The University of Waikato is flying its flag at half-mast today to mark the death of honorary doctorate recipient and New Zealand's first female mastermind, Ida Gaskin, aged 96.

Dr Gaskin, a former New Plymouth Girls' High School English teacher considered the country's foremost authority on William Shakespeare, died in New Plymouth on Friday.

Labour leader Andrew Little was a former pupil of Dr Gaskin's at New Plymouth Boys' High School where she taught a Shakespeare module.

Lifetime role played out with works of Shakespeare


He said she had inspired him to try his hand at public speaking.

"She was always passionate about Shakespeare and she was a fantastic teacher," Mr Little said.

Dr Gaskin was born in Wales in 1919, grew up during the Great Depression, and emigrated to New Zealand in 1946 to escape post-war Britain.

She had a bachelor of arts and was an associate of King's College in London. She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato in 2001 for her contribution to culture.

Dr Gaskin was also a Labour candidate for New Plymouth in 1984, losing by 269 votes, and served as president of the Post Primary Teachers' Association.

She was made a companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 1997 New Year's Honours Award for her services to education and the community.

Her funeral will be held in New Plymouth on Thursday.

A love of the Bard


In 2013, Dr Gaskin told the Wanganui Chronicle it was her mother in Wales who introduced her to Shakespeare.

"When I was growing up in South Wales we had lots of books in our house, and I remember reading this book Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare from the 1800s. I couldn't understand the 'from' part and I felt cheated not being able to read the original stories.

"So being one of those nasty, inquisitive children, I asked my mother if I could read Hamlet, and she said yes."

She never looked back: "Sometimes people think I'm going mad when I'm quoting him because they don't realise what I'm doing," she said in 2013.

The Mastermind

In 1983, Dr Gaskin was the first woman to win the New Zealand adaptation of the BBC quiz show, Mastermind.

In the show, presented by Peter Sinclair, contestants faced two-minute rounds on general knowledge and an array of specialist subjects ranging from Shakespeare, opera and gastronomy, to Winnie the Pooh, tantric yoga and sulphuric acid production.

Watch the Mastermind 1990 finale:
Mastermind -- 1990 Final