Working with Helen

Written By: - Date published: 12:34 pm, October 15th, 2016 - 17 comments
Categories: leadership, Left, workers' rights - Tags:

I worked with Helen at the CTU for about seven years from 2008. I went through my 30s as she went through her 40s there. We were under the Nats so it was a tough time for the union movement, human rights and justice.

She was my boss, and she was a good one. She obviously had a handle and a vision over all her work. I did some of the slog-work on health and safety and she kept investing in me, encouraging me, and getting me to back into law school.
She believed in me {{nervous laughter}}. She believed in lots of working class people.

Helen was not a power freak. Power freaks are everywhere, I can usually spot them a mile off and I can’t work with them. Helen liked the Labour Party and that was a difference between us, but she never played power games with me. I felt free and trusted, so I naturally wanted to do a good job.

We unravelled complex legislation together, appeared at Select Committees, on picket lines and were at protests together. We both agreed that fascism is on the rise.

We could talk reasonably while being straight-up and honest. She was a woman of her word.

A letter, or a campaign plan, was always half-written in her head. At the hospice she told me about the next letter to be penned on quadbike safety.

We were mates who could get obsessed with our work. We enjoyed being geeky, she gave me stick about the methyl bromide campaign.

She was super intelligent and her sense of humour was very special.

A few years ago, she visited me while I was flatting at an anarchist house, and when she arrived she said “Oh, this is appropriately bohemian.”

She bought my daughter presents from France and she came to my birthday party. She talked about her favourite time at teachers collage, doing pottery and dance classes. She took French language lessons.

Sometimes her wit was very dark and cheeky as hell. I appreciated this.

During our health and safety work we were mourning the dead while fighting for the living. We had to live like this.

The last time I saw her in the hospice I said “see you later” and she said “see you” and flashed me a cheeky smile. We both knew what that meant.

~ Tina McIvor

17 comments on “Working with Helen”

  1. Rob Egan 1

    Thanks for this, Tina.

  2. weka 2

    My thanks too, good to see another post about Helen and who she was.

  3. Chooky 3

    very moving…thanx Tina

  4. Ness Lomax 5

    That’s so lovely Tina x so sorry for your loss losing a lovely friend x

  5. RedLogix 6

    The very best ones do seem prone to getting an early ticket out of here. 🙂

    A lot has been already said by people who knew Helen well; but the ultimate public tribute has to be the hard-won respect shown her from all sides of the political spectrum. And as deep as her loss is, it can be transformed into a far larger gain if we look to her example and consider sincerely how we might learn from it.

  6. John r 7

    Many years ago as a young manager of people I had a boss who was an avid socialist. He influenced my thinking to such a degree that years later I still often asked myself when making important decisions “What would Bob decide here”.

    Perhaps one of the finest salutes we could proffer to Helen Kelly is to ask ourselves “What would Helen Kelly say about our actions”

    • red-blooded 7.1

      I think that’s a great way to honour Helen. She had rock-solid social values and she always looked for solutions, rather than just sitting on the sidelines and pointing out problems. She was a flexible thinker, an innovator and a moderniser. If more people asked what Helen Kelly would do, our country would be more caring and inclusive.

    • Leftie 7.2

      I like that a lot John R.

  7. Jenny Kirk 8

    Thanks you for this, Tina.

  8. Leftie 9

    That is a lovely post, thank you Tina.

  9. Muttonbird 10

    What an amazing post. It’s that ability to engender an emotional response with so few words.

    I hope you go far, Tina.

  10. PMC 11

    Thank you Tina. A truly remarkable individual.

  11. UpandComer 12

    I met Helen Kelly once in Dunedin by accident when I was temping as a stevedore very early one morning and she was on site in the supervisor’s office. I gave her a gentle, juvenile verbal jab about conditions for us non-union student types who still had dreams (I was young).

    Helen gave it right back to me with much more wit and verve and humour then my quip or the early morning hour deserved. Helen was a brave, formidable, intelligent woman.

  12. save nz 13

    Lovely post. Helen Kelly’s legacy as is our all, is, what we leave behind.

  13. Kerry 14

    Thanks Tina.

    Sudden flashback to Maria’s 40th, in your bohemian living room.
    So glad Helen enjoyed the look of it!

    Sadder & more cynical is a side-effect of getting older. She showed us grace under fire, a willingness to look the end straight in the face, and laugh anyway.
    I’ll remember her fierce activism, her brutal refusal to cede autonomy, her absolute kindness and love for her fellow citizens. Moe mai rā, e hine.

  14. Little Kiwi 15

    A very nice tribute for a kiwi legend. Noticed she was working right up until the last moment.

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