Golf-crazy Kohanga Reo pioneer

18:21, Jun 17 2009
CHAMPION OF CHILDREN: Iritana Tawhiwhirangi has been honoured for her work in founding kohanga reo.

She is 80 and "retired", but one of our new dames sits on eight boards, devours mountains of government reports, tours the country and plays 18 holes on the Carterton golf course every week.

Iritana Te Rangi Tawhiwhirangi changed the face of Maori education in the 1980s when her Kohanga Reo Trust opened hundreds of early-childhood centres.

She has watched thousands of children pass through the "language nests" where only te reo Maori is spoken, and her passion is undiminished. "When I wake up in the morning, I think, `I'm still here. What's the next thing I can do to help'."

Surprised and "humbled" by the honour she is today being made Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit Dame Iritana said she had taken weeks to come around to it. "One of my daughters told me, `Mum, take it because it's a tribute to the people whose lives were involved in this'."

As for her sporting habit, Dame Iritana said she was a "golf fanatic" with a handicap of 24 "not bad for an old lady".

And she loved daylight saving: "You can work in Wellington and get back and have a game before the light dies out."

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The Dominion Post