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Helen Kelly: Just plain good

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, October 14th, 2016 - 41 comments
Categories: health and safety, leadership, Left, Unions, workers' rights - Tags:

We were partners in crime, Helen and I. We worked together on so many campaigns – from the Hobbit campaign, to the Port of Auckland dispute, to Jobs that Count, to health and safety, to a video about ACC cuts that included a mate of a mate dressed in a lime green mankini.

She was brilliant and optimistic, and infuriating, and wonderful. She was a persistent activist who would happily joke about just about everything including herself, but most of all she was good.

Just plain good.

We called her the Princess. Hell, she called herself the Princess with a wry smile and a spark in her eye. The phone would ring and she’d say “I need you to do this”, and we bloody well would. Because if Helen needed something done you knew it was the right thing to do and you’d do it as best as you could. To say she led from the front would be an understatement.

She was one of the few people that I’ve never seen equivocate – she loved people and she knew what was right and she wouldn’t stop pursuing it. It’s why so many people loved her in return and were so so loyal to her.

And she pushed us. So many conversations with her would start with “but Helen, that’s impossible” and would end with “okay, but this is the last time”. Of course it never was. Indeed some of the things I’m most proud of achieving as an activist, scratch that – as a human being, came from her pushing me. And I know I’m not alone in this – she drove so many of us to change things, to make things better.

After she was diagnosed with cancer we were heartbroken. She came out for lunch and my four year old son decided he was in love with her – at his insistence they went out into the backyard to hunt for sticks and build “skyscrapers” out of them in his sandpit, she was in the middle of chemo but she was so engaged with him and him with her for hours. It was beautiful to watch. Even weakened she seemed unstoppable.

Now she has been stopped. She always had so much life in her it still doesn’t seem possible. Helen, you live on in all of the people you’ve taught to keep working to make things better, and to take our licks and keep on fighting for what’s right. To be good.

But mate, I’m going to miss you so much.

41 comments on “Helen Kelly: Just plain good ”

  1. r0b 1

    Thanks for that Rob.

    • I Feel Love 1.1

      Yes thank you, the right seemed to be genuinely scared of her, she will be terribly missed!

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    Helen Kelly, now that your hard work is done, find your deserved rest in peace.

  3. Goodbye Helen. Thank you for all your hard work. In a better world, you would have been PM. Saw you in action many times. Love to you, wherever you are or not: you’ll live on and not be forgotten whatever.

  4. Beautifully put, Rob.

    I’ve known Helen for decades and her warmth, sense of humour and unquenchable optimism never changed. I put a lot of that down to Pat and Cath, her parents, who gave her an education in class, capital and comradeship that few could have bettered.

    Tie that to her own innate sense of what was right and what was wrong and you get someone who never, ever stopped battling for those for whom there will never be a level playing field.

    There’s not much that sets me to tears, but losing Helen has done that this morning.

    But if there is one positive in the death of a unionist, it’s Joe Hill’s call; don’t mourn, organise.

    That’s what Helen would want us to do. It’s just that we will never do it as well as she did. But we can try, aye. We can only try.

  5. fender 5

    RIP Helen,such an amazingly inspirational woman.

  6. Sabine 6

    The good ones always go to early.

    I guess the heavens needed you more then us down here.

  7. greywarshark 7

    Farewell, Helen Kelly. We celebrate your life and great work for we ordinary people, and for believing that all and each person is actually extraordinary and deserves to be valued and respected.

    A tweet from John Key for Helen Kelly was announced on RadioNZ. Did I hear that he wrote about her that she was an advocate for ‘women’s rights’? It certainly did not sound like ‘workers’ rights. Of course that term is an unknown one to him, from a foreign language that relates to the common people.

    Helen was also advocating for the environment. Too often the good die young, and the negative old continue, pickled in vinegar.

