Betty Bourke, a pioneer in health politics, died in Whanganui Hospital on Monday, aged 91.

Mrs Bourke had the personality to lead change and did so at a time when the country's health service was in turmoil.

Her commitment saw her awarded a QSM in 1977, followed by a CBE 11 years later, recognising her work in health administration and the community.

Mrs Bourke entered health administration when she joined the old Patea Hospital Board in 1962. She was chairwoman three years and leading a fight against amalgamation. In 1969 she was a Patea representative on the then Wanganui Hospital Board, becoming chairwoman in 1980. It became one of the first area health boards in 1985.

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When she received the CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, Mrs Bourke told the Chronicle it was recognition of all the boards - the elected people and staff - with whom she had worked.

"No one achieves anything by themselves. In health that's particularly so," she said.

She also played a lead role in setting up Hospice Whanganui, created in 1981 as the Wanganui Regional Hospice Service. Mrs Bourke was prominent in the Catholic church. In 1998 she was honoured by Pope John Paul II, being made a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great. She is survived by two sons and two daughters.