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PM Address: Memorial Service for Sonja Davies

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister Speech:

Address at Memorial Service for Sonja Davies Wellington Town Hall

5 pm

Sunday 19 June 2005

We come here today to celebrate the life of Sonja Davies, a woman who was an inspiration to so many of us, and whom we were proud to call a friend.

Sonja Davies was a passionate woman who stood up for what she believed in all her life. She was also one of the kindest and most decent people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

How appropriate it is that this memorial service is taking place in the Wellington Town Hall. This was Sonja’s stamping ground for so many years of her time in the Labour movement.

There was a time when the Federation of Labour conference would meet here for a week in May, to be followed by a full week of the New Zealand Labour Party conference.

My own memories of Sonja go back to those days in the 1970s. Sonja was a force to be reckoned with, especially when she began to mobilise support for the Working Women’s Charter. Her campaign bore fruit in 1980 when both the FOL and the Labour Party conferences voted to support it.

Sonja’s own life was not an easy one. Indeed, she overcame huge obstacles, any one of which was daunting on its own.

She began full time work at fourteen years of age, and was married and divorced by the age of seventeen. At 22 years of age, she had a young baby, was diagnosed with TB, and learned that her fiancée had been killed in the war. Later in life, her husband and two children were to predecease her.

That Sonja herself was always so bright and concerned for others was truly the sign of a remarkable woman. Her personal courage and determination to go on were extraordinary attributes.

It was not as though Sonja took on easy issues and challenges. She took on the tough ones – and was prepared to rock the boat for them

At a young age she was inspired by Arch Barrington’s pacificism. In the 1960s she threw herself into the campaign against the Vietnam War, apartheid, and nuclear weapons.

The Vietnam War ended close to three decades ago, and the apartheid era more than a decade ago. Nuclear weapons, alas, are still with us – and held by more countries than ever before.

It is to dedicated and determined people like Sonja all over New Zealand that we owe our country’s nuclear free status and she travelled tirelessly at home and abroad promoting that cause.

A special memory I have of Sonja is being with her in the New Zealand delegation to the United Nations End of Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi. It ran for two weeks, with a spare weekend in the middle.

I suggested to Sonja that we go to a game park for that weekend. I will always remember our old bus rumbling along over corrugated roads with the dust pouring in to Sonja’s poor lungs. But it was special to be with her at Amboseli in the evening and the early morning to see the snowy cap of Kilimanjaro towering in the distance.

Sonja’s passing is a very sad time for us all, and our thoughts today are especially with her brother David, and her grandchildren: Ben, Tim and Tony.

Quite simply, Sonja has always been there for all of us – family, friends, and men, women and children the world over in whose interests she always worked.

To the end Sonja kept an active interest in all the causes to which she devoted her life.

I count it a privilege to have known Sonja. Her indomitable spirit, her optimism, her selfless service to others, and her contributions to our national life made her a great New Zealander.

I end with the verse which began Sonja’s second autobiography, Marching On, because to me it epitomises her spirit of eternal optimism:

Look, the winter is past And the rains are over and done with Flowers have begun to appear on the earth The time of the singing bird has come And the voice of the turtle dove Shall be heard in the land

May Sonja rest in peace.

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