Wilde achievements

●MP for Wellington Central 1981-92

●Labour's junior Parliamentary Whip 1984-87; Minister of Tourism, Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Associate Minister of External Relations and Trade during 1987-1990 term; Labour spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Tourism 1990-92

●Successfully sponsored Homosexual Law Reform and Adult Adoption Information Bills in 1985


●First woman Mayor of Wellington 1992-95; pushed for development of Westpac Stadium, waterfront, city wastewater plant and renewal of core infrastructure (water and wastewater pipes); founded Tourism Wellington and introduced "Absolutely Positively Wellington" brand

●Chief executive New Zealand Trade Development Board 1997 to February 2003; leading a focus on efficiency and client satisfaction

●Chairperson of Greater Wellington Regional Council 2007-15; campaigned for a start of the Transmission Gully motorway (now being completed)

●Helped develop new-look Wellington Regional Policy Statement and initiated Te Upoko Taiao Natural Resource Plan Committee, a 50/50 partnership with regional iwi

●Chaired 2013 Ministerial Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Infrastructure

●New Zealand representative on APEC Business Advisory Committee for three years

●Chaired NZ Digital Development Council and Business Capability Partnership; director of Business Mentors NZ

●Chaired Regional Rights Resource Team (a human rights programme of the Pacific Community, established 1995 with funding from UK's International Development department)


●Chief Crown Negotiator for three Treaty of Waitangi claims, the latest one with Moriori (Chatham Islands)

●Previous boards as Chair — Housing New Zealand, NZ Food Safety Advisory Board, Wellington Waterfront, Wellington on a Plate, NZ International Arts Festival, Unicef NZ

●Previous boards as director: NZ Transport Agency, Natural Gas Corporation, The Lion Foundation, Brierley Investments, Humanware, NZ School of Music, Transit NZ

● Chair of Te Papa Tongarewa national museum, Remuneration Authority, Wellington's resilience planning group Lifelines, and KiwiCanDo initiative to place young people in construction industry; deputy chair Capital Coast District Health Board; director of Frequency, a specialist advisory and management consultancy

●BA in political science from Victoria University and started her career as a journalist

●Awarded New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal in 1993; appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order in 1996, a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2012 New Year Honours for services to local body affairs and the community, and became Dame Companion in 2017 for services to the State and the community

See more stories in the Deloitte 200/Dynamic Business series

With new Lange cabinet members in 1984.
With new Lange cabinet members in 1984.

In a colourful political and business career, Dame Fran Wilde displayed an unrelenting attitude to getting things done and making a difference.

Wilde, the former Labour Cabinet Minister and Wellington Mayor, couldn't be pigeonholed. She fought for an improvement in social wellbeing and she pushed for development of much-needed infrastructure. She wanted to improve the country's tourism image.

She saw opportunities — taking on tough issues — rather than carrying out an engrained personal agenda. Wilde was passionate and energetic, and she wanted to make her hometown Wellington and the country a better place.

"Her big ideas didn't always succeed. Her drive for local government reform in the Wellington region is a case in point.

Wilde once said: "I've never had the motivation to end up the Prime Minister or anything for the sake of it. I just do stuff that needs to be done."

Her varied work and accomplishments were rewarded when she was named the NZ Herald Premium Visionary Leader in the Deloitte Top 200 awards last night.

Judge Dame Alison Paterson said Wilde was a remarkable woman. "She's strategic and clear-sighted, she is highly intelligent and motivated to do things for her community which is Wellington. She has succeeded at a whole variety of levels — political, national, local body and governance. She is not self-interested and doesn't do everything for money.

"She does things that are worthwhile. She sees opportunities that are good for the country and the community and is prepared to invest time and effort to help out, paid or unpaid.

"Fran is nowhere near retirement — she is still very active (she's chair of Te Papa) and New Zealand and Wellington is lucky to have someone with so much energy."

Paterson said Wilde had contributed substantially to the nation over a long period and her damehood (in 2017) was late in coming.

"I think the totality of her contribution over four decades has been under-rated and it's great to celebrate Fran who has been a visionary and hasn't been truly acknowledged.

"She has been absolutely instrumental in leading the country's course with her tremendous vision, bold leadership and proven ability to get things done."

Congratulations after the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986.
Congratulations after the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986.

Wilde, who started her career as a journalist and became the MP for Wellington Central from 1981 to 1992, shot to national prominence when in 1985 she introduced her private member's bill to reform and decriminalise New Zealand's homosexual law.

The move ignited 16 months of fiery debate. She had hate mail and death threats. Wilde recalled: "The opposition to it was rabid. There were demonstrations on the street, there were rallies, they preached from church pulpits. There were letters — I had thousands of letters — and I replied to every single last one of them."

On the night of July 9, 1986, the public gallery of the House of Parliament was packed with pro-bill supporters and an anti-bill vigil was held outside as the MPs prepared to cast their conscience vote.

An 800,000-signature petition had been presented against the bill and the atmosphere in the House was tense as no one was sure of the outcome. The bill passed its final reading 49 votes to 44 and the Homosexual Law Reform Act came into effect on August 8, 1986.

The act decriminalised sexual relations between men aged 16 and over. No longer would men having consensual sex with each other be liable to prosecution and imprisonment.

Wilde justifiably felt a great sense of achievement in ridding the country of a cruel injustice. The reform movement pricked the issue of social discrimination.

