Dame Pat Evison passes away

BY STACEY WOOD
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2010
Dame Pat Evison
Dominion Post
KIWI SCREEN STAR: Dame Pat Evison, has died aged 85.

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The career of Dame Pat Evison took her all over the world, but Seatoun was always her home.

From Kiwi classic Close To Home to Australian soap The Flying Doctors, Dame Pat has been a well-known Wellington face for decades.

She trod the boards at Downstage Theatre before going on to film and television roles in New Zealand and internationally.

She died at the weekend after a long illness, having spent much of the year in hospice care. She was 85.

In the past decade she had suffered from cancer, diabetes, minor strokes and arthritis.

Actress Ginette McDonald, who worked with her on several projects including TV's Close To Home, said actresses today owed a lot to the outspoken performer.

"Pat was an extraordinary force. She fought for equality at a time when women were in the back seat. When I trained as a TV director, she pointed out to me that when she'd been my age she wanted to do the same thing but they wouldn't let her."

McDonald said Dame Pat's performance in The Killing of Sister George, a 1960s play in which she played a gay woman, was heart-breaking.

"She had a way of, through her own unusual looks, pointing out prejudices in society."

Dame Pat was outspoken on issues that were important to her and had a reputation for her strident nature.

In 2007 she joined Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh in the fight to protect the historic Our Lady of the Star of the Sea Chapel in Seatoun. In the end, Jackson and Walsh bought the chapel to save it from demolition.

Dame Pat's Seatoun home, formerly her father's, is called Bir-Salem, which means "well of peace" – it is also an anagram of her maiden name, Blamires.

She always called Seatoun "her suburb" despite being born in Dunedin and attending school in Masterton.

Arts Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson paid tribute to Dame Pat yesterday, calling her "a pioneer in New Zealand theatre".

"She was one of the first New Zealand theatre students to receive a scholarship to study overseas, at the Old Vic Theatre School in London."

Dame Pat acted in early Downstage shows. Her performance in the Samuel Beckett play Happy Days was described by director Bruce Mason as the "finest event in New Zealand theatre" and Dame Pat remembered it as a highlight of her career.

Leigh Graham, Dame Pat's next-door neighbour for the past 20 years, said she was proud to call the actress her friend. "She was a woman with many many stories, very entertaining."

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Many of her family had come to Wellington in the week before she died, Ms Graham said.

Dame Pat leaves husband Roger, two sons and a daughter, and numerous grandchildren.

A life on stage

Born Helen June Patricia Blamires in Dunedin in June 1924.

Educated in Masterton, then at Victoria and Auckland universities, and Auckland Teachers Training College.

Moved to London in the 1940s, training as a director at London's Old Vic Theatre Centre.

Returned to New Zealand as a freelance director before turning to an acting career working on stage, radio and TV in Australia and New Zealand.

Best known for her roles in the Australian TV series Prisoner and The Flying Doctors.

Played Mrs Telford in the landmark 1970s drama series Pukemanu.

Featured in the popular Close to Home series in 1978-79.

Awarded an OBE in 1980 for her services to the theatre and was made a dame in 1993.

- The Dominion Post

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