Deborah Coddington
Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: A triple toast to 2012's outstanding honorees

Graham Henry went from coaching future rugby greats at Auckland Grammar School to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Graham Henry went from coaching future rugby greats at Auckland Grammar School to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup. Photo / Getty Images

The New Year's Honours lists always create controversy. John Key restored knights and dames, which some hate, believing it cuts across New Zealand's egalitarian society.

But I bet those who disapprove are the first to find out who's made the cut, so they can expostulate in disgust that some crooked so-and-so has received a gong for making donations to the political party du terme, or that yet more self-promoters are being creative about their resumés.

It would be churlish, though, to begrudge any single one of the recipients their happiness, and no doubt the bubbly stocks rose when they celebrated.

Three individuals deserve particular scrutiny.

Of course, there's Sir Graham Henry, and not just for the obvious: his coaching the All Blacks to victory in the Rugby World Cup. I've long admired Henry for being, in his own words, a "prick" for speaking out against, and standing up to, the anti-competitive disaster which is the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

Henry's old school, where he once coached future rugby greats, where anti-competitive behaviour could have lost us the World Cup - the great Auckland Grammar - is loathed by NZQA, that government organisation which administers NCEA. Auckland Grammar is presided over by John Morris, one of this country's most outstanding principals and educators. Morris dumped NCEA 12 months ago; he calls it a rort. I'm pretty sure Henry would agree. I hope Morris gets a knighthood too when he retires this year.

Next, Dame Rosanne Meo, honoured for her services to business, which sounds glib. However, Meo is renowned for supporting businesswomen when it really matters; that is, not just when times are good - that's the easy part. It's when everyone makes you feel like a leper and a bell is ringing round your neck. That's when you can count on Meo to canter against the horses of respectability and stand by you at that cocktail party when all others sidle away.

Interviewed after the announcement, Dame Rosanne admitted to what few have known: she's been a single mother for decades, raising two girls and, here's the killer, unlike other women in her position, she doesn't whine about difficulties encountered as a mother and working woman. Instead, Meo relishes her dual roles and her daughters are seen as an adjunct to her work, not a hindrance.

And another reason I love her? She doesn't give a damn about telling us her real age - 65. As they say, ageing is mind over matter ... if you don't mind, it doesn't matter. She's pure-hearted and beautiful.

So to Wellington's new knight, Sir John Todd, a most private man who will hate me for this because he shuns publicity and rarely gives interviews, but Sir John must expect a little media coverage. Sir John and his wife - and his family before him - have the most extraordinary philanthropic philosophy, quite unprecedented in modern New Zealand. Sir John never goes on about it. You never see photographs of him handing over cheques, or on the social pages as a celebrity, lending his name to some cause, though his family is mostly concerned with children's charities.

Last year, for instance, the Todd Foundation gave $4.8 million in grants, but when the New Year's honours list was published last weekend, he escaped the country so he wouldn't have to talk about it. And he's no ninny. Encounter him at a private social occasion and expect your political opinions to be soundly tested, always in a courteous and rational manner.

And despite his reluctance to speak to the media, in July last year, on his retirement, he said: "Making money is not sinful, as long as you are not riding roughshod over anybody else. If you make money, there is a degree of moral responsibility to society to do what you can to help society in a reasonable way. I'm also in favour of protecting the rights of individual factions. I'm a liberal."

I really admire these New Zealanders, not just because they received honours, but because they achieved success ethically, in their own way, not by craving riches and thus respectability through the eyes of others.

- Herald on Sunday

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