Sonja Davies - 'A very great New Zealander'

By Kevin Taylor

Three of New Zealand's leading women paid tribute to a fourth, Sonja Davies, at her funeral service yesterday.

Prime Minister Helen Clark, Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright and Parliament's Speaker Margaret Wilson all spoke of their admiration for the veteran socialist, and activist on women's and peace issues.

More than 600 people attended the service at the Wellington Town Hall.

Ms Davies' coffin was carried into the hall by female friends while a choir sang Bread and Roses, a union song written during a woollen mills strike in the United States in 1912. It was also the name of her first autobiography, published in 1984.

Helen Clark told the service Ms Davies was a "very great New Zealander" who overcame huge obstacles in her life.

"She began work at 14 years of age and was married and divorced by the age of 17.

"At 22 years of age she had a young baby, was diagnosed with TB and learned that her fiance had been killed in the war.

"Later in life her husband and two children were to predecease her. Her personal courage and determination to go on and on were extraordinary attributes."

Helen Clark said Ms Davies took on the tough issues and challenges long before they were popular, such as championing women's rights.

Ms Davies also threw herself into campaigns against apartheid, nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

"It is to dedicated and determined people like Sonja all over New Zealand that we owe our country's nuclear-free status."

Ms Wilson said she had suggested Ms Davies should stand for Parliament in 1987, when the Labour Party needed leadership.

"She knew she would find it a hard environment in which to work - and she was right.

"She was a peace-loving woman who sought change through education and debate. Parliament had little respect for those qualities".

Ms Wilson said Ms Davies' presence and contribution at that time contributed greatly to the "survival and renewal" of the party.

Friend and Labour election candidate Charles Chauvel spoke of Ms Davies' admiration for the present Labour Government and its achievements.

"These were sources of constant daily joy to this woman," he said.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Carol Beaumont said the union movement had lost a good friend and loyal activist.

Ms Beaumont quoted from the conclusion of Ms Davies' second book, Marching On: "Nothing is ever too difficult to achieve. Only inertia can defeat us."

Sonja Margaret Loveday Davies

* Died, Wellington, June 14, aged 81.
* Born Upper Hutt, November 1923.
* Veteran socialist, feminist and peace activist.
* Member of the Order of New Zealand.
* Justice of the peace.
* Honorary doctor of laws, Victoria University.
* Labour MP 1987-93.

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