The homosexual act was passed without the section to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation but that change was achieved in 1993 with the passing of the Human Rights Bill. In Parliament Wilde also campaigned for the recognition of rape within marriage, a nuclear-free New Zealand and successfully sponsored the Adult Adoption Information Bill that made it possible for adopted children and birth parents to contact each other.

Having adopted three children herself, Wilde thought it unfair the law blocked them from finding out more about their biological parents.

During the fourth Labour government's second term from 1987-90 Wilde was Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control — a tricky post given the party's nuclear free stance — and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

With women MPs after an anti-abortion bill is voted down in 1983.
With women MPs after an anti-abortion bill is voted down in 1983.

She was also Minister of Tourism putting together a ground-breaking (for the time) marketing joint venture between the government and the large sector operators — which was the foundation for New Zealand's modern tourism campaigns.

She moved money within the portfolio to do something about the dismal service in the tourism sector and KiwiHost was born.

Changing face of Wellington

Wilde left Parliament to successfully stand as the first female Mayor of Wellington — and she didn't waste any time in changing the face of the capital city and its reputation of being dull and boring.

She broke Wellington City Council's 20-year impasse on a new sewage plant and signed up the first modern public-private partnership in local government to get it built.

She made sure the first district plan under the Resource Management Act opened up the inner city for residential development and brought life to the streets, such as Courtenay Place. She declared Wellington a Peace Capital in 1993.

She championed the waterfront development and later chaired the company that delivered the award-winning designs. She pushed for planning and delivery of the regional 34,500-seat Westpac Stadium — known as the 'cake tin' — behind the railway station. The elevated access to the stadium's entrance is known as the "Fran Wilde Walk".

Wilde founded Tourism Wellington and backed it up with other initiatives that literally transformed Wellington — not only in tourism but also underpining its emergence as a thriving cultural and innovative city especially in high tech.

Wilde encouraged the council to purchase and refurbish the St James Theatre to house the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

She might have a walk dedicated to her name but the now famous "Absolutely Positively Wellington" brand can also be attributed to her. Wilde decided to have only one term as mayor, but her fingerprints are all over the city.

After handing over the mayoral chains, Wilde entered the business world and became chief executive of New Zealand Trade Development Board, leading a focus on efficiency and client satisfaction.

She won a Baldrige Business Excellence Award for her work in promoting New Zealand exports. She represented the country on the APEC Business Advisory Council with former Cabinet Minister Philip Burdon and the late Sir Douglas Myers. She also chaired the APEC Food System Committee.

Wilde maintained her interest in human rights and chaired the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) operating in the South Pacific. The human rights programme of the Pacific Community was established in Fiji in 1995.

Fighting for regional planning

Politics again called and Wilde was elected to the Wellington Regional Council in 2004, becoming chair for three years and signalling another tumultuous period.

She improved rail travel and she initiated the first regional natural resource plan in a 50/50 partnership with local iwi and supported by farmers. She championed the Transmission Gully motorway to bypass "the appalling State Highway 1 which could be taken by the sea at any time."

She regarded Transmission Gully as a critical resilience project for the region, and the new motorway is now being built.

She pushed for council amalgamation to create a Wellington Supercity and came unstuck. Like the homosexual law reform, it attracted much debate and the Local Government Commission rejected the proposal.

That decision encouraged fellow councillors to write a letter to Wilde asking her to stand down as chair — which she did at the end of June 2015. She stepped away from the regional council a year later.

Planting native trees as chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
Planting native trees as chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

In a letter to Wellingtonians published as an advertisement in the DominionPost, Wilde said: "As a strong advocate of regionwide decision-making in big issues such as infrastructure and planning, I felt it was important to fight for what I believed in, even when the odds were stacked against me. With my passion for Wellington and New Zealand undiminished, I am looking forward to life after local government. I want to continue to craft a better future for our community.

"There have been suggestions from some people that I should stay on or run for mayor. Thank you for your confidence but there is no going back, only forward to new challenges," said the former Wellingtonian of the Year.

These challenges now include chairing the Remuneration Authority; the Wellington Lifelines group, which co-ordinates infrastructure planning and investment to improve resilience against earthquakes; and the Te Papa Tongarewa national museum.

The latter has gone a full circle because as MP 25 years ago she persuaded her caucus colleagues to support the idea of a new national museum and personally negotiated a waterfront site.

Wilde has been the Chief Crown negotiator for Treaty of Waitangi claims and she has just successfully completed her third — the Moriori (Chatham Islands). She is also deputy chair of the Capital Coast District Health Board; a director of Frequency specialist advisory and management consultancy with offices in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown; and chair of KiwiCanDo. Her social conscious is operating again.

The government-funded KiwiCanDo programme offers a free training, recruitment and placement service particularly in the construction industry, which is suffering from a skills shortage.

Supported by Work and Income, the programme gets young people off the dole and into work. KiwiCanDo matches cadets with employers and stays in touch for three months — twice weekly in the first four weeks and monthly after that. The KiwCanDo courses deliver work ethic, employers' expectations of workers, importance of workplace communication and teamwork, and career pathway and qualifications.

Wilde, now 71, lives with her husband Chris Kelly, former chief executive of Landcorp, in Wellington and they spend much of their free time at their holiday home near Greytown in the Wairarapa. She is proud of her large vegetable and flower garden there.

Who knows what Dame Fran Wilde will do next? Whatever, it will be interesting — because throughout her career she has been at the forefront of national conversations as New Zealand's identity has evolved.