Pat Rosier — Shalom

A tribute to the life of Pat Rosier

Prue Hyman and Pat Rosier
Prue Hyman and 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.

Pat, David and Helen
Pat, David and Helen

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.

patOne 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.

Shalom, Pat.

This is what I said at Pat’s Funeral:

‘Pat was my friend.
I remember first meeting her on her birthday in 2003, but I’d admired her from reading Broadsheet years before. Judith called me up to meet Prue and Pat, important lesbian feminists, and I agonised over what to wear. Judith said what I wore was OK and I’m sure it didn’t matter.

Then we came to live in Paekakariki and I got to know Pat better and I liked her. She was perceptive and intelligent and she didn’t fuss. Temperamentally Pat and Prue were complementary: their relationship seemed to model acceptance of both closeness and difference.

When Judith was sick Pat helped coordinate a roster of helpers. After Judith died Pat knew how to involve me in things; little messages, non-demanding invitations, and I was invited into the book group.

When I got together with Annabel, Pat wrote one of her typically succinct emails expressing approval. I thanked her for her message and for her approval and she said ‘if I didn’t approve I wouldn’t have said anything’. That’s so Pat – 100% sincere. And discreet.

When I called for an extra volunteer at the Station museum, Pat almost always offered. That’s Pat too – 100% helpful and practical.

Two and a half years ago Pat asked whether I would like to join her following a blog covering all the plays of Shakespeare. We read them in the order they are thought to have been written.

We’d meet every week or so, turn about at her place and mine, not taking roles but reading alternate speeches. Often we’d pause to discuss character, sexual politics and plot, and (often) to remark on a modern-sounding phrase. We met at 11 and drank coffee and ate chocolate.

Last month we came to the last play, The Two Kinsmen (which may not even have been written by Shakespeare and which we didn’t think much of). We decided to keep meeting and continue following the blog, which was now on the novels of Murakami, a Japanese novelist whom I’d never heard of although of course Pat had. I hadn’t got around to finding or reading them; Pat did.

Each of us here had our own experience of Pat. Mine was reading and Shakespeare. But for each of us whatever we did with her she was the same kind, witty, intelligent, gentle and wise friend. I had an amazing conversation with her on the train last Thursday morning. Missing her so much already.

A beautifully written tribute that goes some way to sharing some of what Pat was to New Zealand society, especially to the various women’s and lesbian communities. I know that there are memories of Pat that only belong to you – a look, a hand on the shoulder, a smile, a shared meal – and will remain so. These memories will be the ones that tug at your heart, but will also be the ones that sustain you. Kia kaha, e hoa. He mihi aroha ki a koe.

What a beautiful tribute Prue, thank you for sharing Pat’s life with us. I am so sorry for your loss.
God Bless
Cr Jackie Elliott