Esme Tombleson, CBE, OBE, politician. Died aged 92.

Esme Tombleson was the National member of Parliament for Gisborne between 1960 and 1972.

A farmer's wife from Rakauroa, 80km northwest of the city, she beat the Labour incumbent Reg Keeling by the narrowest of margins in the 1960 general election.

Her win gave her the distinction of becoming the only woman on the Government benches after that election, only the ninth female MP in New Zealand, and the first not to have followed a husband or father into Parliament.

She was also the first woman to have stood for Parliament in the Gisborne electorate.

Despite her lack of experience of national politics, Tombleson's background in stage and radio work in Sydney gave her the confidence to face crowds at campaign rallies.

"I'm not afraid of hecklers," she told a Herald reporter in 1960. "The main thing is to keep one's sense of humour."

Her political ambitions were modest, and centred around her electorate.

She encouraged tourism in Gisborne, and pushed for an extension to the fishing industry at the port. She promoted diversification in maize processing, a major crop in the region, and saw the potential for growing fruit on the fertile flat land around the rivers, rather than the traditional farming practice of fattening lambs.

She was also keen to retain young people in the area, by providing hostels for boys from farming families, and finding work for them in the then booming building industry.

Tombleson was the first woman to chair a select committee, and the first "and probably the only" to turn down a Cabinet position, because she was not prepared to fit into the mould expected of women politicians.

"I didn't want to be a politician who was only interested in women's work and what women are interested in."

After her defeat in the 1972 election, by Labour's Trevor Davey, Tombleson renewed her interest in multiple sclerosis.

She had first encountered the disease when a friend in Australia was diagnosed, and then another friend, with small children, in Gisborne.

Tombleson saw at close hand the effects of MS on the sufferer and on the family, and worked with the Social Welfare Department to provide practical help such as ramps and fittings to enable patients to stay in their own homes.

Tombleson was a founding member of the New Zealand Multiple Sclerosis Society and served as its president for seven years. She was also an executive member of the international federation of MS societies.

Esme Irene Lawson was born and educated in Sydney, and in her early years danced, sang and acted professionally on the stage and in radio.

During World War II she was secretary to various New South Wales Manpower advisory committees, and later worked for the Commonwealth Employment Service.

She married Gisborne farmer Tom Tombleson in 1951. The couple had no children.