Best of NZ: New Year Honours pay tribute to 196 exceptional Kiwis

Best of NZ: New Year Honours pay tribute to 196 exceptional Kiwis

By Vaimoana Tapaleao and Jacqui Stanford

Celebrations are in order for nearly 200 New Zealanders recognised for their outstanding work in this year’s New Year Honours.

They come from all walks of life and sectors of the community – from the sporting world to the arts, local government, education, health and sciences and the social issues sector.

The Warehouse founder Sir Stephen Tindall has this year’s highest honour – he is made a Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Sir Stephen oversees the Tindall Foundation and K1W1, his family’s $250 million seed and venture capital fund. The Tindall Foundation has co-ordinated efforts between non-profit agencies to address the housing affordability crisis, and its founder is exploring options to halve the cost of building a home.

Among the other notable names in this year’s honours is triple Olympic medallist Barbara Kendall, who has been made a Companion of the NZ Order of Merit.


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“To be recognised and honoured for all the work I’ve been doing over the past 14 or so years on the governance and leadership side of sport, with the IOC in and around Oceania and New Zealand is wonderful,” Kendall said.

Four other exceptional women are now Dames of the New Zealand Order of Merit and four men have been made Knights .

On learning he was being knighted, Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt said he a little surprised he’d made the cut.

“I have had a rather colourful past and I didn’t think I would qualify for such a prestigious award. But it certainly shows times are a-changing.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern paid tribute to the four new dames – former retirement commissioner Dame Diana Crossan, former Wellington mayor Dame Kerry Prendergast, filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston and distinguished professor Dame Margaret Brimble.

Ardern also acknowledged the work of our new knights, criminal justice advocate Sir Kim Workman, Shadbolt – our longest serving mayor – business leader Sir Rob McLeod and paediatrician Sir Ian Hassall, the first Commissioner for Children.

“It is a special day for every one of these 196 people receiving honours. I congratulate them all and offer my sincere thanks for their contribution.”

Our new knights and dames share their stories

Four new dames, four new knights and one grand knight have been announced today. Here’s what you need to know about them.

Dr Ian Bruce Hassall

Knight companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the welfare of children

Our inaugural Children’s Commissioner is being knighted for decades of advocacy for New Zealand’s tiniest citizens.

Sir Ian Hassall is being honoured for services to the welfare of children. The paediatrician was on a research team which helped drastically cut the cot death rate and he has also successfully campaigned to curb child drownings.

Hassall was also involved in setting up the Brainwave Trust, phone counselling service “What’s Up”, lobby group Every Child Counts and the annual Children’s Day.

He lists becoming the first Children’s Commissioner in 1989 among his proudest achievements.

“That office has enabled there to be a national voice for children.”

Hassall said his knighthood was a big encouragement. He sees it as recognition of children and their status and place in the world – rather than of him personally. He said child poverty and ill-treatment rates remained problems he wasn’t proud of, but he felt this Government was making moves in the right direction.

Robert Kinsela Workman

Knight companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to prisoner welfare and the justice sector

A longtime justice reform advocate being honoured with a knighthood says he feels hopeful as he believes we’re moving in the right direction.

Sir Kim Workman says the honour for services to prisoner welfare and justice initially left him “dumbfounded”.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all of course and it was a wonderful surprise.”

The former national director of Prison Fellowship NZ and ex Families Commissioner said he had been persistent in advocating for reform over many years. “And it’s really nice to be rewarded, not necessarily for being successful, but for being resilient and determined to see change.” Workman believes the current Government is making a real effort to engage with the public and looking at decriminalisation in a “more cohesive way”.

“At least we’re starting to have a serious discussion and I think that’s all we can ask of the Government.”

Distinguished Professor Margaret Anne Brimble

Dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to science

It would be well beyond most of us, but to Dame Margaret Brimble her work is like playing with molecular Lego. The chairwoman of organic chemistry and director of medicinal chemistry at the University of Auckland has spent her career trying to identify natural compounds that are present in our flora and fauna which have potential uses as medicines.

