Public Memorial Service for David Lange Address
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Address at Public Memorial Service for David Lange
Saturday 20 August 2005
Over the past week letters of tribute to David Lange have poured into my office from around the world.
Leaders in the Pacific especially regarded David as a true friend who understood their aspirations.
Others with whom he’d crossed swords respected his passion and powers of advocacy.
David was quite simply an extraordinary New Zealander.
He put our country on the map and gave us great pride in being New Zealanders.
His vision saw our small country stand up for big ideas and for values critical to the survival of humankind.
Yet much as he rubbed shoulders with the world’s elites and our own, my sense is that David was always happiest back home in Mangere, close to Otahuhu where he grew up.
He identified with what became Manukau City – and with the multicultural society it became with the waves of Maori migration from rural New Zealand after the war and the peoples of the Pacific from the 1950s and ‘60s on.
David maintained friendships across many communities. His great love of India is well known, and he was held in great respect there; as he was among the Indian community here in Auckland, which only a few weeks ago awarded him life membership of its association for his friendship.
David came to politics from the law, where he had established his reputation as a powerful advocate for marginalised people.
His plea in mitigation, based on quick mastery of a brief, was legendary – and his ability to master complex detail and develop and articulate a case on his feet served him well in politics too.
His wit was legendary – and he took as much delight in applying it to himself as to anyone else. We all have our favourite stories – like David as a big man getting into a lift by himself on a trip to Japan, and claiming that an automated voice demanded, “Would one of you please get out.”
Even in these last few especially difficult weeks with failing health, that ability to laugh and see the ironic side of even the most desperate situation never appeared to leave him.
Indeed his courage during what was clearly great suffering was truly inspirational.
For so many reasons, today’s service must be a celebration of David’s life.
He himself touched the lives of so many – as a lawyer, as a local Member of Parliament, as Prime Minister, and as one concerned about his fellow human beings.
David hated injustice – he would go to considerable lengths to see that ordinary people up against the system got a fair go.
David spent five of his 63 years as Prime Minister, and close to a third of his life as Member of Parliament. It is on these years that the public record and commentary focuses. They were often difficult years, but the many high points were there, along with the lows.
Today we celebrate the highs, the pride, the elation of David at the peak of his powers – winning in 1984, taking the country with him to Oxford Union; and we celebrate the big man with the big voice, the big heart and the common touch.
Few have the opportunity to lead their country, and even fewer are memorable. David Lange will go down in history as a truly memorable Prime Minister.
He was an outstanding New Zealander who was proud of his country and proud to serve it.
I want to say to David’s family that many New Zealanders share your pride in him, and know that our country is the better for David’s contribution.
We share your sorrow at this sad time.
We share a deep sense of regret that his years among us were too short.
We know we will not see his like again.
May he rest in peace.