Nun works behind bars to improve lives of others

Under-the-radar workhorses who have devoted their lives to improving those of others shine alongside some of New Zealand's brightest lights in this year's Queen's Birthday honours.

A nun who cloisters herself within prison walls, a foster father who has cared for hundreds of children and a couple who created a community for displaced Maori are among those recognised today.

They rub up against judges, former mayors and sporting heroes – including former All Blacks captain and Auckland Grammar School head John Graham, who is one of five new knights and two dames.

Court of Appeal judge Grant Hammons, Anzco Foods founder Graeme Harrison, Manawatu businessman Dan Higgins and arts patron James Wallace join Sir John as Knights Companion.

Auckland philanthropist Rosemary Horton and Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira, who helped to lead the Maori language revival, have been made Dames Companion. Many of the other names are less well known beyond the communities they have served.

Sister Marie Elizabeth Roche becomes a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit after nearly half a century as a nun, including 15 years as Rimutaka Prison's Catholic chaplain.

"I am very humbled by it because I look around and see all those wonderful people doing wonderful things."

She shrugged off the extraordinary lengths she goes to for prisoners, including driving many of them across the North Island when they are freed. "I do what I need to do."

Queen's Service Medal recipient Henare O'Keefe has opened his Flaxmere home to more than 200 foster children in nearly 40 years and was "really chuffed" with his award. "It makes you feel good, eh? It makes you feel you're making a difference."

Porirua couple Julie and Michael Dwyer, stalwarts of an urban marae, could not believe their matching Queen's Service Medals. "We look at each other and think, why us?" Mrs Dwyer said.

Some of the drivers behind Wellington's arts scene figured in this year's awards, including arts patrons Chris Parkin and Bill Sheat and former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast, who have all been made Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Black Caps captains Daniel Vettori and Stephen Fleming were among sporting stars to be honoured, both becoming Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Fleming said his honour trumped other awards he had received, because it came from beyond the sporting world.

The honours list also held bittersweet recognition for helicopter crewman Flight Sergeant Darren Smith.

Mr Smith received the Distinguished Service Recognition for his rescue effort when a Iroquois helicopter crashed near Pukerua Bay on Anzac Day last year, killing three men. On foot, Mr Smith found the wreckage and sole survivor of the crash.

The Dominion Post