Dr Judith Aitken's mail was going to her old address, so it was a call that alerted her she had been nominated for another prestigious honour.

"It's the kind of thing you don't feel worthy of," Judith said after finding out she had become a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to local government, the community and education.

The Paekākāriki resident, who started a career in teaching many years ago, has since gone on to hold many roles as a public servant including roles in local government and at the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB).

Judith has been a councillor for the Greater Wellington Regional Council from 2001 until 2016, a member of the council's Te Upoko Taiao, Environmental Wellbeing and Social and Cultural Wellbeing Committees.

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She has been the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, then a chief review officer of the Education Review Office, served on the New Zealand Teacher's Council Review and been a board member for a number of organisations and trusts.

Working in different areas from education to government to health, Judith worked in a number of governance roles making learning on the job essential to success.

"You can't make intelligent decisions unless you've got some kind of a grip on your subject," she said.

In this case it was health, having been both the deputy chair and chair during her time with the CCDHB.

"You've got to bring yourself up to speed really quickly and you have to learn on the ground.

"You've got to know something about the process of learning and teaching just as you need to know something about the process of healing and dealing with sickness and wellness."

Out of all her roles Judith has found it an honour to be able to record and observe those around her.

"Everywhere I've worked I've had the opportunity to record other people's lives, activities and work."

In her early days this meant recording what teachers do when they decided about children, what politicians did deciding what to do with money, what officials did about advice they gave and what doctors, clinicians and nurses do.

"Having a chance to observe and record that, I'm pretty lucky.

"At times I've found it very demanding and frustrating but extremely interesting and wonderful at the same time."

Judith is currently collating four oral histories, one of which is 'Women in a disabling world', focusing on six disabled women succeeding in their chosen fields, and on the history of women in public service typing pools since 1945.

"I'm enormously surprised to get this award. I am very lucky to have the strong family and schooling I have had and I always value the people who have taught me over the years, formally as well as informally."