Rob Talbot, a former Cabinet minister who oversaw an unexpected sea change in the use of Maori language in the public service, has died in Wellington, aged 89.

Talbot entered Parliament in 1966 and represented Ashburton and South Canterbury electorates for more than 20 years before his retirement in 1987. As Postmaster-General, he signed off NZ's first cellular network in 1983.

He was also famously embroiled in a Te Reo controversy in the mid-80s after Auckland toll operator Naida Glavish was barred from greeting callers with "kia ora". When Glavish continued, she was demoted, sparking a public backlash.

Talbot refused to publicly support her until Prime Minister Rob Muldoon returned to the country and sanctioned the unscripted Te Reo greeting.


Yesterday Glavish, who has since forged a career in public service, was sad to learn of his death.

She said Talbot was caught in an awkward situation politically but privately encouraged her to continue with her stand.

"He rang me to congratulate me for the suggestion.

"That was his way of letting me know that he was supportive."

She said he called her years later to discuss a Maori language issue and asked if she remembered who he was.

Glavish offered her condolences to his family.

Talbot is survived by his partner Win and three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.