Judy Bai­ley

Rosie Horton is New Zealand’s char­ity queen, help­ing to raise mil­lions of dol­lars for breast can­cer and Star­ship chil­dren’s hospi­tal. But Judy Bai­ley finds there is so much more to this inim­itable Dame.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

meets char­ity queen Rosie Horton

Kind­ness is fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant to Rosie Horton. In a world where it of­ten seems in short sup­ply, Rosie has made it her busi­ness to cham­pion kind­ness – in fact, she’s made it her life’s work. “Peo­ple can be so in­tol­er­ant, rude and dis­re­spect­ful. I find it so dis­tress­ing,” she tells me. “As long as my grand­chil­dren grow up to be kind, I’ll prob­a­bly achieve my great­est re­ward.”

She has five grand­chil­dren and is thrilled that one at­tends a school with a ded­i­cated ethics depart­ment. “I’d like to see an ethics depart­ment in every school,” she says.

Dame Rose­mary Horton, or Rosie, as she prefers to be known, is the doyenne of New Zealand’s char­i­ta­ble fundrais­ers. She was the found­ing chair of the Star­ship Foun­da­tion, the or­gan­i­sa­tion that raises mil­lions for the chil­dren’s hospi­tal. She was also the found­ing chair of the Breast Can­cer Foun­da­tion. They are two of the jug­ger­nauts of New Zealand’s crowded char­ity sec­tor and that they are jug­ger­nauts is largely thanks to her. She counts among her men­tors, Sir Ralph Nor­ris, for­merly head of the ASB Bank; Auck­land busi­ness­man, Sir Colin Gil­trap; for­mer Governor Gen­eral, Dame Cather­ine Tizard; and the late Sir Dou­glas My­ers.

“They’ve all given me ter­rif­i­cally good ad­vice,” she says. They’re a for­mi­da­ble line-up, but then Rosie is a mas­ter at net­work­ing.

Rose­mary Horton was cre­ated a Dame six years ago, in recog­ni­tion of her 40 years of de­vo­tion to char­ity work. She’s a lit­tle torn about the “Dame” thing. “Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand it,” she says. “When I was check­ing in at the air­port a while ago, as I of­ten do, my book­ing said ‘Horton,

Dame Rose­mary’ and the flight at­ten­dant said, ‘Why have you changed your name?’”

“I haven’t,” Dame Rosie replied.

“Yes you have,” the at­ten­dant in­sisted,

“It says ‘Damey’.” She tells me this with a be­mused smile.

“My big­gest worry with it (the hon­our) was that it would change my life, and it has to a cer­tain ex­tent.”

It has opened doors to more fun­ders but it has also, she says, set up a bit of a bar­rier with some peo­ple. Still, she is proud of it but ex­cep­tion­ally sad that her par­ents were not alive to see it.

Rosie is not one to be putting on airs. She is warm, down-to-earth and ap­proach­able, al­ways ready to roll up her sleeves for a good cause, al­ways happy to help if she can. And yes, she does find it hard to say no. “When you’ve been in the game as long as I have you owe a lot of peo­ple a lot of favours. It’s very dif­fi­cult to turn those peo­ple down.”

Rosie lives in a beau­ti­ful old two-storey villa with a per­fectly man­i­cured, ex­pan­sive gar­den in Auck­land’s leafy Re­muera. It turns out she’s had the same gar­dener for 50 years – that’s the sort of loy­alty she en­gen­ders. We talk in the kitchen, a large, sunny room with comfy so­fas and a view of the gar­den. A big vase of dark blue and pur­ple hy­drangeas sits on the bench.

She’s well aware she lives a priv­i­leged life but she’s prag­matic about it too. She says at the end of the day, when all the trap­pings are stripped away, we are all the same. We all strug­gle with the same things, we all have “stuff” go­ing on in our lives, bur­dens to bear.