    Here are tributes from Scoop:
    Richard Wagstaff, President of NZ Council of Trade Unions, CTU –
    Death of union leader Helen Kelly, who inspired and empowered

    On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Helen Kelly with youtube video:

    There is a poignant comment about a recent interview she gave where she put aside her medication so her mind could be sharp. This was the excerpt from r/h column and you will find it on Public Address.
    Hard News: Helen
    Helen Kelly didn’t take her medical cannabis before we came to see her last Friday.She explained that she wanted to be articulate for the interview she was doing for a Radio New Zealand series I’m making. I can only guess …
    Public Address

    Paying tribute to Helen and her heartfelt commitment to a good and fair world will best be done by following on and furthering her work and acting for better on her deepest concerns. I can’t find the posts she did on the environment that I remembered.
    But here is a group of posts she put on The Standard, from the latest I found in August 2016.
    1. https://thestandard.org.nz/take-back-our-communities-and-create-jobs-that-count/
    2. https://thestandard.org.nz/helen-kelly-a-work-of-art/

    Sympathy and love to all family and friends and unionists. I send you awhi. (Kore rawa e rawaka te reo kotahi.)

  8. mickysavage 8

    Well said Rob.

  9. Anne 9

    A shining light extinguished too soon. Like Kate Shepherd before her, Helen Kelly will be remembered and revered in the years to come.

  10. lprent 10

    I met Helen Kelly in person exactly once to give her a quick demo on the most effective way to use this site’s editor for writing posts and the things that made a post most effective. It was worth the time for both of us. She made her posts, mostly on unwarranted forestry deaths, far more effective.

    But by then she’d already impressed the hell out of me because of the way that she was running the campaign on those deaths.

    I’m going to miss her intelligence, compassion, courage and persistence.

  11. Chooky 11

    +100 Great Post and great comments

    …and she shone for those who did not know her personally

    …a great New Zealander

  12. keepcalmcarryon 12

    Beautifully said Rob, Im sorry for your loss of a friend and for Helens family.
    Kia Kaha.

  13. Scott 13

    I did not agree with her very often, but she was a sincere and reasoned advocate who has left this place better for her efforts and was stolen from us too soon.

    My thoughts go out to her friends and family.

  14. Karen 14

    Thank you for this post Rob, although it has left me in tears.

    Helen’s death is huge loss for the people of this country.

    He wahine toa.

  15. esoteric pineapples 15

    Helen showed what a great New Zealander and a great leader actually looks likes

  16. left for dead 16

    I just wonted too come here this morning in support of all the loving comments left here, of this great New Zealander.
    Warmest regards to her family and friends.

  17. ianmac 17

    A thoroughly nice good woman.

  18. weka 18

    Beautiful and moving tribute Rob, thank-you.

    Thank-you Helen for all the amazing hard work and the inspiration. What a jewel of a New Zealander.

  19. Manuka AOR 19

    ~ Dave Dobbyn, and one of the tracks Helen chose for her “Soundtracks of your life” interview, Dec 2015

  20. mary_a 20

    Thank you Helen for advocating for ordinary Kiwi workers. A battler for the underdog right to the end of her life.

    RIP Helen Kelly.

  21. She was a good person. Principled, brave and dignified. She will be sorely missed.

  22. Anno1701 22

    Are you poor, forlorn and hungry?
    Are there lots of things you lack ?
    Is your life made up of misery?
    Then dump the bosses off your back.

    Are your clothes all patched and tattered ?
    Are you living in a shack ?
    Would you have your troubles scattered ?
    Then dump the bosses off your back.

    Are you almost split asunder?
    Loaded like a long-eared jack?
    Boob – why don’t you buck like thunder,
    And dump the bosses off your back ?

    All the agonies you suffer
    You can end with one good whack
    Stiffen up, you orn’ry duffer
    And dump the bosses off your back.

  23. Coolas 23

    Helen Kelly was awesome, and her death at the prime of her life, is so very, very sad, and a huge loss.

