Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year 2020 Finalists

27 Jan 2020

Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year 2020 finalists, from left, Professor Bob Elliott, Dame Margaret June Sparrow and Lexie Matheson.
Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year 2020 finalists, from left, Professor Bob Elliott, Dame Margaret June Sparrow and Lexie Matheson.

Our judges have chosen three finalists over 70 who, through their achievement and tenacity, have made the world around them a better place.

Professor Bob Elliott

Professor Bob Elliott

Former University of Auckland child health researcher, 85-year-old Professor Bob Elliott continues his lifetime of work in child health research and his ongoing search for health innovations.

Living Cell Technologies (LCT) is developing cell-based products to treat life-threatening human diseases such as diabetes and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Professor Elliott discovered potential health links of A2 milk which resulted int e formation of the A2 Milk Corporation.

Professor Elliott (along with Dr Ron Caughey) had the foresight to know that unless we started investing specifically in child health research, New Zealand would drop further down in the OECD health rankings. In 1971, after receiving a grant from Rotary, Prof Elliott and Dr Caughey founded the Child Health Research Foundation, which is today known as Cure Kids, the largest funder of child health research outside the Government. Professor Elliott invented a treatment for a fatal form of congenital heart disease and a newborn screening test for cystic fibrosis – both of which are used to this day worldwide. Today, Cure Kids is currently funding over $10 million across 60 health research projects around New Zealand. In the past 47 years, Cure Kids has invested over $40 million towards research that has made a huge impact in areas such as sudden infant death syndrome, cot death, stillbirth, cystic fibrosis and sudden cardiac death.

Lexie Matheson

Lexie Matheson
Lexie Matheson taught in the primary and secondary education service in senior roles (principal, deputy principal, HOD, STJC) for many years before moving into the performing arts where she worked as an award-winning director, writer, actor, teacher and dramaturg in live theatre, dance, film, television and radio for three decades.

As well as working with all New Zealand's professional theatre companies and with Southern Ballet, Lexie managed Troupers Live Theatrix and Stage School and was Artistic Director of The Actors Company of Aotearoa New Zealand between 1980 and 1998. During this period a short-term contract with the Christchurch City Council morphed into nine years during which she was engaged as Inner City Promotions Manager in charge of festivals and events, Executive Officer to the Mayor and TQM Manager responsible for introducing quality management processes across the newly amalgamated councils, after which she travelled overseas to study Shakespeare production in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

Upon her return to New Zealand, Lexie took up an appointment at The University of Auckland as Business Manager of the Maidment Theatre for eight years, during which time she graduated with a Master of Creative and Performing Arts with honours majoring in arts management. In 2006 she was appointed Senior Lecturer in Event Management at Auckland University of Technology where she created the first academic degree major in event management in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Lexie is a respected theatre critic with over 200 reviews spanning 1980 to 2016, available in various traditional media and online publications.

Currently ranked Nidan (2nd dan, black belt) in Goju Ryu Okinawa Kan karate, Lexie also trains in Okinawan kobudo (weapons) and recently took up kyudo (gendai budō or 'the way of the bow').

Lexie was honoured by the Crown in the 2016 Queen's Birthday Honours List where she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to the performing arts, education and LGBTQI rights.

Lexie Matheson, who has fought for transgender equality for more than 20 years, has supported members of the community struggling against all manner of opposition. Lexie featured in Margie Thomson’s newly released book "Womankind", featuring 50 New Zealand women "making a difference" in 2019.

Dame Margaret Sparrow

Dame Margaret Sparrow.

Dame Margaret Sparrow started her career in health working at the student health centre at Victoria University of Wellington in the late 1960s. At the time, the clinic would only allow contraception to be given to married couples, so she went against the wishes of the director of the clinic and put up an information display about contraception. While working at the clinic, student demand for contraception led to her introducing the morning after pill and helping students to obtain abortions. She worked as a medical officer at Student Health until 1981. Between 1977 and 1999 she worked as a visiting venereologist at Wellington Hospital.

Margaret was the president of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand from 1975 to 1980, and again from 1984 until 2011.

She is a Director of Istar Ltd, a not-for-profit company that imports the abortion pill mifepristone from France. The pill was approved for use in 2001 and allowed women to have medical, rather than surgical, abortions for the first time.

Dame Margaret was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, for services to medicine and the community, and in 1993 she was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal. In 2002 she was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to medicine and the community, and in 2009 she accepted re-designation as a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

The family planning clinic in Wellington is named after Dame Margaret. Margaret was a keen collector of contraceptive devices, which were later donated to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. In 2015–16, Te Papa used them as the core of an exhibition on contraception.

Dame Margaret continues to publish and lead education on Family Planning for New Zealand.

Meet the 2020 Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year semi-finalists

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