There has been a lot of outpouring of grief over the past several days for former CTU head Helen Kelly who at 52 was far too young to die and the disease that claimed her life seemed to be so unfair, given that lung cancer is usually associated with cigarette smoking and that she never did.

But Helen wasn't into self pity, she kept all her pity for those she saw as worse off than herself, the underdogs.

It's all too easy to say nice things about people when they die but for those of us who knew her personally as well as professionally there's one word that springs to mind, respect. Whether you agreed or disagreed with her you could never ignore her and you were never left in any confusion about how she felt.

It was never personal and one of the few times she did get publicly personal, calling Sir Peter Jackson a spoilt brat in a row over the employment status of film workers in this country, she apologised.


Helen Kelly refused to give up the fight for others even though most of us would have spent our time battling the crippling cancer she was inflicted with. In one conversation when it was suggested she should take time for herself, draw up a bucket list, and enjoy the time she had left, she shrugged and said there was still plenty for her to do.

Her former trade union buddy and now Labour leader Andrew Little summed it up when he said the way she stood up for what she believed in, even after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, was an inspiration. To the end of her life, Little said, she was an example of extraordinary dedication and tenacity.

The only concession she made for herself, to make her final months more bearable, was medicinal cannabis and in true Kelly style, she made it an issue more about others than herself.

She rightly saw it as a no brainer. What right, she mused, has a system to dictate how a person ended their days. Her days were made more bearable with the use of cannabis but tragically for her, she had to break the law to get it. She argued the system was so cumbersome and complex that people who were dying had neither the inclination nor the time to deal with it.

Helen Kelly will be laid to a long deserved rest this week and she's left behind many people who can thank her for the better and more safe way of life they now lead.