Sunday, 22 November 2020

Dame Margaret Guilfoyle's

political obituaries will be written elsewhere. I want to say something here about her as a person.

I met her at Law School. By then she was contemplating her life after politics and had come to the conclusion she needed to study the law she had been applying in her work a little more closely.

Trying to find time to study even part time is almost impossible for anyone in politics. The then Dean of the Law School hauled me in and said, "Cat, we have a new student who is going to need some help. I'd like you to give her some."

I blinked and wondered just how much help I would be expected to give but ten minutes later we had come to an arrangement which suited us both. If  DM could not attend a lecture for any reason then she would borrow the lecture from me as I always taped them. I would also go through the Legal Writing and Research material with her because she would not be able to attend those classes. I taught her how to write an examination summary so that it saved her hours of time. She took far more notice of that than the much younger students who should have been using the skills involved.

She asked for no more than we could both see she needed. When she appeared for a lecture she made it very clear that she intended to be treated like any other student. When she had time she queued in the Law School canteen for a cup of coffee like any other student.

Occasionally she would use her authority. I remember a younger and very radical female student who wore bib and brace overalls who had complained a male student opening a door for her. She came into the canteen one day and complained that her daughter "still wanted to wear a dress to school". DM gently told her that she was making life very difficult for her daughter by making her different from her classmates. It was not so much the message but the delivery that caused the mother to stop her complaint.

DM was often accosted by unhappy students, students who supported the other side of politics and staff who objected to decisions being made. It must often have been very difficult for her but she always remained calm. She would listen and, more than once, a student found a problem had been solved. 

There were times when the lecturer would find him or herself talking about a decision that DM had been involved in. She never seemed to notice and the lecturer would never allude to the fact that she was present except for once. The lecturer was having a problem trying to explain why a decision had been made. It was an "unusual" one as he tried to explain "the Minister's decision". Then, quietly, she said, "The Minister is present...and the Minister made the decision on the basis that - as a wife and a mother - that is the decision I would have wanted the Minister to make." It was a good decision too. It solved a problem that needed to be solved.

I was in my final year when a major scholarship became open for applications. The Dean of the Law School and one of the professors were keen for me to apply. I didn't mention it DM and had no intention of applying. My Law School record, while creditable enough,  was not a run of High Distinctions like a couple of the best students.  I had also, I hoped, finished with any more studying. But, we were sitting in the quad going through notes of a lecture DM had missed when she said to me,

   "Cat, you are putting in for that scholarship and J...., D... and I are going to act as your referees."

It was the way she wanted to repay me for help I had been happy to freely give because she was always punctilious about saying, "Thank you." She was one of the most thoughtful politicians I have ever met.  It is little wonder she was respected on both sides of politics.

And yes, I got the scholarship.



1 comment:

Allison said...

I wish we could have more like her all around the world. What a difference that would make.