Dr Candy Louise Ramarihi Hera Cookson-Cox has spent decades learning about health, specifically suicide prevention, and teaching others.

She was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit today.

"I don't know how it happened, but I am very honoured and humbled," she told the Rotorua Daily Post.

"I work with dozens of knowledgeable people in these areas, who are just as deserving."

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Dr Cookson-Cox (Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Ngāti Rangiteaorere, Ngāti Kahungunu, Kāi Tahu) grew up on the shores of Lake Rotorua.

Dr Candy Cookson-Cox ONZM. Photo / Stephen Parker
Dr Candy Cookson-Cox ONZM. Photo / Stephen Parker

Her father was in the navy, and her mother, a schoolteacher, encouraged her to develop a set of work skills she could travel with.

Nursing seemed an obvious option.

"I started at age 20 and my learning never stopped, and then eventually I got into leadership and management roles, and then I got my PhD to teach at tertiary level."

In doing so, she became the first Māori nurse to gain a doctorate in education.

She was a senior nursing lecturer and as Head of the School of Health, Nursing and Education at Waiariki Institute of Technology, and was instrumental in introducing cultural safety, with guidelines, into the New Zealand nursing curriculum.

"I have since realised education was a great passion of mine, as well as health."

In recent years she has steered towards teaching suicide prevention in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

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"I had engaged in suicide research a number of years before this overseas so I felt this was a natural extension."

As part of this work, she has designed, developed and delivered a National Diploma in Applied Māori Health Co-existing Disorders and a National Certificate in Suicide Intervention.

Dr Cookson-Cox has also developed a kaupapa Māori model in understanding suicide, based on Te Arawa whakapapa and co-developed a research project for Māori whānau affected by suicide.

On top of all this, she is the Child and Youth Mortality Review co-ordinator for the Lakes District Health Board, a trustee of Arohanui Art and Education Trust, a self-employed consultant for health, education and professional supervision services, an auditor and a trustee of Arohanui Art and Education Trust.