New Zealand Woman’s Weekly
GOVERNOR GENERAL DAME PATSY REDDY REVEALS WHY SHE WAS THE RIGHT WOMAN FOR THE JOB
Taking tea with Dame Patsy
Having tea with the governor-general of New Zealand is quite the experience.
There’s the fine china, of course – a delicate teacup with a gold gilt crown on the side, served by a charming young assistant – and the impressive three-tiered stand laden with tiny sandwiches, cakes and, on the occasion of our visit, Michelle Obama’s favourite cookies (leftovers from Barack’s visit the day before).
And there’s the fact our host must be announced before appearing. “Her Excellency the Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Patsy Reddy,” an attendant proclaims as she glides into the sitting room of Government House, all poise and elegance in royal blue.
A passionate advocate of the arts (she was awarded her damehood in 2014 for services to the arts and business), she points out a few works on the wall by Kiwi artists, before picking up her cup of green tea and a slice of vegan carrot cake – she and husband Sir David Gascoigne (78) both follow plant-based diets – before settling into the sofa.
Patsy (63), a former lawyer, businesswoman, Treaty of Waitangi negotiator and company director from the tiny town of Te Akau, near Hamilton, has been the Queen’s representative in New Zealand since 2016 – and she admits when thenPrime Minister John Key asked her to do the job, she was gobsmacked. She even suggested better candidates for the role, including her husband, a prominent lawyer.
“I got this call from the prime minister’s chief of staff asking if I had time to pop in and see the PM that day,” she recalls. “I was wearing jeans! So I asked if tomorrow was okay.”
Likening the experience to going to the principal’s office, Patsy dutifully and warily went in – and the prime minister told her she’d better sit down.
“At that point, I was thinking, ‘What have I done?’ furiously going through my mind, thinking of the various jobs I did that might cause trouble! But then he said, ‘I would like you to consider becoming the governor-general.’ And I really didn’t know what to say!
“It’s not something I’d ever dreamt about, in even my wildest dreams. John told me, ‘Go home and think about it, talk to David.’ But then he said, ‘By the way, you have to realise that this is probably the best opportunity you’ll ever have to make a real contribution to your country, if that’s important to you.’ It’s hard to say no to that!”
A week later, Patsy found herself accepting the offer – after first making sure the prime minister had done his “due diligence”. “But John said, ‘It’s time we had another woman.’ I guess that was one instance where perhaps my gender assisted me.”
Indeed, Patsy’s road to Government House was littered with sexism. While she eventually became the first female partner of the law firm Watts & Patterson in 1983, she had to battle with inequality for years.
“I remember my first partners’ meeting – the senior partner of the day suggested that I go and make the coffee,” she tells. “I said no. We never did get on.”
After graduating law school in the late ’70s, Patsy couldn’t even get a look in at a firm, thanks to her gender. When she started using her initials on her resumé, she landed three job interviews. The first two, for smaller firms, didn’t go well.
‘It’s not something I’d ever dreamt about, in even my wildest dreams’
“They were completely shocked I was female,” she remembers. But the third, for a large organisation, went swimmingly.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I’m sure
I’ve done well here,’” she says. “I was really disappointed
I wasn’t successful. Some years later, I found out that when the others went to the senior partner and said, ‘Patsy is the person we want,’ he replied he wasn’t having any women in his firm.”
After teaching at Victoria University, as well as completing an OE, Patsy eventually clawed her way up the ladder and became one of New Zealand’s most respected lawyers.
Not bad for the girl from Te Akau. The eldest daughter of schoolteachers – her sister is 11 years younger – Patsy and her family moved through Waikato and Bay of Plenty a lot when she was younger. She jokes she’s been going to school since she was six weeks as her mum used to plop her in a cot at the back of the schoolhouse.
After a stint in Minginui, the Reddys settled in Hamilton when Patsy was 10. But at 17, the big smoke of Wellington called to the ambitious young woman.