Eighteen years ago she and her team started working on a drug to treat traumatic brain injuries.

That drug, Trofinetide, is now in phase three human clinical trials for treatment of Rett Syndrome.

“Female babies get to about 18 months old and they start losing all their cognitive function and their motor function,” said Brimble of the condition. “It’s a dreadful, dreadful disease. And there’s no cure for it.”

She hopes Trofinetide will win US Food and Drug Administration approval and be on the market by 2020.

“When I set off being a research chemist many years ago that was always the dream,” said Brimble.

“I wanted to work in the lab discovering new drugs. to get one to clinical trial and know that it’s going to come on the market in two years’ time is amazing.

“And what a wonderful disease to have a treatment for. A disease that affects only females and you’re a female scientist. It’s just a fantastic feeling.”

Recently she has been working on cancer vaccines, co-founded a company in the US and hoped to take the vaccines to clinical trial in the coming year. And she is far from done. Brimble says she constantly monitors the stream of new literature for chemical compounds coming out of plants and marine organisms.

Brimble describes her lab work as “molecular Lego”.

“You get the bits of Lego together and work out which bits of Lego you’re going to use and then how you’re going to piece them together to make the complicated molecule.”

It is forever stimulating, she said.

Diana Buchanan Crossan

Dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the State

Former Retirement Commissioner Dame Diana Crossan says being made a dame in the New Year Honours came “completely out of the blue”.

“I was really surprised. Very excited and surprised,” she said. “But also, when I thought about it, I was really grateful that the work in Equal Employment Opportunities and the community were being recognised.”

She was the first manager of the Equal Employment Opportunities Unit at the State Services Commission, where she helped shape legislation on fairer access to jobs for women, people with disabilities, Māori and other ethnic groups.

Getting equal employment opportunities in the State Sector Act was a fight, she said, taking careful negotiation. She was especially pleased it flowed into other legislation in sectors like health and education.

“Our rationale … was if we could get it into legislation then other people could use it. And it made it go far wider,” said Crossan.

Her inspiration to improve the system stemmed from beginning her working life as a probation officer, where she said she quickly worked out life was unfair for a lot of people.

“I had a great childhood and I was lucky with my family,” she said. “And you see that lots of people aren’t.”

But making change could be hard because people liked the status quo. And she credited the many teams she had worked with for the progress she’d overseen. “I’ve always had a good group of people who’ve been passionate and committed and really used their experience and skills to make [NZ] a better place.”

As Retirement Commissioner from 2003 to 2013, Crossan developed a national strategy for financial literacy that incorporated practical strategies such as the website and education in schools.

Her work also contributed to the development of KiwiSaver.

“Raising awareness of financial literacy has been really important.”

She has served on several charity boards, including Relationship Services and Refugee Services, and was the chief executive of Wellington Free Ambulance from 2013 to 2017.

Kerry Leigh Prendergast

Dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to governance and the community

Serving people has been a career highlight for former Wellington mayor Dame Kerry Prendergast.

This honour has made her feel “incredibly honoured, incredibly privileged, but also very humbled”.

Prendergast served three terms as mayor and chaired Tourism NZ for seven years. She now chairs the Film Commission and the Conservation Authority. Among her numerous other current roles are deputy chair of Wellington Free Ambulance, patron of Mary Potter Hospice and member of the Phoenix Football Club’s Advisory Board.

Prendergast says she feels very privileged to work with many different communities. “The arts communities, creative communities, sport and youth, environment and conservation, business, tourism – and I’ve just met so many people. And that is what is such an amazing and exciting opportunity.”

Prendergast said she wouldn’t be where she was without the help of others, including her amazing and supportive family.

Stephen Robert Tindall

Knight grand companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business, the community, and the environment

Read his story here.

Robert (Rob) Arnold McLeod

Knight companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and Māori

Read his story here.

Gaylene Mary Preston

Dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to film

Read her story here.

Timothy Richard Shadbolt

Knight companion of the New Zealander Order of Merit for services to local government and the community

Read his story here.