'Satch' the survivor wins top job

By Audrey Young

Anand Satyanand almost didn't make it to Governor-General and he has the scars to show it.

Four years ago he and his wife, Susan, were involved in a road smash in Dome Valley north of Warkworth that resulted in serious spinal injury.

An oncoming car crossed the centre line and the resulting crash broke his C2 and C3 vertebrae - "the vertebrae that deal with the question of turning", he says somewhat formally.

For months his head was bolted into what is called halo traction to keep it still, an arresting sight for those he encountered as he went about his daily work as an ombudsman.

"It's like having a derrick around your head," he said yesterday.

And he points to the depressions visible just about his eyebrows where the screws were removed once he had healed.

In a little over five years, the country may judge just how lucky it was that Mr Satyanand survived that accident.

By then he will be completing his term as New Zealand's next Governor-General, having succeeded Dame Silvia Cartwright.

By then it will be clear whether he has overstepped his reserve powers to sack the Government, whether he acquired a plummy accent, or whether he has kept his down-to-Earth approach and humour that friends and acquaintances referred to yesterday as one of his most outstanding qualities.

His nickname is "Satch", an easy refuge for those who can't get their tongues around Anand (rhymes with "almond") Satyanand.

Mr Satyanand is an Indo-Fijian Catholic - "a 'most-but-not-every-Sunday' Catholic," as he describes himself.

Aged 61, he was born and raised in Auckland where he went to Richmond Rd Primary in Ponsonby and Sacred Heart College in Glen Innes.

Mr Satyanand's grandparents migrated from India to Fiji at the turn to the 20th century and his father and mother later made New Zealand their home.

His mother, Tara, is still alive, aged 88, but his doctor father, Mutyala, died in 2002.

Mr Satyanand graduated from the University of Auckland in 1970 with a law degree.

He and former Prime Minister David Lange both worked in the Westfield freezing works near Otahuhu for holiday jobs when they were law students, and remained friends.

Mr Satyanand spent 12 years practising law in Auckland with both the Crown Solicitor's Office and as a partner in Shieff Angland. He became a district court judge in 1982 and in 1995 was made an ombudsman, a job from which he retired last year after serving two five-year terms.

He is now the registrar of pecuniary interests of members of Parliament and chairman of the confidential forum for former in-patients of psychiatric hospitals.

After yesterday's announcement, Mr Satyanand gave interviews in the non-partisan parliamentary suite occupied by another old law school friend, the Speaker of the House, Margaret Wilson.

They and Mr Lange were part of a crop of high-achieving contemporaries that included Chief Justice Sian Elias, former National leader Jim McLay, former Justice Minister Sir Douglas Graham and National MP Dr Richard Worth. "Winston Peters was slightly behind us," said Mr Satyanand.

He sits neatly on the Speaker's sofa, with his wife beside him.

The pair have three adult children and "they are very proud of their dad", Mrs Satyanand says like a mother.

Her husband's down-to-Earth approach and humour are being kept in reserve on this special day. Instead he exhibits the formality and care of expression for which judges and ombudsmen are trained. His description of how he got the job sounds rather like he is delivering a judgment.

"I received a request to go and speak with the Prime Minister with which I complied about three days afterwards because I was in Whakatane when the call came.

"I went and saw the Prime Minister [on February 20] thinking that I was going to speak about either one of two things - the MPs' pecuniary interests or the forum for former in-patients of psychiatric hospitals - and could not have been more astonished when she said she had the authority of a Cabinet decision to ask me to consider becoming the Governor-General."

Asked if there was anything unusual about her husband, Mrs Satyanand could offer nothing.

The judge helps out: "I have a harmless liking for elephant ties," he says, showing off the one around his neck.

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