“I never know what to say when people ask me where
I’m from,” she muses. “I envy Maori for having an iwi, a river, a mountain. I don’t feel particularly grounded, I just feel like a New Zealander. I guess it comes out in the rugby, though. Provincially, I always tend to favour Waikato, but I do go for the Hurricanes these days!”
Patsy says one of her aims during her five-year term is to visit every part of the country. By the sounds of her schedule, she’s made a good dent in that dream.
“Every day is different,” she says of her role. “I’ve got to the stage now, I find it really difficult to remember what’s been happening in the week.”
After realising she genuinely can’t remember, Patsy pops her tea down and scurries into her office for her diary – when she reads out engagements, it’s not hard to see why.
Monday: Staff meetings and the Executive Council meeting at Parliament.
Tuesday: A video shoot and internal meetings. Wednesday: A house call with the outgoing Thai ambassador and his wife – “lovely couple,” Patsy remarks – then a dinner to farewell the New Zealand Festival’s artistic director. On Thursday, a trip to
Auckland to meet with
Barack Obama and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and finally, today – which was supposed to be her one day off.
The next week is just as hectic with – among other appointments
– meetings with iwi, reviewing Navy fleet divisions and flying to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
So when does she breathe? Or eat?
“Well, I think the Navy are giving me lunch,” she replies matter-of-factly. “Oh, it’s a lunch in my honour! But this actually is the closest I’ve come to having one job in many years. I’ve been self-employed for 20 and you have to have a few things on the go just to make ends meet. I have huge admiration for women who juggle busy working lives and family. I didn’t have children, so I didn’t have that challenge, and I don’t know how I would have managed.”
She and David did get a few days to themselves over Easter, when they ventured to their home in Greytown in the Wairarapa for some downtime – and some precious time with their miniature poodle Coco.
“I love being at home,” Patsy says with a big smile – when she’s working, she usually divides her time between the two Government Houses in Auckland and Wellington.
“A dream day off for me is not having to get up early, maybe doing a bit of gardening. I love vegetable gardening, cooking our own meals. Everything is done for us, which is a great treat, but it’s quite nice to go to the supermarket. And then, watching a movie.
I, Tonya was fantastic! Margot Robbie should have won the Academy Award.”
With three years to go in her term before she can put her feet up and watch a few more movies, Patsy, a monarchist since she can remember, is determined to anchor New Zealand’s place within the Commonwealth, a link she feels is incredibly important.
“With the state of the world at the moment, the bonds of the Commonwealth are invaluable.”
It’s a view the Queen shares, with the two speaking at length when Patsy travelled to London to meet Her Majesty and Prince Philip in 2016.
“When David and I had lunch with her and the duke – and the corgis – they both spoke at some length of various trips they’d been on to New Zealand. She’s been here more than a dozen times, though sadly she won’t be travelling again. I write to her, keeping her up to date, as she’s said she wants to be told what’s not in the news!”
A lifelong royalist, Patsy remembers the tours of 1963 and 1970, when she watched the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne pass by Hamilton Girls’ High School in open-topped cars.
“If you grew up in the Waikato in the ’60s and ’70s, I don’t think you can help but be a royalist. I don’t know if John Key even knew that when he asked me to take on the job!”
Patsy can also remember cutting out pictures and articles about the royal family from her mother’s copy of the Weekly and pasting them into a scrapbook.
“That was how we knew about
them, that was our window into the royal family,” she tells.
“They do a remarkable job, actually. I can’t see us becoming a republic in my lifetime. But things change and if they do, that’s fine too.”
Fast-forward 50 years and Patsy still can’t quite believe it’s her job to be the royal family’s representative, but it’s one she says she’s privileged to do.
“I’m very proud to be a New Zealander,” she nods.
“I think with any job I’ve had, I’ve always wanted to do the best I could and that hasn’t changed with this role. It’s my opportunity to add some value and to help New Zealand benefit. I’m honoured.”
‘I have huge admiration for women who juggle busy working lives and family’