Patricia Mary Caughley

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Patricia Mary Caughley, public servant: Born Wanganui, 30 October 1943; died Wellington, aged 64.
A diplomat, policy analyst and lawyer, Pat Caughley was a powerful advocate.

Her career as a diplomat was disrupted – and ultimately derailed – by the health problems that took hold of her in her early thirties.

She had New Zealand's 20th lung transplant – from a woman donor her age – in June 1998.

"I have been a most fortunate recipient of a perfect lung, and have gained 10 years of extra life," Ms Caughley told family and friends at a celebration in June.

Wanting people to learn from her experience – and to thank those instrumental in making it happen and those who supported her – she arranged for a film to be made of her account of the transplant and the next decade.

"I inherited a dud gene which gave me emphysema," she said.

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She had a genetic lung disease called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Her liver lacked an enzyme or protein needed by the lungs for immunity.

Both parents must be carriers of the deficient gene for the disease – which occurs in about 1 per cent of the population – to manifest.

In 1994 – hoping for a new lung – she wrote her living will and transplant plan; and appointed an executor, a person with power of attorney and an agent.

There were about 100 people on her case. But there were times, such as when she was wheeled into the operating theatre for the transplant, when there was "no one to hold my hand". Nonetheless, the operation, at Greenlane Hospital in Auckland, was "the easy part".

Then came the hard part – the biochemistry adaptation.

Supporting her was niece Sharon Bevins: "always my niece, like my daughter, my mother, my sister, my advocate".

While she was helping Ms Caughley, Ms Bevins' partner, Peter, was left holding the home fort, with three children. Later, the crucial support role also involved Ms Caughley's neighbours and friends.

Ms Caughley was dux of Eltham School. Her first job was as a laboratory technician. It was then that she found out she had the genetic disorder, but at the time no one was able to tell her what that would mean for her in the future.

She started at Victoria University of Wellington in 1963, and graduated BA honours in political science.

She was an activist, and joined the staff of the student newspaper Salient, rising to become its political editor.

Supporting herself 100 per cent through university was but one example of the fierce independence that she showed throughout her life.

She joined the External Affairs Department in London in 1969. In her 22 years in the diplomatic service she worked in a number of divisions in Wellington, became division director in the late 1980s and completed successful postings in London, New Delhi and Paris.

Having concluded that she could no longer tackle overseas assignments, she left the ministry in 1991 to become a senior adviser on the machinery of government in the State Services Commission.

It was there that she made perhaps her most lasting contribution to the ministry, when she played a pivotal role in bringing all trade- relations and trade-access work and other foreign-policy work together in the reformed of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry.

In the late 1970s she took up the cause of rewriting the overseas service handbook to remove what she saw – with considerable justification – as unfair bias against single officers and women.

After the transplant, she finished a law degree and was admitted to the bar.

In all countries, as in New Zealand, she was endlessly fascinated by politics, power and people. She had a fine mind for political analysis, on and off the campus, inside and outside New Zealand, about the conventional and the unconventional.

She was ready to collect, evaluate and disseminate ideas fairly. She had a highly developed sense of social equity and fairness. She was brave, loyal, sceptical, stylish, creative, talented, had a wicked sense of humour and was great company.

She was a talented musician, exceptional photographer, and knowledgeable about art and culture.

Not only did she carry her own burden with fortitude, she also gave her time and energy to the Alpha 1 group and was the unofficial head of the New Zealand chapter.

She is survived by sister Jocelyn Latta, of New Plymouth.

Sources: S Blumhardt, S Bevins, A Needham, P Sharp, D Morcom, R Richards, A Cottrell, H Sutch, H Rennie, D Shand, N Walter.

The Dominion Post