Dame's grave mission

ADRIANA WEBER
Last updated 09:39 04/10/2012
Margaret Sparrow
Needing love: Dame Margaret Sparrow beside Ettie Rout'es unkempt grave in Rarotonga. Inset: The restored grave.
Ettie Rout
ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY
Health class: Ettie Rout was a sexual health pioneer.

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One of New Zealand's earliest - and most controversial - sexual health pioneers, Ettie Rout, has been remembered in a special way.

Rout died in 1936. Seventy- six years later, a woman she inspired has travelled more than 3000 kilometres to restore her rundown grave.

Wellingtonian Dame Margaret Sparrow, a retired venereologist and sexual health practitioner who was knighted in 2002, recently made an eight- day journey to the Cook Islands.

Her aim was to clean, repaint and restore Ettie Rout's grave at the Avarua Christian Church in Rarotonga.

Dame Margaret said she had been planning the restoration for more than three years and was delighted she had completed her goal.

'Ever since one of my former colleagues visited her grave in 2009 and told me it was in bad shape, I wanted to do something about it,' she said.

Dame Margaret said she undertook the task because she wanted to acknowledge the contribution Rout made to the sexual health of New Zealand and Australian soldiers during and after World War I.

'She was a true pioneer. What she did was ground- breaking. She saved lives.'

Ettie Rout organised lectures to help educate soldiers about sexual health, and created a prophylactic kit with materials to help soldiers prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

She also encouraged the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to adopt her kits. They were approved in 1917, but she was not recognised for her contribution.

'Ettie Rout faced a battle during her lifetime,' Dame Margaret said. "She was frowned upon.

"Under New Zealand war regulations, you couldn't mention her name in newspapers. She also wasn't mentioned in New Zealand's official war history.

'She was neglected during her years and I wanted to ensure she wasn't neglected in her death as well. That's why I set out to restore her grave.'

Dame Margaret said she had received advice from Grant Clark, a stonemason at Wellington Memorials, on how to restore the grave.

The process consisted of scrubbing the grave with a wire brush, applying two layers of paint over the engraving and scraping away the excess paint.

'I'm very pleased at the outcome. I think it's what Ettie deserves.'

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- The Wellingtonian

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