Rose­mary Horton was born in Christchurch to Olga (known as Bill) and El­lis Moon. She grew up in Ash­bur­ton with her brother, sis­ter and her sis­ter-cousin who was with the fam­ily from very young. El­lis Moon was a stock buyer for Borth­wicks meat works. Her mother stayed at home rais­ing the four chil­dren. Rosie’s was a happy child­hood. A clever re­source­ful woman,>>

My big­gest worry with the Dame hon­our was that it would change my life.

much like her daugh­ter, her mother in­stilled in Rosie the im­por­tance of kind­ness. She suc­cumbed to breast can­cer when Rosie was just 23.

“It was the most dev­as­tat­ing thing,” she tells me, still vis­i­bly sad­dened by the mem­ory. “She had kept it from the fam­ily, none of us knew, not even my fa­ther; she just kept go­ing nor­mally un­til one morn­ing our fa­ther couldn’t wake her to give her break­fast.” Her mother died soon af­ter­wards in hospi­tal. She was 49.

Out­wardly Rosie gives the im­pres­sion she is supremely con­fi­dent and out­go­ing. She has a num­ber of close friends but also a huge net­work of ac­quain­tances and has been in the fore­front of Auck­land’s so­cial scene for decades. But she is, she con­fides, quite shy. “Some days I find it quite hard. It’s a mat­ter of say­ing to your­self, ‘Well, this will be over soon.’ I just put one foot in front of the other and keep go­ing.”

It was work­ing in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment that brought about a quan­tum change in Rosie’s life.

She had mar­ried young, in her 20s, to a much older man. They had a daugh­ter, Vic­to­ria. Her hus­band, an en­gi­neer, trav­elled a lot and, with her daugh­ter at school, Rosie spent much of her time at home alone. She was bored. Her hus­band wasn’t keen on her go­ing out to work. She would play end­less games of bridge. Then, one day, while she was play­ing cards with friends, her neigh­bour’s hus­band walked in and said, “You women are a dis­grace, why don’t you go out and get a job?”

That was all the en­cour­age­ment Rosie needed. She found one the very next day in the li­brary at UEB, one of New Zealand’s lead­ing cor­po­ra­tions in the 1960s and 70s. She had no qual­i­fi­ca­tions. They asked her what she knew about li­braries and she told them in her inim­itable way,

“Noth­ing much, but I can make ter­ri­bly good cof­fee and I will be good at find­ing out any­thing.”

She re­mem­bers UEB as thor­oughly male dom­i­nated and not a sup­port­ive work­place.

“Peo­ple thought I was a joke, an up­start.” She re­ceived hate mail, ac­cus­ing her of tak­ing jobs from men, say­ing women shouldn’t be work­ing. Such were the so­cial at­ti­tudes of the day – a woman’s place was in the home.

“I couldn’t type, so they sent me to typ­ing school. Then Ger­maine Greer came to New Zealand. I was told, ‘We have to send a to­ken woman,’ (to hear Greer speak).‘You can be our to­ken woman.’

“What a rev­e­la­tion it was!” she tells me, her eyes wide with en­thu­si­asm. “I rushed home and burnt my bras! Of course the very next day I went to Smith and Caughey’s and bought new ones,” she smiles. But Greer’s visit was a light­bulb mo­ment for her.

“I’m not an ag­gres­sive fem­i­nist, but I thought now I know how I’m go­ing to man­age this job. As long as I’m hon­est, kind and re­spect­ful and have in­tegrity.

“I learnt to think out­side the square, plan ahead, plan my goals and how I was go­ing to achieve them.

I learnt how to run a depart­ment, how to em­ploy peo­ple, ne­go­ti­ate. It’s a sin­gu­lar dis­ap­point­ment, though, that they never gave me a rise. I was a woman, there­fore my hus­band could af­ford to ‘keep’ me,” she tells me rue­fully.

She went on to com­put­erise UEB’s li­brary and lec­tured on the sub­ject at univer­sity. “It just shows what you can do with­out a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion,” she says, although she’s quick to say the one thing she feels she can do for her grand­chil­dren is to make sure they have the chance to at­tend univer­sity. “I want them to be prop­erly ed­u­cated to cope with the in­tri­ca­cies of mod­ern life. I want to pre­pare them for train­ing, re­train­ing and re­train­ing.”

