time in public office, she was both the Mayor of Auckland City (1983-90) and the 16th Governor-General of New Zealand (1990-96) – in the process becoming the first woman to hold both posts.

A year after becoming Auckland’s first female mayor she was made a dame. She remained mayor until 1990, during which time she was one of the driving forces in Auckland gaining hosting rights for that year’s Commonwealth Games. She was also instrumental in the development of the Aotea Centre.

Tizard took office as Governor-General in late 1990, becoming the third female Governor-General in the Commonwealth’s history.

In 2002 she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand.

She had previously published her memoir, Cat Amongst the Pigeons, and had also spoken about how her political skills were based on being “sensible and cheerful and not bearing grudges”.

Prior to chasing a career in local body politics, she completed a degree in zoology and also taught at Auckland University. She was also a long-time panellist on popular TVNZ chat show Beauty and the Beast.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was deeply saddened by Tizard’s death.

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

“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.

“These honours reflected her extraordinary life of public service. 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.”

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