One of the pitfalls of profiling our people is knowing where to start.

With Janette Irvine we're spoilt for choice. The journalist in us hones in on her first meeting with husband Kierin; it was over a dissecting table, dismembering a foot: at the time they were fellow students in the second intake at Auckland's recently-established School of Medicine.

But let's reign in the sensationalism and be sensible here. The reason we're talking with Janette is not simply about her almost 40-year medical career but that she's New Zealand's newly-inducted district governor of the women's service organisation Zonta.

It's a tremendous honour in anyone's book but that the role has gone to a Rotorua woman is one in which we can all share a slice of reflected glory adding, as it does, to the increasing tally of those from this area who've become national leaders in the fields they represent.


Attracted by the international organisation's dedication to the status of women and protection of children, she joined the local Zonta branch in 1981.

Five years on she became president on the understanding the term be for a year, not the usual two. Her presidency coincided with becoming the sole practitioner at the Homedale St Medical Centre (later Surgery 10).

With increasing pressure on the work front, including studying for her Masters of General Practice, Dr Irvine reluctantly farewelled Zonta in 1995, rejoining 10 years later.

"I'd been back about a year when my arm was twisted to become president again, I accepted, after all I did owe them a year."

Another executive role followed when she was approached to become area director for the region stretching from Thames, to the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

For the past two years she's been New Zealand's lieutenant governor, officially assuming the district governor's mantel at Zonta's international convention in Orlando, Florida on July 7.

Her "kiwi" installation was on home turf at the Princes Gate Hotel last Saturday.

"With 28 New Zealand clubs it's a huge responsibility and honour to lead this amazing group of women who already do so much work in their communities and to inspire them to carry on."


Zonta International's Say No to Violence Against Women campaign's her driving force.

"This is a huge issue, Zonta's just partnered with the Sophie Elliott [violence prevention] campaign, one of the major planks I'll continue to advocate throughout New Zealand this biennium."

Her commitment to Zonta's ideals apart, what of the other sides of Janette Irvine, the personal and professional ones? We mentally toss a coin and it's her doctoring that flips up first.

"Studying medicine wasn't a burning desire, it was a long-term goal, I'm one for goals."

She supported herself through med school.

"There were no student loans, the banks didn't want to know women, I waitressed, worked in a rest home, spent eight days winding balls of wool in the Holeproof Factory . . . enough said."

More satisfying time in a medical laboratory followed.

She and Kierin married in their fifth med school year and in the sixth spent four months as hands-on medics in the Cook Islands. . . "a fantastic experience".

After graduating, the couple became Rotorua Hospital house surgeons, returning to Auckland with OE on the horizon but Rotorua medical professionals had other ideas.

Dr Chris Morgan invited Kierin to locum for him, Jeanette returned to the hospital working in paediatrics before also becoming a GP at the Rotorua Medical Centre with the Homedale St clinic a branch surgery.

Dr Tricia Briscoe joined her in 1991 and Surgery 10 was born. The word's deliberately chosen, obstetrics was the surgery's core business. Janette estimates she's delivered at least a thousand babies.

The question's contentious but we ask it anyhow. Did she approve of midwives taking over deliveries?

"I was disappointed, I think it was largely politically driven, financially good for the government."

Patients apart, Janette spent five years on the College of GP's Board of Censors assessing GPs for College Fellowship, was involved in practice accreditation and quality assurance activities plus founded the local Doctors' Sexual Abuse Care Team, forensically examining rape victims.

Demanding as her work load (she's now semi-retired) and Zonta commitments have been, recreational sailing's always attracted her, starting with a laser.

"I learnt to sail it from a book, once you've tipped out a few times you know what you're dong wrong."

A trailer yacht replaced the laser and the couple now own a 42 footer (12m +). Not all their ocean-going trips have been plain sailing. On a delivery mission from New Caledonia to Auckland Janette had what she downplays as "a bit of a whoopsie".

Translated, it means she fractured her spine when rough weather threw her into a set of drawers, for months her back was encased in a brace.

More recent trips around Croatia and Turkey have been less dramatic. The Irvines are also keen anglers "we used to go down to the Tongariro [river] but have now given up chipping ice off the rods".

Our conversation returns to Zonta. She hasn't gone into her leadership role unprepared. In February she joined international counterparts in Chicago for governor training, the experience encouraged her to introduce a modern twist to her governorship.

"I realised what a good tool social media is, I'll be encouraging New Zealand clubs to embrace it in my biennium."


Born: Rotorua, 1950 (parents moved to Auckland when pre-schooler).
Education: Meadowbank Primary, Remuera Intermediate, Epsom Girls' Grammar, Auckland School of Medicine.
Family: Husband Kierin, brother, two nieces, two nephews.
Interests: Family, friends, Zonta, gardening "my biggest passion", sailing, tramping (recently hiked in Patagonia "New Zealand on steroids"), travel, mosaic art, reading, the saxophone. "It's now gone by the board but I still love the sound."
On her life: "I've always been a hard worker, I like to achieve goals, make a difference in some small way if I can."
Personal Philosophy: "Service before self."