- by Kate Dewes
Sue Taylor had been a member of CAFCA since 2002. But she was much more than that. Ever since I became a political activist in Christchurch nearly 40 years ago, Sue had been a constant fixture at every activity, public meeting, seminar, lecture, WEA course, etc, that I’ve ever been to, She was involved in everything and I only witnessed a fraction of her involvement with innumerable groups in all sorts of issues, from the peace movement to prison reform, from adult education to helping migrants adjust. She was a grassroots stalwart of the Labour Party through all those years (which led to her copping plenty of flak from her colleagues in the progressive movement) and she was never afraid to get up and give her opinion, whether on the big picture issues or on the strictly personal (after losing a huge amount of weight, she became vocal in advocating diet to anyone she could buttonhole on the subject). She had an enormous hunger for knowledge, and used to ring me up now and again with questions. After her death tributes came from as far away as Canada from somebody with whom she constantly corresponded on a range of subjects. I never knew Sue personally, and learned more about her life from her funeral than in the preceding three decades – who would have thought that she had been both a party animal and a spectacular public nudist in her youth? Nor did I know that her only son (she also had two daughters) had been killed in a car crash. All of that rounded out the picture of the devoted mother and grandmother and tireless movement person. It is people like Sue who are the glue which really holds things together in any organisation or campaign. Murray Horton.
Sue Taylor died on November 30 th, 2005, aged 73, after being knocked off her bike returning home from a Workers Education Association (WEA) meeting. She was well known in Christchurch peace and justice circles as a tireless volunteer with a wide range of groups. I first met Sue in October 1981 when we organised a national meeting at Living Springs (at the head of Lyttelton Harbour) to establish what became known as Peace Movement Aotearoa. She became a stalwart of the local peace movement, attending meetings and helping with mailouts for the Peace Collective, the NZ Nuclear Free Zone Committee, Peace Forum, Campaign Against Nuclear Tests, CAFCA, Anti-Bases Campaign, and more recently Peace Action Network. At our monthly Peace Forum meetings in the early 1980s, when there were representatives of up to 40 local groups, Sue was the contact for the “Soviet Myth Threat Explosion Group” which aimed to spread information on the former Soviet Union and its role in the armaments race.
But it was in the last ten years that she felt she had come “home” in the peace movement when she joined the local branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). She began writing letters to the paper and had many published in the Press. She was furious when the Editor told her recently that they wouldn’t publish any more which were critical of the invasion of Iraq.
As a member of WILPF and Amnesty International she wrote regularly to Patsy and Gordon Dale in Ireland from 1996-2002. Patsy was being beaten and harassed by a suspected MI5-sponsored operative (thug) for speaking out to the media about how her son had been born deformed after her husband was exposed to nuclear radiation while serving in a British Polaris nuclear submarine. According to Patsy, Sue’s letters kept her alive during a very tough time.
In a recent interview with Ruth Greenaway, as part of the oral archives project for Christchurch Peace City, she said she first became a peacemaker when she had to read the lines “A Christian must be a pacifist” from George Bernard Shaw’s play “Major Barbara” when she was at high school. As a devout Christian at the time she looked around for a local group to join and couldn’t find one, so she and two others, including a local chaplain, joined the Anglican Pacifists Fellowship based in London. The chaplain invited her home in the holidays and tried to convince her to become a nun.
When she returned from Wellington to Christchurch in the early 1970s she became very involved in the protest movement as a member of the Committee on Vietnam. This led to anti-Springbok tour and anti-nuclear activities. She worked closely with the Quakers, Muriel and John Morrison, and leading peacemakers Elsie Locke and Larry Ross (see Watchdog 97, August 2001, for my obituary of Elsie Locke. It can be read online at www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/97/13.htm. MH).
One of her protests during the 1960s & 70s’ Vietnam War was when she supported her doctor brother-in-law in his 40 day fast in a caravan against the war. She said: “He was skinny and I was fat – so I went on a 35 day fast and lost 2 ½ stone”. She was very angry that the resulting media coverage was about the fast and not about the war. She was clear about her role in the movement: “I don’t think I’ve ever been a leader in the peace movement – when I fasted I was big news, but I wasn’t a leader. I’m a backroom person. I just have to keep working and trying and exposing. I see that as my role to find the truth and expose it”.
