A panel of senior Herald journalists and editors has chosen Mary Quin and Brendon McCullum as our 2014 New Zealanders of the Year.

The two stood out from 10 finalists profiled in the Herald and on nzherald.co.nz this week and from a long list of newsmakers who had singular achievements, made a difference for others or showed particular courage.

McCullum and Quin both stood up when it mattered - he both on and off the pitch, she in an international courtroom.

Our full list of finalists is here.

We've made our choice - now it's your turn.

Sitting in a military helicopter after a kidnapping and shoot-out in Yemen, Mary Quin stared at the bodies of two fellow tourists, wrapped in blankets and lying at her feet.

It was 1998 and the West was still adjusting to Islamic militant fundamentalism. The Palmerston North expat, who'd climbed to high executive roles with US-based multinationals, was one of a party of 18 tourists taken hostage in Yemen.

When Yemeni soldiers confronted the kidnappers Quin was used as a human shield in the ensuing gun battle, an AK-47 jammed into her spine. But when her captor was shot, she wrestled the automatic weapon from his grasp - one foot on his head for leverage - and ran to safety.

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Her parting shot: "Salaam alaikum, mother-f*****." Four tourists were killed by their captors and two others seriously wounded. Several kidnappers were killed.

"It was pretty clear at the time that anyone of us could have been killed," Quin tells the Weekend Herald. "There was a really strong sense that, but for where I was standing, it could have been my body wrapped in a blanket."

This year Quin - now based in Wellington as chief executive of Callaghan Innovation - testified at the Manhattan trial of the kidnapping mastermind, fundamentalist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. That steely resolve and her courage under fire persuaded a panel of senior Herald editors that she should be a joint winner of New Zealander of the Year award.

A physics graduate who had completed a PhD in engineering at Harvard, Quin had built a stellar career in Rochester, the tech capital of New York State. She forged a path in the male-dominated world headquarters of Kodak before joining Xerox Corporation, a company which she says celebrated diversity and promoted on merit, becoming a vice president.

Her role at Xerox centred on strategy and business development for its $5.5 billion production systems group but Yemen changed the course of her life. Feelings of sorrow for her dead companions and their families soon gave way to a new sense. "It made me willing to take more risks - to try different things because of that sense that every day may be your last."

The risks she has taken since include confronting Abu Hamza, the one-eyed, hook-handed imam notorious for inciting hatred at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, in her determination to learn: why?

Along the way she met a man who wooed her after seeing her interviewed on CNN and, when he asked her to swap corporate trappings for the frozen winters of Alaska, she agreed.

"It was a reflection of that sense that life is fragile - you never know where opportunities that take you in a different direction than you'd planned may lead." Based in Anchorage, she launched an eco-conscious textile business, then ran a support services company for an Innuit (native Alaskan) corporation. Regular encounters with moose and bears fostered a passion for the outdoors and she took up hunting.

Then, last year, an invitation to lead Callaghan Innovation, the Government's high-tech research and development "catalyst", brought the 60-year-old home. It meant leaving her partner of 10 years, who would not budge from Alaska. "Sadly, our relationship ended." This year took her back, briefly, to America and back to 1998. Her testimony, based in part on what Abu Hamza told her, helped to seal his conviction on charges including the hostage-taking, training militants and calling for holy war in Afghanistan.

"It doesn't bring back the lives of four fellow travellers who were killed or lessen the impact on the two who were wounded," Quin says. "But I hope it served to give their families some sense of justice and some sense of closure."


Kidnapped in Yemen


While the episode was a significant chapter in Quin's life (a 2004 book may have been cathartic), she hasn't let it define her. Intensely focused and matter-of-fact, she's immersed herself in establishing the Callaghan agency as the hub of endeavours to expand the high-tech business sector and reduce economic dependence on agriculture.

Like many high-flying expats, she maintained strong interest in New Zealand's fortunes while overseas, aided by regular visits home to see family - she's one of nine siblings.

Ahead of the Knowledge Wave conference in 2001, she turned heads in a speech which placed quality of life at the apex of a triangle underpinned by economic growth and environmental goals. She called for an agreed national strategy, with measurable goals and accountability.

Her background would appear to make her the perfect fit for the Callaghan agency. It is tasked with giving high-tech innovators the support they need to take on the world and create jobs, and has a focus on the commercialisation of research.

"What's been valuable for me is that most of my career has been with companies developing new technologies which are very focused on science, working very directly with product development and strategy to take the next generation of products to market."

Even so, after one year in Wellington she described the role as "like drinking water from a firehose". The post means she is sandwiched between Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, bullish entrepreneurs and a wary research community. It's her first experience of the public sector and she's had to learn a new vocabulary as well as getting to know the players in our high-tech industries and R&D sector.

She is satisfied that Callaghan is finding its feet and winning over critics. She has a fan in Joyce, who earlier this year endorsed her "impressively nuggety and feisty" style. "Nuggety" is an observation shared by others.

She admits the demands of the role leave limited time for outside interests. Coming home has allowed her to reconnect with family - seven siblings are still alive and have children and grandchildren.

For relaxation there are daily walks around Titahi Bay with Tongariro, her German shorthaired pointer which she brought back from Alaska - and longer hikes on weekend. And she's keen to continue hunting.

Read more about our winners here:
Editorial: Avoiding the easy path earns award
2014 New Zealander of the Year: Brendon McCullum

Our finalists:

• Julie King

• Banapa Avatea

• Professor Jane Harding

• Buddy Harwood

• Nicky Hager

• Sol3 Mio

• Lucy Knight

• Kiwi Ebola nurses

Previous winners:

• 2013 Pop sensation Lorde, teenage golf prodigy Lydia Ko and Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton

• 2012 Steven Swart, NZ cyclist whose evidence led to downfall of drugs cheat Lance Armstrong.

• 2011 Richie McCaw, Rugby WorldCup-winning All Black captain.

• 2010 Emma Woods, who forgave the teenage driver of the car that killed her son.

• 2009 Lenny Holmwood, who saved two policemen shot by Napier gunman Jan Molenaar.

• 2008 Austin Hemmings, slain as he helped a woman being attacked; Tony McClean, who drowned trying to save students trapped by flood waters.

• 2007 Louise Nicholas, campaigner.

• 2006 Kevin Brady, Auditor-General; Paula Rebstock, Commerce Commission chairwoman.

• 2005 Jock Hobbs, key Rugby World Cup figure.

• 2004 Dr Peter Gluckman, scientist.

• 2003 Michael King, author.

• 2002 Cliff Jones, police officer.

• 2001 Peter Jackson, film-maker.

• 2000 Rob Waddell, Olympic gold medallist, Lucy Lawless, actor.

• 1999 Michael Joseph Savage, Prime Minister during the 1930s Great Depression (New Zealander of the Century).

• 1996-1998 No awards made.

• 1995 Sir Peter Blake, yachtsman.

• 1994 Aucklanders, for enduring that year's water crisis.

• 1993 Jane Campion, film-maker.

• 1992 David Shearer and Anuschka Meyer, Somalian aid workers.

• 1991 Dame Malvina Major, opera singer.