A special award was made in 1999 when Michael Joseph Savage was chosen New Zealander of the century.

Looking back over 100 years of newsmakers, the paper's editors concluded no one had done more to shape the country we live in today.

They cited the 14 words on the Savage Memorial - "there is no fame to rise above the crowning honour of a people's love" - and credited Savage for leading a Government which changed our nation.

"The tribute and the imposing Savage Memorial, were conceived by the Labour Party, which he led. But the sentiment and the high personal regard were, and are, much more widely held," said the paper.


"His First Labour Government laid the foundations of the welfare state - jobs, housing, health and social security. Many today will question that legacy but in its time it was a profound strategy which reignited the spirit of a young nation ravaged by global depression."

We have no reason to change our assessment of Savage as the man of the century. Indeed, in retrospect we rated him New Zealander of the Year for three years running: 1936, 1937 and 1938.

But with hindsight we make Helen Clark our New Zealander of the Year for 1999, when she led Labour to victory to become the country's first elected woman Prime Minister.

It is not for that victory alone she is chosen. Hindsight allows an assessment of her achievements in government which will certainly be highly rated when historians of future generations pass judgment.

When she lost power nine years later, the Herald said she was the strongest Prime Minister with the most disciplined team for a generation.

"Her talents and achievements are well documented in uniting Labour and finding a path of restraining free-market economics while overseeing strong growth, reduced debt and, for all but the final months, admirable fiscal discipline," the paper said.

"As is her peerless representation of New Zealand abroad, a leader of the highest intellect and international credentials impatient to keep this country relevant and connected.

"A measure of success will be that the Clark Government's signature policies will likely survive defeat."