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For many years when asked to name a ‘famous person’ whom I wanted to emulate I really struggled.  There were lots of people who I agreed had fantastic characteristics and were achieving amazing feats of wonder. However, I had no desire to be them or even to be ‘like’ them.

When pressured I would choose Nicole Kidman … because I think she is an amazing talent who has lived life on her terms and she is Antipodean, tall with sometimes red hair.

It was in my early 30s when I realised there were two reasons for this struggle:

The first was that I have always adamantly wanted to be ME … in all my complex, paradoxical, geeky, growing, celebratory, quirky, compassionate, intellectual, curious and goofy ways. Even as an adolescent I refused to succumb completely to peer pressure and made my own choices. I knew that for many conventional people and groups I was an uncomfortable fit. And this hurt, at times a lot. However, I considered the feedback I received, learnt from some of it, discarded most of it and moved on.

The second was that I came to the UK and met as an adult my maternal Grandmother and Great Aunt. And I realised that I have never needed to look at ‘famous people’ to find women of immense strength, courage, achievement, complexity and humour to emulate. On both sides of my family I have generations of stunningly fabulous women who I have learnt from, been inspired by and have sat in awe with as they have shared their stories. Let me introduce you.

  • Generation 1 – Nanny Cooper – gardener, knitter, baker, mother of 3. Thrived through both WWI & WWII, supported the raising of her 4 grandchildren by providing a home whilst their mother worked 3 jobs to provide for them.
  • Generation 2 – Grandma Coulthard – hair dresser, cook, nursing home matron, single mother of 4. Ensured her children born throughout WWII were clothed, fed, housed, educated, churched and loved. Generously encouraged them as they all flew the nest to different parts of the world to establish lives in exotic locales.
  • Generation 2 – Aunty Cooper – signaler in the ATS through WWII, secretary and bookkeeper, European traveler and explorer, single woman who provided compassion, care and fun for her 3 nephews and 1 niece.
  • Generation 2 – Grandy Coombes – one of 7 siblings, nurse from WWII and with mental health patients until the late 1970s, antique shop owner, cattery owner, fast driver & dancer, mother of 1. Moved to NZ when she was in her late 60s to be near her son and grandchildren. Provided safe haven, quirky guidance and a glass of sweet sherry regardless of whether it was wanted.
  • Generation 3 – Mother Coombes – youngest of 4, trained at teacher’s college, within 2 weeks of meeting Father Coombes was engaged, moved to NZ in 1969 and had 3 children. Did part-time work throughout children’s early years from fruit picking to teaching life-saving. Led and trained girls and women through the Girl Guide movement. Worked as a school librarian, went back into teaching, retrained to educate children with disabilities. Widowed in her mid-40s, lost her son when he was 26. Provided her second daughter with support and encouragement with all the challenges faced through raising 4 children. Traveled the world, made quilts, collected teddy bears. Overcame leukemia to be in remission and continues to live life to the fullest.
  • Generation 4 – Sister Blow – middle of 3 siblings, trained as a nurse, single mother for 3 years, met husband and moved to Australia & UK with him before returning to NZ. Had further 3 children. Re-trained as a plunket nurse (caring for children and their families from birth through to starting school). Co-founder of a charity that supports the education of children with Downs Syndrome as inspired by her middle daughter. Coped through leukemia experienced by daughter with Downs and anorexia of eldest daughter. Dealt with her own health related to having Marfan’s Syndrome as well as that of her eldest (son) and youngest daughter. Began career as a community officer working with families to keep children in school. Traveled, camped, partied. Continues to live life to the fullest as her children move into and towards adulthood.
  • Generation 5 – as my 3 nieces move through adolescence towards adulthood I am awed at the women they already are. And the options that are open to them as they make choices each day. They, too, are strong, independent, creative and compassionate. Each is glowingly unique. Each has her growing pains. Each has her celebrations.

From these women I learnt grace under fire, independence, strength, compassion, endurance and appreciation of the joys of life. I learnt about being true to self and being generous towards others. I learnt tolerance, acceptance and open-minded curiosity. I learnt that whatever job you are currently doing you can learn from it and make the most of it. I learnt to appreciate the now, plan for tomorrow and dream for your future. I learnt that success is about the quality of the connections we have and what we do to make the world a better place for others.

I’m curious, how have the women in your family shaped you?