15 Jan 2021

Ryman Healthcare Senior of the Year
Ryman Healthcare Senior of the Year

The Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year Award - Te Mātāpuputu o te Tau recognises those who have made a positive contribution to our great nation later in their life. This award gives New Zealanders of all ages the opportunity to express their appreciation and admiration for the achievements of our Senior New Zealander’s.

Meet the 10 semi-finalists.

Alison McLellan


In 1976, Alison McLellan’s life changed when her 19-year-old son sustained a severe brain injury in a car crash. As she navigated the difficult years that followed, Alison McLellan joined with other parents and spouses to form the Head Injury Society in 1981 (now Brain Injury Association), a support and advocacy group. Since then, Alison has been a dedicated founding member, first Treasurer, long-time volunteer, and for the last 25 years an administrator and liaison officer for the group. Her compassion and empathy is widely known and admired and she has supported hundreds of New Zealand whanau living with brain injuries, using her lived experience of having a loved one with brain injury to guide families as their situation moves from being a clinical issue to a social and emotional one. She is also a tireless and tenacious advocate with a deep knowledge of ACC and public health services and a willingness to guide and advocate for those navigating rehabilitation and compensation. A skilled communicator and educator, Alison has facilitated many support groups, presented at national workshops and supported regional associations as they have established over the last forty years.

Desmond (Des) Smith


Des is well known in his community for not only his passion for protecting native fauna and flora, but also for decades of advocacy for the rights of same-sex couples.

Des, along with his husband John Joliff, spearheaded the campaign to give same-sex couples the first legal recognition of their relationships in New Zealand – ultimately becoming the first Kiwi couple to enter a civil union on May 1, 2005. Together they established CUBSS, the Civil Union Bill Support Society, in 2004 to generate political and community support for the parliamentary bill that split the house at the time.

Des’ neighbours describe him as ‘a tireless octogenarian,’ out and about with his wheelbarrow 365 days a year looking after plants and bush all over Ngaio – including leading a group of volunteers to take care of Bells Track up Mt. Kaukau. He is responsible for the planting of hundreds of trees in the area and is a well-known tour guide at Zealandia. He was recently named a 2020 winner at the Absolutely Positively Wellingtonian Awards.

Dr Doug Wilson


Dr Doug Wilson always dreamed of becoming a writer, but for a dyslexic kid, studying medicine seemed a more straightforward path. He went to Otago Medical School, then got a PhD from the University of London, and built an international career as a medical academic, specialising in biomedicine and pharmaceuticals. He’s studied in NZ, London, Oxford, Melbourne, New York, He was the first US and then global head of medical research for a major international pharmaceutical company. Currently 83 years old, he has never retired and is on the board of AFT Pharmaceuticals, and clinical advisory committees for Ryman Healthcare. He is a skilled science communicator and a leading expert on ageing; he produces a podcast series called Ageing for Beginners, gives public lectures, writes blogs for Age Concern and makes regular appearances on Kim Hill’s Saturday Morning radio show on RNZ National. At age 70 Doug realised his long-held dream and began a new career as an author: he has now published eleven much-loved children’s books, and one for adults: a nonfiction book called Aging for Beginners.

Graham Roy Falla


For over five decades Graham Falla has made a huge contribution to the restoration and preservation of Aotearoa’s natural environment. After moving to South Auckland in the mid- 1960s he joined the Auckland Forest and Bird Branch, the South Auckland Section (later Branch) committee when it was formed in 1974, and has gone on to be its longest-serving committee member. From that early point on he set out to encourage the various botanical groups he was involved with to follow the correct botanical practice, notably eco-sourcing seeds and planting the resulting trees in areas best suited to their growth. He shares his knowledge generously and even in his late eighties is still actively involved in a number of environmental groups, seed-collecting, planting, weeding, writing submissions to local body groups, speaking to school groups and assisting children to become interested in native flora. Graham’s expertise and botanical knowledge has been a driving force behind revegetation of many Auckland areas including Totara Park, Olive Davis Reserve, the Maketu Pā Historic Reserve and Mangemangeroa Reserve. Graham was awarded by the Forest and Bird with an Old Blue in 1999 and the Golden Spade in 2016.

As well as his botanical interest he is an accomplished cellist who aside from his main career teaching History and English has taught individual cello students and led school orchestras and still performs in Auckland orchestras and chamber music groups.