    For me Kelly has been the most consistent and coherent voice for workers rights and social justice for over a decade. Her courage in challenging the owners of capital to be responsible for their actions was relentless.

    Seeing her on TV advocating for medical marijuana, a scarf covering her bald head, epitomised this beautiful brilliant woman fighting for justice right until the end.

  24. Leftie 24

    Just heartbreaking

  25. Skinny 25

    A courageous woman who always put the worker first. A tragic loss for New Zealand. RIP Helen Kelly.

    The best summary I could find for you sister much love xx


  26. feijoa 26

    It would be a better world if there were more Helen Kellys, it is such a loss, a few tears

    Sadly , people like her are very few, so for that even more tears
    Condolences to her whanau.

  27. Richard Rawshark 27

    My condolences mate, I never had the privilege of meeting Helen but for all she did and all she gave I truly felt sad and even sadder that one more of the good ones has gone, there seems so few kind selfless people left and I was surprised just how much the news of Helens passing has affected me today.

    Rest Helen, and thanks from all of us that care too.

  28. rhinocrates 28

    She was a great help to me as head of the predecessor to the TEU at an awful time, and an inspiration thereafter. Hard to believe that she’s actually gone.

    My condolences to all whose lives have been touched by her.

    When a decent time has passed, perhaps a Standard thread on what might be the best way to memorialise her? In acts and institutions.

  29. mosa 29

    Great Rob Thankyou. Earlier this year i emailed Helen to thank her for her commitment to the hard working undervalued kiwi worker , her courage in standing up to the mining industry in the wake of Pike river and supporting families of working men and women killed at their place of work and leading the fight for the workers in the film industry.
    She was and will always be an inspiration to me and other New Zealanders and was a major reason i re joined the union after not being signed up for twenty years.
    Helen will always have my respect and gratitude.

    She replied
    What a lovely note and brilliant you joined a union.
    Thanks for getting in touch.

    She is a guiding light that will always burn bright and one of our most cherished and loved leaders.

    Go well Helen you are at peace.

  30. Byd0nz 30

    What a proud name Kelly is
    For the trade union movement,
    New Zealand has lost a daughter
    A working class suporter
    Staunch ’till the very end.
    With dignity she faced the foe
    To battle for the oppressed
    Any problem, big or small
    Helen has addressed.
    Her manner and mana,
    No one can question this
    Workers of the world, unite
    Salute Helen with clenched fist.

  31. Oh Rob : what a great tribute and its so right! She made us all feel special in her life, yet I know I am sharing my grief with thousands of others. I will miss her so much. Those phone calls, the laughter, the plotting, the push when you always ended up agreeing, a deep friendship you can’t describe. Yet her greatest legacy in my view are the workers who are today mourning as well; those she developed, encouraged, taught to stand together; those emerging leaders. My mate too.

  32. Mike Smith 32

    Well said Rob
    Tears for the Prime Minister we never had
    Cheers for the inspiration she lived and gave
    Thoughts with Steve Dylan and Cath and always remember Pat
    Arohanui Helen

  33. Rae 33

    Someone dying at such a young age, especially when they had so much to do is always tragic, but there may be some good will come from it. Helen’s struggle has raised awareness of the part unions can play in a decent society.
    She will most definitely be missed, not the least for her sheer tenacity and endless concern for the welfare of others over her own, the one thing that defines the true meaning of “left”.

  34. Ch-ch Chiquita 34

    A very sad day for New Zealand and the world, as people like Helen Kelly make the world a better place. RIP, Helen.

  35. John Ryall 35

    Great post Rob. It made me laugh even though it is a sad time. It brought back memories of the same phone calls starting with “I want you to do this” and after a few feeble reservations expressed about her proposed strategy, agreeing to do what she wanted.

    She was a hard person to say no to

    • Rob Egan 35.1

      Thanks John, she was very hard to say no to 🙂 I was always in awe of her fearless optimism – it’s the part of her that I think is most important to keep alive in the movement.

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