Norman Kirk – 6 January 1923 – 31 August 1974

Prime Minister Norman Kirk, M.P. for Sydenham, formerly M.P. for Lyttelton and Mayor of Kaiapoi , died on 31 August 1974.

Portrait of Norman Kirk. K E Niven and Co :Commercial negatives. Ref: 1/2-230154-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22842895

Growing up in a staunchly Labour-ite household, he loomed large in my childhood – yes, he was a big man – and his death was a shock. He was the Mighty Totara, whose death should not have happened so early (he was only 51).

But childhood memories are notoriously unreliable – I remember a song where the words “Big Norm” seemed to occur with great frequency and affection ! – so what kind of man was he really, and what did he achieve ?

From the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and NZHistory:

  • Norman’s first job was roof painting, and he worked a variety of jobs, qualifying as an engine driver.
  • Despite leaving school by the age of 13 (he attended Linwood Avenue School), Norman was an avid reader, and established the New Zealand Authors’ Fund.
  • He built his own family home in Kaiapoi, from concrete blocks he made himself.
  •  He was described as having ‘a resolute chin, a twinkling eye, a charming smile, and an impish wit’, and became a renowned debater.
  • In October 1953 Norman was elected mayor of the Kaiapoi Borough Council. At the age of 30, he was the youngest mayor in the country and continued to work at the Firestone Tyre Company.
  • On 9 December 1965, 42-year-old Norman Kirk became leader of the parliamentary Labour Party, and leader of the opposition.
  • Kirk led Labour to victory with a majority of 23 seats on 25 November 1972.
  • In April 1973 his  government refused to grant visas to a South African rugby team because the touring Springboks would be racially selected.
  • He applied pressure to the French to stop testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific, then sent a a frigate to the test area ‘to provide a focus for international opinion against the tests’.
  • His government reformed Māori land law – the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 set up the Waitangi Tribunal. See television footage of Waitangi Day ceremonies on 6 February 1973.
  • His health suffered under a heavy workload and he died at Our Lady’s Home of Compassion hospital in Island Bay, Wellington.  He had a state funeral, which was attended by thousands of New Zealanders.

Gallery - Norman Kirk The First 250 DaysCover of The Mighty Totara      Cover of Diary of the Kirk years
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Norman Kirk – 6 January 1923 – 31 August 1974

It is 40 years since the death of Prime Minister Norman Kirk, M.P. for Sydenham. He had earlier been M.P. for Lyttelton, and Mayor of Kaiapoi.

Some facts from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and NZHistory:

  • Norman became a foundation pupil at Linwood Avenue School in April 1928.
  • At school Kirk quickly learned to read. He developed a lifelong passion for libraries and books and acquired an extensive vocabulary.
  • He built his own family home in Kaiapoi.
  • Norman worked as an engine driver at the Firestone factory in Papanui, and cycled between Kaiapoi and Papanui to work.
  • On 9 December 1965, 42-year-old Norman Kirk became leader of the parliamentary Labour Party, and leader of the opposition.
  • Kirk led Labour to victory with a majority of 23 seats on 25 November 1972.
  • He applied pressure to the French to stop testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific, then sent a a frigate to the test area ‘to provide a focus for international opinion against the tests’.
  • His government reformed Māori land law – the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 set up the Waitangi Tribunal. See television footage of Waitangi Day ceremonies on 6 February 1973.
  • He grew progressively more unwell, and died in our Our Lady’s Home of Compassion hospital in Island Bay on Saturday 31 August 1974 of ‘congestive cardiac failure’ and ‘thromboembolic pulmonary heart disease’. He was 51. Kirk was survived by his wife and family. He had a state funeral, and it was attended by thousands of New Zealanders.
View image of Norman Kirk's coffin
Alongside the coffin of the late Prime Minister Norman Kirk at Parliament House, Wellington. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 1/4-021782-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22870322

Gallery - Norman Kirk The First 250 Days

Cover of The Mighty Totara Cover of Diary of the Kirk years
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The caged bird sings no more

Cover of I Know Wht The Caged Bird SingsI awoke this morning to the news that Maya Angelou had died. Immediately, I felt a slight twinge of shame – her books, especially her poignantly titled autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, have been on my to-read mental shelves forever and a day.

Yet the first thoughts about her that I could summon were a mundane mix: I knew that Oprah was a big fan of hers and that she had featured in the TV series of Roots (only because I had recently caught snatches of it while channel-surfing late at night – if you are wondering, she played wise old Nyo Boto in the episodes set in Kunta Kinte’s village).

While listening to the news, I discovered that Angelou was also the author of the famous quote:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,

but by the moments that take our breath away.

But Maya Angelou was much more than that: she was a prolific writer, a poet, a civil rights activist, as well as a singer, a dancer, a director, and a producer whose life encompassed many varied experiences. Check out the following resources to learn more:

If, like me, you have yet to read Maya Angelou’s work, and the news of her death has spurred you into action, the library holds many of her titles. If you do plan to start with the bestselling I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, keep in mind that it is available both as an individual book and as part of her Collected Autobiographies. We also have a simplified and abbreviated copy.

If you have already read some of Angelou’s books, please do share your thoughts and comments. Did she affect you as she appears to have affected these readers who commented on I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings?

Cover of The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou   Cover of Letter to My Daughter   Cover of Mom & Me & Mom

R.I.P Arthur C

British sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke has died at the age of 90.  Although most famous for his short story The Sentinel, which was made into the film 2001 : A Space Odyssey, Clarke authored over a hundred books.  Gene Roddenberry credited Clarke with inspiring him to create Star Trek.

Although the intergalactic space travel he predicted is not possible yet, many of his other fiction fantasies (such as satellite communication and men on the moon) have been realised.  Read obituaries for Arthur C. Clarke at The Guardian and BBC.