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Eulogy For Bridget Nichols

Delivered at the funeral of Bridget Nichols, Wellington Cathedral of Saint Paul, 26 March 2002.

It is my privilege today, to speak on behalf of the Government, in paying tribute to Bridget Nichols who lost her life in the service of our country while working as New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner in Solomon Islands.

The Prime Minister, who is in the United States today, has asked me to pass on her personal condolences to Bridget’s friends and family. Helen met Bridget on her visit to Turkey for the Gallipoli commemorations in April 2000. She remembers well Bridget’s role in making that visit a great success. In her tribute to Bridget in Parliament last week, the Prime Minister commented that: "Bridget represented New Zealand overseas with integrity, a friendly manner and a commitment to working very hard in pursuit of New Zealand's best interests. She will be missed by all who knew her particularly her family, her friends and all her colleagues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade who have lost their highly valued colleague."

To her family, Susan and Andrew Whibley, who are here today, and her father, Trevor, and niece, Sarah, who I know are here in spirit from England, we share your sorrow. Bridget was a daughter, sister and aunt to be immensely proud of. She was a special person in every sense.

Bridget’s special qualities were clear early on. At St Anne's Grammar School in London, she was an outstanding student, the leader of the school orchestra, and the Head of School. After graduating Bachelor of Laws at Leicester University in 1973 she came to New Zealand and completed a Master of Laws at Victoria University in 1975.

Bridget practised law as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. She was admitted also as a Solicitor by the Law Society of England, and was a member of a number of professional legal organisations, and the Executive Committee of the Wellington Branch of the Commonwealth Trust.

It was in her nature to want to contribute more. That led her to Volunteer Service Abroad and an assignment as Legal Adviser to the Western Provincial Government in Gizo, Solomon Islands, from 1989 to 1991. There she gained the admiration and respect of the local community, working with village and women's groups, helping them to improve the quality of their daily lives, raising the level of awareness in the environment and drafting legislation to protect it. In her legal capacity as a VSA volunteer, Bridget was a Barrister and Solicitor of the Solomon Islands High Court.

Bridget joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1992. In Wellington she made her mark through the important contribution that she made to the development of fisheries policy in the South Pacific region. Overseas, her postings were to Mexico City and Ankara before her assignment as Deputy High Commissioner in Honiara.

Bridget was a person of the highest integrity. A prodigiously hard worker with a strong sense of social justice and a first class legal mind, it was in her nature always to lend a hand. Bridget would never step back from a challenge, and she always got the job done.

It was a mark of her courage and determination that when visiting the West Bank, when her taxi driver refused to go any further, she completed her journey by foot to Ramallah unaccompanied by any security.

Her responsibilities in Ankara included making the arrangements for the annual ANZAC Day commemorations at Gallipoli. I met Bridget there when I attended last year, and was greatly impressed by her efficiency and dedication. It is a sad twist of fate that she too, like those New Zealand soldiers then, should have lost her life in the service of her country overseas.

Bridget did not wear her emotions on her sleeve, but there was a special gentleness to her nature and compassion for others that shone through in hard times. An example was the huge efforts that she made to confirm the welfare of New Zealanders following the earthquake in Turkey and in the contribution that she made to the embassy fund raising effort. I remember receiving messages on other occasions also testifying to the immensely practical support that Bridget always provided to New Zealanders abroad.

On 19 March the New Zealand Parliament recorded its deep sadness at Bridget's tragic death. Expressions of condolence have followed from around the world. In the Pacific, regional leaders have reacted with shock and sadness. In the short period of her posting in Honiara Bridget had already impressed colleagues and contacts with her enthusiasm and keen interest in the job. The Solomon Islands Government has expressed its deep sympathy and sadness over her untimely passing, and New Zealand is doing all it can to assist them in completing their investigation. The New Zealand High Commission, with assistance from Solomon Islands Christian Association, will be holding a memorial service for Bridget in Honiara on Thursday afternoon. In Turkey, the New Zealand Embassy will be holding a special service for Bridget at the church that she attended during her posting in Ankara, as a reflection of the feelings of loss on the part of staff and other friends.

It is a mark of Bridget’s standing in the law fraternity that the Wellington District Law Society has decided to establish a special Trust in her memory. The Bridget Nichols Trust will promote the ideals that she held so dearly, and will assist other New Zealanders who are working to help people in developing countries.

I congratulate the Law Society on this initiative. There is a long tradition of New Zealanders working overseas in a voluntary capacity and this remains one of the important contributions that we can make to support the development of civil society in our region. The government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will be making a contribution of $20,000 to the Trust.

Bridget Nichols was a remarkable New Zealander. To Bridget's father Trevor, her sister, nephew and niece, Susan, Andrew and Sarah, I extend the sincere condolences of the New Zealand Government and our heartfelt appreciation of the contribution that Bridget made during her lifetime. She will be sorely missed.

No reira te tuahine, takoto mai, takoto mai, takoto mai.
Rest in peace.

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