‘You always hear about people having male role models but mine were all women who had a great influence on my life,’ says Molly Pardoe. She spoke with Sophie Rishworth about the amazing women who came into her life just when she needed them . . .
Molly Pardoe (nee Gage) describes herself as a “Sandy Lane kid” from Tolaga Bay. They were some of the best years of her life growing up there with her grandmother.
Sandy Lane was the street by Hauiti Church as you drive into Tolaga Bay from Gisborne. It is called something else now but whenever Molly greets an old friend from those days, they still call themselves the Sandy Lane kids.
Recently, one of Molly's 12 grandchildren said to her, “Nan, we have to do our family tree.” She explained to them how her whakapapa was a “wonky whakapapa”.
“My husband Stan's family tree is all a straight line, but mine has branches everywhere. I was a whangai child, adopted within my family.”
Molly's birth mother gave her to her cousin, who could not have children.
“She adored me.”
But when Molly was two, she passed away.
Molly then lived with her grandmother Johanna — on Sandy Lane — where she enjoyed a “free” childhood.
“We didn't own a car, or any mod cons — we were ever so happy.”
Activities included swimming in the river, or playing with other Sandy Lane kids until dark when they would get whistled in for dinner.
“We were always so safe. It was community living. There were no fancy gadgets and I would come home to a beautiful grandmother to look after me, and a home-cooked meal.”
She thought about those times a lot over the recent Covid-19 lockdown, as life seemed to revert back to those days.
“It is the big events like Cyclone Bola and this virus that bring communities together.
“They show how fabulously we all work together.”
Molly has always been a team player.
But sometimes her wonky whakapapa left a young Molly confused, and sometimes envious of friends who had a complete family with a mum, dad and siblings who all lived in the same home.
Tolaga Bay is a small community and Molly's birth mother and siblings lived across the river from them.
“But I didn't have much to do with them really,” said Molly.
When she was 10, her beloved grandmother passed away. Molly says she has a special affinity for other children who have also lost people close to them at such a young age. And working with school children has been a big focus and love of her life.
“I feel like you can influence them and make a difference in their lives.”
Molly knows exactly what that's like.
At 10, Molly moved to live with her Aunt Turuhira in Gisborne.
“It gets more complex,” says Molly, good-naturedly and factually.
While attending Central School she boarded with a family who lived across the road from the school. Back then Central School was where the EIT Tairawhiti campus is now situated.
The mum, Aunty Alice, was an “amazing woman” who taught Molly to knit, sew, and prepare meals. She would say things like, “A job worth doing, is worth doing well” and “A stitch in time saves nine.”
“I was just like a daughter to her. She was fabulous. I was very lucky to have her in my life.”
It was a whole new world, though, for Molly. Aunty Alice was non-Maori, plus Molly was one of only a few Maori students at her school. Coming from such a strong Maori community in Tolaga Bay, Molly says she felt “very foreign”.
Sport became a huge part of her life — especially netball and squash — and she was very keen on maintaining her fitness to play these competitive sports.
Molly says she is still a netball freak but watches it now, and keeps fit by swimming every day.
There has been no hint of retirement for this 76-year-old great-grandmother, who describes herself as strong, committed, and a team player.
Molly is currently share-caring for her 18-month old great-grandson, which keeps her fit and busy.
For most of her life Molly has always been on a committee of some sort. And despite her wonky whakapapa it has all been “straight lines” since she married Stan in 1963, and the couple had four children. They lived on a farm at Manutuke in the 1960s and Molly worked at Manutuke Store. And that is when Annie, the store owner's wife, came into her life.
“She was amazing. She taught me all I knew about babies and motherhood. We had a bond that was very special. Annie came into my life just when I needed someone as a new mum. Among all the children, babies, shearing gangs and farming, she was a lovely, beautiful steady influence.”
Early childhood education was a big focus for Molly during those years and she got into community life. Along with a group of local parents, they established the Play Centre, and worked at Manutuke School.
“Netball was a strong part of my life at that time, coaching school teams and setting up the YMP Netball Club in 1969. Back then it was all rugby and hockey in those communities, she says.
People told her she would never get netball up and running.
“We had three teams that year and the club is still going strong today.”
Molly has also been a coach for the Poverty Bay junior netball team.
After many years helping in sport and education while raising her family, Molly transitioned into community health.
For many years she worked at Tairawhiti District Health (now Hauora Tairawhiti). That is where she met Anne Shaw, a woman who gave people opportunities and would follow up by saying “You can do it”.
With Anne's encouragement, Molly got the spot on a new team to bring together TDH, Ngati Porou and Turanganui-a-Kiwa. It was a pilot project with a focus on community injury prevention and collaboration.
As a team player, Molly liked to see everyone taking part, but this new collaborative approach to health was a difficult and challenging time, as well as “really interesting”.
The politics involved meant Molly could use her diplomacy skills.
Molly says she is proud of what they all achieved together, and the programmes that stemmed from it were “amazing”.
It was a huge time career-wise and led to national roles and programmes.
She credits Anne for giving her the opportunity and the confidence to go for it.
Much of Molly's career in community roles was to feed information from a grassroots level up to the people who were the decision- makers.
Molly is the chairperson on the SuperGrans Board, and an active shareholder in Maori land. When her grandmother passed she left Molly shares in Pakarae and Hauiti incorporations.
“The shares have been left to us to take care of. We are the caretakers of the land. The owners never sell their land.”
As a shareholder, Molly attends the AGMs and goes on farm visits. She believes it is important the people who make the decisions keep the shareholders in mind.
Last week, Molly joined a new board. She is the new chairperson of the Tairawhiti Local Advisory Committee for Fire and Emergency NZ.
She is happy to be healthy and well at this stage of her life.
“You're blessed if you have good health.”
Molly is still learning new things as well — like saying “no”, for example, so she can have more time for herself.
Two of her joys are the groups she joined a few years back — Savvy, a cappella group, and Ukestra, a ukulele one.
“Again, I still have amazing women influencing my life — my tutors are both female.
“I always reckoned I didn't have a musical bone in my body — but I love it.”
Molly says it is a nice time of life — a time to be able to do things she has always wanted to do.