Saturday, 04 April 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Former MP Jeanette Fitzsimons - goodbye to a loved leader

A tribute from Green Party colleague and friend, Catherine Delahunty.

I am still struggling to believe that Jeanette Fitzsimons has gone - my neighbour, my friend and political leader. I know I am far from alone in this feeling. All over this country people are grieving and remembering this wonderful woman.

However, she is especially mourned here on the Coromandel Peninsula and in the Kauaeranga Valley where we feel her loss in a daily sense. We should have expected something, her health had been a struggle over the last few years and she was looking increasing fragile. However, when the spirit is resolute and tenacious it’s hard to imagine that, in one night, that person can pass away.

My mind replays all our history and conversations of recent times, how she and her husband, Harry, came to Auckland to see the play I was performing with my sister on 27 February and how lovely she looked that night, as gracious and present as always. Recently we had been meeting at the Monday yoga class where she was finding it harder and harder but, being Jeanette, she never gave up. She never stopped working on the farm, cutting wood with the chain saw, working with the stock and the trees, she was a dedicated organic farmer as much as she was a consummate political leader.

Some people give a great deal to public life in their country and then retire, but that was never an option for a Green leader of her calibre in this time of deep crisis on our planet. Jeanette was a lifelong activist and committed to a number of groups and projects, her passion for clean energy and other climate solutions would never diminish. She was also a mentor to so many people, locally and nationally, so capable, so dignified and deeply generous to the next generation of earth warriors and thinkers.

There will be national memorials and events to give thanks for her life. There will be many expressions of love and hopefully some real analysis of her political and personal legacy. A person of this iconic status and influence belongs to so many people for the good they have done. But it’s important to remember that she was our Coromandel MP, from 1999 to 2002, and was always working for the betterment of our local world. Jeanette fiercely defended our Thames Hospital, she worked on housing insulation projects, she was a stalwart of the local climate groups and the natural burial group which led to the creation of the natural burial cemetery where she rests. She was a familiar face at the Grahamstown market, selling hot chestnuts from the farm in winter and catching up with the many people she knew and continued to inspire.

Jeanette and Harry were united in their values and practices, their love of the farm and the river, both of them built the Green Party to be a Parliamentary force and both always supported the community efforts to protect our beautiful home from exploitation. They were a marriage of true minds. Her grandchildren loved the farm holidays and the grandmother who gave them her time, adventures and her wisdom. We would always see her swimming in our river long after mid-summer in between the phone conferences and the policy papers and milking the cow.

I had the privilege of sharing a house with Jeanette for the first year I was in Parliament, we walked home every night after the House talking over the struggles and opportunities. I find it ironic how her impeccable behaviour and principle is now lauded when, in Parliament, it was often ignored by those immersed in their own power games. I think she offered a standard of leadership that is rare and inspirational, and she could negotiate the heck out of any opportunity to advance justice and the protection of earth.

I envied her serenity in Parliament which came from a strong and very cerebral analysis of any situation.

There is so much I could say about Jeanette’s political contribution but at this moment of loss it’s more personal. I loved how bored she was by dressing up and wearing makeup for the media, I loved how kind she was to lost strangers at political functions, I loved her love for playing classical music and her pride in her son who is a professional musician - and indeed all her children. We will miss her everywhere.

Rest in peace hard worker and brave leader of all that is good. May we take on the challenge of your vision and face the unpalatable message you stood for, there are limits to growth on a finite planet, we have exceeded them, and it’s possible to make change peacefully with a determined grace.

Former MP for Coromandel and Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons passed away on Thursday, 5 March as a result of a stroke. Beloved wife of Harry Parke, mother to Mark, Jeremy, Christopher, David and Rhian and her mokopuna - a celebration of Jeanette’s life took place at the Kauaeranga Valley Hall on Sunday, 8 March.

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