PROFESSOR MARGARET WILSON
Politician
1947

New Zealand's first female Speaker of Parliament

Long before she was New Zealand's first female Speaker of Parliament, former Labour Cabinet Minister Professor Margaret Wilson had planned to be a PE teacher.

Cancer put paid to that when, at the age of 16, she had a leg amputated to stop the disease from spreading.

So she pursued law, telling NZME in 2016: "There were no Paralympics for me to continue being involved with sport. I woke up one morning and decided to study law, without knowing anything about law."

Wilson, who gained her law degree from Auckland University, became the founding dean of Waikato University's School of Law in 1990, where she returned after retiring from politics in 2008 and remains.

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Wilson worked in private practice and had an extensive career in public service, including as founding member and vice president of the Auckland Women Lawyers' Association and a member of the advisory group to establish the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

As president of the Labour Party, Wilson was part of a "fax attack" in 1984 by party members on Labour cabinet ministers to ensure then-Prime Minister David Lange didn't fold on New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance.

She entered Parliament in 1999 as a Labour list MP, Wilson was immediately promoted to the Cabinet and over her political career served as Attorney-General, Minister of Labour and Treaty Negotiations Minister.

From 2005 to 2008 she was Speaker of Parliament, the first woman in its near 150-year history.

Looking back on the role in her valedictory speech in 2008, Wilson said it had given her a unique opportunity to better understand how New Zealand's form of democratic government worked.

"I have endeavoured in the role to achieve two things – make Parliament more accessible and to make the administration of Parliament transparent and efficient."

She was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit after retiring from Parliament.