Haare Williams


Since childhood, Haare Williams (Dr) has straddled te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā, witnessing and playing a part in the changing shape of Māoridom in the twentieth century. Haare initially trained as a teacher but went on to have a long, varied and distinguished career in a range of fields. He was a broadcaster at the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and Radio New Zealand, general manager of Aotearoa Radio, and worked with the South Seas Film and Television School to train te reo speakers for film and television. A skilled educator, he taught in schools and later became the Dean of Māori Education and advisor to the Chief Executive of Unitec. He was also a city councillor, a kaumatua and tikanga advisor for mayors of Auckland and Manukau, and a senior vice-president of the New Zealand Labour Party. He has published poetry, exhibited paintings, written for film and television, and helped establish the Papakura Marae in the 1970s. Haare has received numerous accolades, including an honorary doctorate from Unitec, and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2018 and a Companion of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Jacqueline Grant, ONZM


Jacqueline (Jacquie) Grant’s influence has been wide-reaching: she has been an ONZM, active community member, an innovative businesswoman, and a national human rights leader. As a former member of the Grey District Council, she has contributed to a range of community and charitable causes on the West Coast, from fighting for trans rights, leading a community project to relocate the Historic Pioneer Statue, and raising $75,000 to purchase Christmas lights for Hokitika. She was treasurer and a founding member of the Chrissy Witoko Memorial Trust which alleviates hardship caused by illness or death in the Wellington gay and transgender community, was the first transgender member of the Human Rights Review Tribunal, and her services have been recognised by a New Zealand Order of Merit. Jacquie also invented the ultimate circular sock knitting machine—which gained worldwide notoriety—and runs Sock World store, library and museum. Beyond these accomplishments, Jacquie has fostered more than 75 young people and remains involved as a ‘foster nan’ to many of the children of those she previously cared for. Additionally, she spent nine years as a member of the human rights review tribunal and was the West Coast community representative on the WINZ benefit review panel for 13 years.

Alexandra Mary Raine (Lexie) Matheson, ONZM


When Lexie Matheson was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2016 it was an acknowledgement of more than thirty years of dedication to LGBTQ+ activism, education, sport and performing arts in Aotearoa. She is a senior lecturer in event management at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and is known internationally as an influential transgender and human rights activist. She has campaigned relentlessly to ensure transgender athletes can compete at all levels in sport, and was the first transgender woman to compete at a World Goju Ryu Karate Federation Championships in 2017. She has also managed New Zealand archery teams at world cup events and is chair of Archery New Zealand. Her advocacy work is wide-reaching and includes being a board member of Genderbridge and Karate Auckland, a founding member and chair of Auckland Pride, and a member of Auckland Council’s Rainbow Communities Advisory Panel. At AUT she has been a member of the Diversity Caucus and regularly lectures on human rights and gender identity to nursing, journalism and psychology students. Lexie receives many accolades and sees them all as opportunities to continue to campaign for the explicit protection of gender identity under the Human Rights Act 1993.

Nigel Hampton, QC, CNZM


Primarily a criminal lawyer with more than five decades of experience, Nigel Hampton has been involved with many high-profile New Zealand court cases, including more recently in relation to the Pike River mine disaster and the collapse of the CTV building in Christchurch. However, his career and achievements are incredibly diverse: he has been chair of the New Zealand Law Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal, was the first Disciplinary Commissioner of Counsel at the International Criminal Court at The Hague (and currently chairs that Court’s Disciplinary Tribunal for counsel) and Chief Justice of the Kingdom of Tonga. He’s also a judicial officer for World Rugby, SANZAAR and New Zealand Rugby, on the boards of charitable bodies including KidsCan, and is New Zealand patron of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Alongside Andrew Little, he worked for years to establish the Criminal Cases Review Commission, to redefine the way possible miscarriages of justice are identified and investigated, and he’s also the patron and longstanding board member of the Okains Bay Māori and Colonial Museum. His numerous accolades include Queen’s Counsel, Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Robert Tuahuru Edwards


Robert Tuahuru Edwards is a farmer, director, entrepreneur and leader who has spent his life serving his iwi, community and region. In 2000, after decades working around the Bay of Plenty, Robert returned to Ōpōtiki, becoming chairman of his local hapū and eventually of his iwi, Te Whakatōhea, which he led through fifteen years of economic growth by progressing and remodelling the iwi’s dairy strategy, purchasing more land, negotiating joint ventures with local and regional businesses, and progressing the return of the iwi fisheries settlement in order to grow the iwi’s asset base. Alongside the mayor of Ōpōtiki, Robert helped transform the town into a bustling aquaculture industry; many locals are now employed in a thriving mussel-farming industry in the area, and in 2018, Whakatohea Māori Trust Board won the Horizon Business Excellence award for economic development. Robert is a great nurturer of the next generation, passing on his knowledge of marae and iwi history and mentoring aspiring directors and trustees as they work towards joining company boards. He is also supportive of local social and health campaigns and has participated in various mental health awareness days.

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