A tribute to the life of Pat Rosier
By Prue Hyman
It’s not easy to write my column this month – it can only be about the very sudden death of my beloved partner, Pat Rosier, my grief, her enduring legacy, and the many magnificent tributes that have poured in about her life, work, and gift for friendship.
It’s 26 days as I write this – sometimes feels like 26 hours and sometimes 26 years. We gave her a splendid send-off, celebrating a life well lived but cut off too soon at 72 when she was in the prime of her writing and volunteering activities.
300 of us packed the Memorial Hall at wonderful Paekakariki Beach where she had lived with me in Ames Street for 15 years (I’ve been here 42 years).
You can see the video of the event at www.vimeopro.com/craigbain/pat-rosier – well worth watching for lesbian feminist and many other cultures.
Pat spent much of her adult life in Auckland, Nelson, and Christchurch, but I was able to entice her here in 1999 and we enlarged the house to encompass our two huge libraries. We had been friends since the early 80s, but its becoming more allowed us both our best mature age relationship full of activities, separate and together, which enriched us both – sadly for too short.
A working-class start
Pat’s early life was conventional enough: father a railway clerk, standard type of childhood with one sister, in Auckland,
She was of course supremely intelligent, but in a working class family no-one, let alone a girl, went to university – which she never regretted: she learned in other ways and read voraciously
But she did absorb some of that milieu round the Auckland University Drama Club where I am told she was extraordinarily clever at making things and created marvellous costumes for Shakespearian productions.
The next step was early marriage, as you did then, in her case to a naval officer. His being at sea a good deal prolonged the marriage, while Pat brought up her two lovely children, Helen and David, read her way through her North Shore library and trained as a primary teacher – her job from 1973 to 1985.
Helen’s premature death in 1996 aged 32 from bronchial pneumonia was the saddest event of her life and she wrote beautiful prose and poetry about it.
One piece included: “The death of a daughter changes my reality; everything after is different from what was before. The grief and pain are a blanket of fog for months and I welcome the fog, fear its ending. I grab and cling to the grief, the loss, the sadness — I cannot bear to lose that gnawing, grinding, consuming pain, for this is what I have of her; I must keep her always in my mind, my heart, be overwhelmed, or else she is fully lost to me…
Time does go on. A year and more. The grief is just as intense, but smaller in size… I have a grief in me. My grief at the death of my daughter will not die, I will not ‘get over it’, it will not be ‘healed’ by time. She is in me for my forever, a forever I grasp fiercely, demanding joy.” This is very poignant and apposite for me now.
Happily David was still very much in her life, together with his partner Julia Deans, wonderful singer who kindly let us play a perfect track from her forthcoming album at her life celebration
Pat often said she reinvented herself every few years and the biggest change was finding Simone de Beauvoir and the new wave of the feminist movement in the mid 1980s where I met her through the Women’s Studies Association. Becoming involved in its activities and a co-founder of its journal brought her to editing and writing, and later to organisational skills and workplace relationships on which she mentored and wrote.
So many messages referred to Pat’s generosity in freely giving her time to aspiring writers and editors, with her Broadsheet experience invaluable to them. She may still be best known for her six years as editor there from 1986 to 1992, though she preferred to look forward and her later writing projects gave her huge satisfaction.
There is no room here to describe all her 10 books: her wonderful reading and writing weekly blog lists them all and the last three months of it make incredibly poignant reading (see http://patrosierblog.wordpress.com/ ) as well as indicating where the books can be obtained. And many people have described how some of the books changed their lives.
Incidentally, I have multiple copies of several of them which I am happy to give away free – contact me.
Pat’s contribution in Paekakariki
Locally, too, Pat made major contributions. Jack McDonald, Paekakariki Community Board chair, labelled Pat ‘a true stalwart of our community: we will be much poorer without her’.
Her local activities included a major role in Paekakariki’s wonderful newspaper Expressed, helping keeping it solvent for many years. Then there was civil defence and the Railway Museum.
One co-worker described her as: “Paekakariki’s matriarch of successful organisations. Always professional and efficient. Knowledge of the law and access to information. You not only made the issue at hand happen, but educated us all as well.”
There were quite a few messages from MPs and other prominent people in what was my first Facebook death, supplemented by emails, cards, and flowers. All the MPs seemed to be women and Greens or Labour – funny that!
Key attributes that were common in messages include: ‘clever, wise, staunch and kind’, and ‘warm, talented and generous’ One I liked said: “I loved her sharp, critical mind; her directness; that cheeky fun loving look in her eye; and also that beautiful clear prose.”
She had a gift for friendship and being totally WITH each person she talked to, while integrity and the desire for social justice were absolutely key to her character.
Another great summary: “confidence and independence, bravery – never joining the institutional safety net but supporting herself on small funds seemingly without fear yet never poor, always operating from generosity: fierce support of theory and politics that make a difference for ordinary people: quiet and determined loyalty to so many friends”.
I’ll finish the tributes with one from splendid Australian writer activist and Spinifex publisher Susan Hawthorne who published Pat’s first two novels. “Pat was a fabulous, hugely observant novelist and we are really proud to have published Poppy’s Progress and Poppy’s Return. She was also the kind of feminist who turns political ideas into words. I loved her blog, and through her I found new poets, new writers, interesting ideas.”
Susan’s publishing and life partner Renate Klein remembers Pat “as a woman with a wonderful sense of humour but above all as a woman standing firmly on this earth and taking no nonsense. Hardworking, clearsighted – a woman of dignity to respect and treasure in life and beyond.”
In the mid 1980s Pat came out as a lesbian, essentially as a logical consequence of her feminist activities and giving primacy to women (Adrienne Rich) but without any hostility to men.
Her three relationships with women were all important to her, with ours the quiet happy culmination. Her becoming a novelist after many years writing non-fiction and poetry was essentially a ‘show, not tell’ way of describing the complexity and yet simplicity of living life as a lesbian as just one facet of one’s total life – at a time when lesbianism was disappearing into queer soup or being normalised and losing its political edge.
She was staunch and active in lesbian and lgbt organisations – especially Lilac (the lesbian library where she led a writing group) and LAGANZ (archives).
Her lesbian writing group is hoping to produce two posthumous volumes – the first their already planned group volume where they will attempt to use some of her partly written fifth novel (she and I were both convinced this would be the best – and the others were good). The second will be a book of her poetry – including some written for me and never yet published or seen by anyone else.
We were this year writing books upstairs and downstairs. We loved reading and helping edit each other’s work – but had some brisk disagreements over commas!
We were absolutely best mates and more as partners. Life will never be the same.
But I plan to work hard to rebuild a life full of sadness but hopefully almost as fulfilling – this is what Pat would want for me – with the memories of our life together helping to keep me going.