Helen Dashfield, the founder of the Wairarapa branch of the National Council of Women. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

 

EMILY NORMAN

After 50 years, the Wairarapa branch of the National Council of Women is being disbanded.

But the women went out with a bang last month as they celebrated the past five decades, paying tribute to the branch’s founder Helen Dashfield.

Mrs Dashfield, who was a strong advocate for women’s involvement in politics, education and community, died in October 2015.

At a memorial seat unveiling at Henley Lake Park last month, close friends and family described Mrs Dashfield as a role model and inspiration to many; relentless in her quest to improve the lives of girls and women.

Her husband, Reverend Ted Dashfield was the first to use the seat as he sat down to thank members of the National Council of Women (NCW) for installing the seat in his wife’s honour.

“It’s Helen’s birthday today, so here I am, sitting on her lap,” he said.

“Today she would be 86.”

Mr Dashfield launched into his speech with a mention of one of his wife’s greatest inspirations, New Zealand women’s advocate Dame Miriam Dell.

Dame Miriam Dell and Ted Dashfield at the dedication of the National Council of Women's memorial seat for branch founder Helen Dashfield. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN

Dame Miriam Dell and Ted Dashfield at the dedication of the National Council of Women’s memorial seat for branch founder Helen Dashfield. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN

Little did he know that the Martinborough-based campaigner was in attendance that day.

The surprised Mr Dashfield paused his train of thought to embrace Dame Miriam before returning to the seat and continuing his speech.

“Helen left her mark on Masterton,” he said.

“And the NCW was a very important part of her life.”

Along with founding the NCW’s Wairarapa branch, Mrs Dashfield was a founding member of Soroptimists and the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) in Wairarapa. In 1980, after a lively campaign she became the first woman elected to Masterton Trust Lands Trust in 108 years.

“When Helen became chair of the grants committee, she was thrilled because it meant she could have at her disposal a large sum of money and could help groups in real need.”

Mr Dashfield recalled how his wife would always be baking in anticipation of important meetings.

“She always thought baking helped her get her way,” he said, laughing.

Mrs Dashfield also served as president of the Wairarapa Arts Centre and she was later made a patron of Aratoi.

She had 54 years of involvement at St Matthew’s Collegiate School as pupil, teacher, headmistress and Board member.

In 1995 she received the Queen’s Service Medal for Public Service.

At the seat’s dedication ceremony on Sunday, past NCW presidents spoke of how Mrs Dashfield had taught girls to be assertive, to take pride in themselves and to love language and literature.

After the dedication ceremony, the group of NCW members celebrated their 50-year milestone with an afternoon tea at Gladstone Vineyard.

The decision to disband was made after a decrease in local membership and a decline in gaining younger members in recent years.

Those who are members of the Wairarapa branch would likely join the national membership on an individual basis.

The seat was funded by both NCW and Mrs Dashfield, who left some money in her will to NCW.