The life of Whanganui woman Sidney Koreneff can be recalled for a remarkable number of "firsts" achieved by a woman in areas that were dominated by men.

She took over control of a newspaper, was a trailblazer for women in the church and earned citations for bravery during World War II.

Born on November 4, 1918, she was the daughter of notable Whanganui businessman Charles Lowther Duigan, a shareholder and also managing director of the Wanganui Herald newspaper company. Her grandfather, James Duigan, had been editor of the paper when its founder John Ballance was premier of New Zealand.

In 1929 Sidney and her older sister were enrolled at Woodford House in Havelock North and after she finished her schooling in 1934, her family sent her to Cambridge University, where she studied economics.


She was determined to pursue a professional career and that was partially driven by the positive attitude of her father, who was a staunch believer in education and careers for women. She moved to Paris in 1937 and studied the liberal arts at the Sorbonne university.

When the Second World War broke out she chose to remain in France and was in Calais nursing with the French Red Cross when the Germans captured the city. After being sent to a camp in Lyons, she escaped and worked in southern France with the Red Cross and the French Resistance until the end of the war.

After the war she refused to discuss her work with the Resistance, claiming that memories of that time gave her nightmares. But it was significant enough for the French government to award her the Croix de Guerre, a medal given to those who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.

While based with the Resistance in Pau, in the Pyrenees, she met Vladimir Koreneff-Domogatzky, a White Russian army officer, who had sought refuge in France after the Russian Revolution. The couple were married in Pau in December 1946 and the following year moved to Whanganui, where they made their home and raised two sons.

For four years from 1960 she carried on the Duigan family tradition as managing director of the Herald newspaper, probably the first woman in the country to hold such a position.

When she took the helm, the paper was in desperate straits, both financially and in terms of circulation, but she showed relentless business acumen to keep the paper going. The Herald was the city's evening paper and its competitor was the daily Wanganui Chronicle.

Mrs Koreneff modernised the Herald's appearance, upgraded its content, improved its equipment, chased rural circulation and had a new web offset press installed.

Her husband died suddenly in 1961, and, following a religious experience, Mrs Koreneff decided to enter the Anglican ministry. The only ordained office available to women at the time was that of deaconess, and there were only five Anglican deaconesses in New Zealand.

She completed her licentiate in theology and in December 1966 was ordained deaconess in Palmerston North. The first Anglican women priests in New Zealand were ordained in 1977 and a year later she joined those ranks.

When she was appointed vicar of St George's Church in Patea in 1980, she was the diocese's first woman vicar. She won great respect for her ministry following the closure of the local freezing works.

She moved to Pukekohe in 1986 and worked as priest in charge at Coromandel, training people for a new type of lay and ordained team ministry.

At the time of her death at her home on October 11, 1997, she was preparing for priestly duties the following day at St Paul's Church in Pukekohe. Her ashes were interred beside those of Vladimir at Aramoho cemetery.