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Dame Suzie D (and Me)

by Christine Ammunson


We are excited to have Dame Susan Devoy speaking at our Fish'n'Chip Supper this year - our board member Christine Ammunson reflects on things she bets Dame Susan won't be including in her book, Dame Suzie D: My Story.



There will be many, many things that Dame Susan Devoy won’t have been able to include in her autobiography that is out this May. Working with her when she was Race Relations Commissioner meant I was often around during very confidential discussions. I thought I would list some of the things I bet aren’t in there:

 

1. Susan has no airs or graces. One time when she was down my way she and another friend caught up at ours for tea and she accepted my invitation to stay the night. She refused to take anyone’s bed so when one of the boys got home with a mate after a night out, they had to tiptoe past Dame Susan Devoy sound asleep on the sofa.


2. She is incredibly generous. I remember one time a young dad in our community was very ill and raising money for medical treatment. When I told her there was a fundraising dinner she asked if she could help and next minute she drove over the Remutaka to help make a crowd of farmers and tradies laugh their heads off for an hour or so. He raised enough for his successful operation.


3. People who have won multiple world champion titles do things differently. Sometimes after flying in from Tauranga instead of taking a bus (she rarely taxied) to our office on the Terrace in Wellington, she would walk from Wellington Airport to town via Oriental Bay. Some days if she got hōhā waiting for the bus she’d walk the same way back to catch her flight.


4. She is a fearless advocate. Years before the tragedy of the massacre in Christchurch on March 15th 2019, she went toe to toe with very senior (even I can’t name them) people who work in an office in Wellington I also can’t name. She told them that Muslim communities in Aotearoa were under threat and instead of profiling them, the government should be protecting them. As we know, they didn’t listen. But I can say that their rather loud meeting with the dame will be one those officials won’t forget any time soon.

 

5. Thoughtful and remembers details. When our boy was in hospital waiting for surgery she popped in with lollies for him. As she has three sons herself she knew the kind of cool lollies that he would want. When she saw the lollies my friend had bought, she groaned: Oh my God he’s 9 not 89. She was right, appropriately I ended up eating the old lady lollies.


6. Susan is hilarious and you never know what she’s going to do or say. One time we were on a bus with Chinese community leaders heading to the far north. It wasn’t a short drive. After several hours I heard some cheers from the back. The elders had not accepted her lollies she’d bought for the trip and instead offered her dry kale, their idea of treats. In response she began prancing up and down the aisle. Was there a cartwheel? I’m not sure. But it did break up a very long journey for a few hilarious moments.


7. She trains hard at whatever she sets her sights on. Before big media interviews I would sit in a room with her and ask her the most aggressive, offensive questions I could think of. The first time she jumped up onto the couch she’d been sitting on and let out a few expletives at me as well as interesting hand signs. An hour later she nailed it. She went on to launch New Zealand’s first national anti-racism campaign, prepared for the worst of it.


Dame Susan will be opening the Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival at the Fish'n'Chip Supper.






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