New Families Commissioner Christine Rankin is facing fresh criticism after revelations she married a Wellington man just months after his previous wife took her own life.
Close friends and colleagues of Margo McAuley, 42, who died last October, say they are appalled at the circumstances of Rankin's recent, fourth marriage and her Cabinet appointment to the Families Commission.
One friend said last night that McAuley had texted her 12 days before her death, saying her husband was considering leaving her.
The friend said it was insensitive for McAuley's husband and Rankin to marry shortly after her death.
The Herald on Sunday has learned that Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett was told about McAuley's death before the decision to appoint Rankin. Bennett refuses to comment.
McAuley, one of New Zealand's top-performing real estate agents, took her own life on October 29.
She was married to Kim MacIntyre, who married Rankin less than six months after his wife's funeral.
"The simple answer to this Christine Rankin situation is surely, surely the judgment shown has been appalling, hasn't it?" said McAuley's former boss, Tommy Hepinstall of Wellington firm Tommy's Real Estate.
"If I died tomorrow I would hope my wife would remarry but for someone to marry someone after such a horrific death that Margo had, in such a short period of time... you have to wonder.
"Surely, surely anyone with a little bit of compassion for family, for work colleagues for anybody - I cannot believe that someone who is going to be [a senior member] of a thing called the Families Commission could make such a poor judgment call on families."
As a family commissioner, Rankin will provide leadership for the Government agency responsible for promoting and strengthening the values and importance of families.
Another close friend of McAuley believes her friend was battling many issues in her life, including some in her relationship.
The woman said she had received a text from McAuley 12 days before her death, which said: "I am struggling at the moment, Kim has told me he is thinking of leaving. He is going away for Labour Weekend to make his final decision so I am a bit shattered at the mo."
She said McAuley's family - she was one of 10 siblings but had no children of her own - had been distressed and angry after her death.
The woman questioned Rankin's appointment.
"How could someone so insensitive be appointed to such a sensitive position? It makes a mockery of the Families Commission and to all those who love Margo."
She said McAuley, MacIntyre and Rankin had all become friends - it is understood McAuley met Rankin when she was selling her house.
"I knew Kim because he was a friend, too, of course," said the woman. "I feel very strange now especially when I see them together and they start holding hands - it's weird."
An angry MacIntyre said last night that the couple's relationship had nothing to do with Rankin's role.
"I am surprised so many people in this country can be so nasty. I'm a decent bloke and Christine is the most wonderful woman and she is a decent woman, so many people do not know the truth."
Rankin would say little last night. "It's been [a] bloody awful [week] in some ways and, you know, in other ways this is what happens when you say what you think and you go out there and stir things up."
It is understood Government ministers were aware of issues related to McAuley's death and it is believed this is what prompted a heated discussion at Cabinet last Monday after Rankin's appointment was revealed.
Debate has been raging on internet sites about whether Rankin's personal life has any relevance to her appointment as a commissioner.
A spokesman for John Key said last night that the Prime Minister would not comment on issues around Rankin's appointment.
He refused to explain why the media blackout was in place.
A spokeswoman for Bennett said the minister had "no comment to make on Ms Rankin's personal life".
Revenue Minister Peter Dunne has opposed Rankin's appointment since he was first told it was a possibility in March. He said he had also heard stories about McAuley's death.
Before even considering the McAuley situation, Dunne said there were many other obvious reasons why Rankin was unsuitable to be a Families Commissioner.
Hepinstall confirmed stories had been swirling around the capital.
"The poor girl died a horrific death. If she was here now she would be absolutely devastated with what's happened.
"But I believe there isn't just one thing that kills anyone. Much as I disapprove of the behaviour after her death, I don't believe it was the one and only thing that killed her, that's my opinion."
He did not believe John Key or the Cabinet understood the background. "I mean I quite like the fact that Christine Rankin is out there, she's brave and bold but sometimes you have to look at it and go 'Okay, maybe this is not right'."
McAuley and MacIntyre had been together about 10 years and married in 2007.
"Margo was absolutely, unbelievably successful. She was charismatic, she was energised, she was a worker, she had a wonderful work ethic. I mean all those great qualities and now she is dead, it is beyond belief really."