She met her sec­ond hus­band, the for­mer owner of The New Zealand Herald, Michael Horton, at work. He was a client.

Their day al­ways be­gins with a rit­ual morn­ing cof­fee up the road. With both of them so busy, it’s some­thing they make an ef­fort to do each morn­ing. “Some­times I feel like I need to make an ap­point­ment to see him,” she laughs. “If we don’t have cof­fee to­gether, there’s some­thing miss­ing, it’s not a good day!” (Michael is cur­rently work­ing on a his­tory based on the di­aries of one of Auck­land’s found­ing fa­thers, Sir John Lo­gan Camp­bell.)

Theirs is a love match – they’ve been to­gether for 35 years. “He’s the love of my life,” she tells me. “He’s my great­est men­tor. He is in­tel­li­gent,

Peo­ple thought I was a joke, an up­start.

thought­ful and an­a­lyt­i­cal.” It’s the sec­ond mar­riage for both of them and Rosie says he keeps her grounded.

She is, she ad­mits, emo­tion­ally in­vested in the work she does and some­times all that emo­tion comes bub­bling to the sur­face. “Some­times when I make speeches, I cry, and peo­ple are hor­ri­fied.” But she re­ally con­nects with those she’s help­ing, and shows great em­pa­thy to­wards them.

Loy­alty is high on Rosie’s list of pri­or­i­ties. “I’m al­ways loyal to the com­pa­nies that sup­port me. Fundrais­ing is a two-way street – you have to re­mem­ber what donors want and ex­pect. They can trust me. They know I won’t make out­ra­geous state­ments and em­bar­rass them.”

She tells me that one of the keys to run­ning a suc­cess­ful fundrais­ing event is to have a cri­sis plan in place for when things turn pear-shaped, which does hap­pen. “You wouldn’t be­lieve how of­ten they’re used,” Rosie says.

She’s not a great be­liever in dwelling on past events. “I take note of yes­ter­day, but once some­thing’s fin­ished I move on. I deal with today and to­mor­row.”

She’s mod­est about her achieve­ments too. “I’m only an ideas per­son; I sur­round my­self with clever peo­ple. Many of them are fan­tas­tic busi­ness­women. I’ve learnt so much from them. My role is cheer­leader of a team.”

Much of Rosie’s time is now taken with men­tor­ing char­i­ties. “I never tell them what to do. I lis­ten and ask ques­tions. It’s all about hard work. There are no short cuts – you have to put in the ground­work and have all your ducks in a row,” she says firmly.

She is con­cerned, though, about the bal­loon­ing char­i­ta­ble sec­tor. “There is a ridicu­lous num­ber of char­i­ties in New Zealand [more than 27,000 reg­is­tered at last count]. For in­stance, there are too many breast can­cer char­i­ties. The Char­i­ties Com­mis­sion has an obli­ga­tion to bro­ker agree­ments be­tween like char­i­ties, to avoid du­pli­ca­tion of re­sources.”

She be­lieves we are in dan­ger of char­ity over­load.

Right now she’s look­ing for­ward to a trip to Aus­tralia, where she and Michael will meet up with the Abo­rig­i­nal artists they’ve been sup­port­ing. They have an ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of works – about 300 – all of which the cou­ple are to do­nate to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Syd­ney.

The art­works,

Rosie says, were “bought for love, not to sell”. They have been her ob­ses­sion for many years. “I want them to be re­mem­bered – these fan­tas­tic peo­ple and the way they live in the out­back. Their work is out­stand­ing.”

She hopes one day to have an apart­ment op­po­site the gallery, so she can pop in from time to time to visit these trea­sures.

And she will, of course, con­tinue to give back – both as a pa­tron of nu­mer­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions and as a men­tor to oth­ers, giv­ing will­ingly of her time and her wealth of knowl­edge.

I’m only an ideas per­son…

ABOVE: Rosie with her hus­band and “great­est men­tor”, Michael Horton.

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