New Zealand’s very own Joan of Arc —
A salute to Judith Thompson
82% of North Americans think Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Thank God, we as New Zealanders are not that thick and know differently. Tonight we are saying farewell to our very own Joan of Arc. Most of us in this room would not be standing here without you Judith. Florence Nightingale, Calamity Jane and Joan of Arc were three women with enormous heroic urges. And you are in this class. How you have navigated this precious program and cause we all believe in with you, has amazed me. You've suffered many fools in the process and I've seen your beautiful brown eyes roll back in your head as you quietly suffer some fool pontificating on a pet topic, deftly seeing them off into the wings with such diplomatic aplomb. I've learned later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing. It's a wonderful method for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation. Unfortunately, this happens every time the government changes hands in New Zealand; so we veer all over the place.
Wouldn't it be nice to avoid the “gee whiz” ideas from California or anywhere for something more solid. You only have to look at the Vatican to see what they've done with Design by being a little surer of themselves. I think we are coming-of-age, in this respect. But it is a faith – and you have to believe in it. You Judith, our leader, have kept the faith and grown the church. You have managed to steer this movement through the palace intrigues of government with your passion and belief in this movement and I can only, on behalf of all in this room, pay you the ultimate tribute to your passion and dedication.
The woman's movement in New Zealand has dramatically modified our culture since the late 1970s, with more durable effect than any other change. I've had a long belief that what passion exists in this country has resided in the hearts of women more than men. They have generally shown more gumption and have been more prepared to argue the issues openly, if irritably some of the time. They have modified the dreadful macho culture of my youth, and their new intellectual confidence has become so noticeable it has cowed the progress of men. Mostly it has been good, and mature women wear with pride and delight the independence they had to fight for. Under the soft wall-to-wall carpet of New Zealand life is an underlay of perplexed unhappiness, which is common around the modern world, but hard to understand in a country like ours. We have so many natural advantages, so much space, so much light and a colonial history in which both the indigenous people and European settlers have tried genuinely to accommodate each other - and since the 1970s we have achieved so much.
Design lead thinking is so new in our society, foreign to many and yet its potential contribution is enormous. The good Lord did a pretty good job on our backdrop; it's up to us to populate the foreground sustainably for our children to come. Design is this enormous enabler we have never used as of yet. We have to use our generous environmental footprint in new ways to sell less of what we have for more.
Age is a very high price to pay for maturity, but without your wisdom and guidance over these 10 years, I don't think I could stand here amongst us as colleagues and say these things without being thrown down the stairs. We have to stay grounded and filter world opinion in a way that suits us. One of the ways of keeping our society grounded somewhere near truth and authenticity-which are elusive enough, God knows-is to encourage continuing public argument about the phony and fraudulent. Design can be the new medium of this debate; a place where we work this thing out for ourselves. I think I see this Better-by-Design thing, if it's allowed to live without tight prescription as the forum for such debate in the renewal of our economy. This, Judith, is what you have helped to give birth to and lead and I hope we can saunter along the waterfront in our dotage together and help you take a little credit for what is undoubtedly a crusade which you and many others in this room began.
James K Baxter once said, "One of the functions of artists in the community [in our case read designers] is to provide a healthy and permanent element of rebellion; not to become a species of civil servant." Between the idea and the reality falls the committee. Judith, I imagine that in these past 10 years in these palaces of government there have been some days when you have felt like the statue and many others when you have felt like the pigeon. In one breath we can't claim you as our Joan of Arc and say well done - since this poor darling [the maid of Orleans] was burnt at the stake for her beliefs. Judith, you are far from medium rare, for me you are very rare. Rather wiser to reverse the words and say Judith you have done well. You can now wake up tomorrow morning with all our very kind wishes and forever be our statue. We can assure you there will be no more pigeons in your square.
Kindest wishes from us all.