“Sue Represented All That Is Good About The Progressive Edge Of Politics”
As Christchurch Central’s Labour MP, Tim Barnett, said at her funeral: “Sue represented all that is good about the progressive edge of politics. Her beliefs were passionate, her energy incredible, her style inclusive. She delighted in testing the patience and intellectual rigour of institutions – and sometimes of elected politicians – and did it, quite properly, to ensure that they really were serving the people and ideas for whom they were there.
“To talk of Sue is to track through values, integrity and the challenge of fresh thinking. And the shape of her life remained constant through 60 years of activism. For her the challenges of the age were her personal mantra. Sex equality, race equality, anti-nuclearism, universal human rights, New Zealand identity, the great moral discussions of our time, the contemporary debate on the purpose of imprisonment, the emerging discussion on obesity – these were Sue’s bread and butter. If an issue had a grassroots, Sue was there with the water to help it grow. If the issue was causing controversy, Sue was there to fuel the debate, with that endearing, almost child-like innocence - a very effective disguise which other strongly conviction-driven political activists could well learn from.
“Sue treated boundaries as lines inviting her to step across. As Labour values adapted over time to encompass liberation messages, so Sue was marching ahead, inviting more to come on board. The things which mattered to her were personal freedom, devotion to community, absence of prejudice, an ability to get on with one’s life. She understood much earlier than many that the voluntary sector was the best way to get powerful messages out and to support those needing a helping hand. Sure enough, on the day she died she was at the Workers Education Association and Pasifika Education and Employment Training Organisation (PEETO), giving her all as a volunteer as ever. The value of constancy was so important to her. Sue had an integrity, combined with a driven rigour, which could be unnerving. She carried out countless acts of personal, selfless kindness. Indeed Sue lived her values”.
As she told Ruth: “It (her life) has been a lovely journey. All along you find people who will lend things and share things with you - if you ask somebody, most people are supportive, whether they are peace people or not”. She loved attending the celebration of the 20 th anniversary of Christchurch becoming the first nuclear free city. It gave her “a deep sense of satisfaction that you had taken a step forward – a wonderful feeling”. When asked if she would keep on with her current involvement and activities in the future, Sue replied “Yes, and one day the prisons will change and one day we’ll have a party because peace and justice will be all over the world!”.
Sue will be sorely missed at our WILPF and other community meetings - taking minutes, driving others to meetings, quietly but efficiently cleaning up the cups, offering to do many of the tasks, and speaking out forthrightly about what she believed in. We will miss her constant presence at the lantern ceremony on Hiroshima Day, in August. This year we will place a lantern on the Avon River in her memory, along with some for other great peace people who have died recently - Rod Donald, Owen Wilkes*, Sonja Davies - to name a few. Sue, we’ll also have little parties to celebrate all those little steps towards peace and justice which we have achieved together over many years. * See Watchdogs 109 and 110, August & December 2005 respectively, for my obituaries of Owen Wilkes and Rod Donald. They can be read online at
DEATHS IN THE FAMILY
CAFCA expresses condolences to Marty Braithwaite, a longstanding member and former Watchdog layout editor, on the recent death of his father Jack Braithwaite, who died in Napier in December 2005, aged 80, after a short but unsuccessful battle against cancer. Marty wrote:” Originally from a Dunedin family well-known in local body politics, Jack spent the last 40 years in Napier, where he became prominent in, and a life member of, the service organisation, Lions. He was, in his last real outing, part of the Braithwaite family contingent to Parliament in August 2005 to receive the war medals for his namesake uncle, recently pardoned after being executed by the British for mutiny in the First World War”.
CAFCA expresses our condolences to Christine and Robyn Dann, who are both members (a founding member, in Christine’s case) for the death of their mother, Rose Dann, who died in Christchurch in January 2006, aged 84. This is an extract from Christine’s eulogy at her mother’s funeral: “Mum’s caring for us was part of a wider ethic of care that she brought to life in general. She couldn’t abide injustice, meanness, cruelty or violence of any kind, to humans or to animals and she almost always spoke up when she saw it happening, or even protested against it”. Christine added: “A good example for her daughters and granddaughters!”.
Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. December 2005.
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