Scientist devoted to saving rare species

PAT VELTKAMP SMITH
Last updated 05:00 06/02/2014
Southland Times photo
Coralie Munro with "Bun-bun," her favoured New Zealand White in scientific research.

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In 10 days, friends and family will gather in Tuatapere to mourn the passing of a favourite daughter while celebrating achievements that made her name and theirs known worldwide in scientific circles.

At 1pm on Saturday, February 15, Coralie's brother John Munro, her mum Coral and her sisters Irene, Marilyn, Jill and Debbie will welcome Ms Munro's American husband Ron Rattai, who is bringing the remains of his beloved wife back to her home.

Her death, peacefully at her home in San Francisco on December 22, closed a chapter in Tuatapere life that began with her birth, the first of Jack and Coral Munro's six children.

It ended with her death, attended by the youngest of the six, John, 48, the only boy.

He spent the past year with Ms Munro helping her cope with an illness which proved devastating.

Ms Munro and her long-term friend, structural engineer Ron Rattai married a year ago, at the onset of the final stage of an illness believed to have been triggered by the unprotected use of benzines in earlier day laboratory work.

Throughout the development of this fatal leukaemia, she kept working, living and giving, only in the final months unable to continue teaching and writing.

A student at Southland Girls' High School in the late 1960s, Ms Munro was the first Southland girl to be awarded an AFS scholarship, which took her to Ohio for a year.

On her return, she represented the Southland chapter of AFS in the Southland A&P summer show Miss Personality contest, winning the title and with it the chance to accompany Prince Charles to dinner and a dance on his coming visit to New Zealand.

She was a student at the University of Otago when he came, working towards what was to be an honours degree in science.

A Rotary award sent her back to the United States where she was accepted into the research fellowship unit at the University of California in Davis, where she has lived for the past 35 years, never forgetting New Zealand, returning home for a month every summer, in 2003 staying on until May when her dad Jack Munro died.

As a member of ISWE (International Society for Wildlife Endocrinology), she was heavily involved in projects designed to save endangered species from whales to white rhinos, one key to their survival being their ability to procreate.

Ms Munro designed a method of tracking these species without using radioactive materials, which cost a lot and are difficult to clear up.

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She pioneered a system of using enzymes on deposited matter to determine the state of the animal.

Much endocrinology has been used in both human and animal reproduction tests.

It is an area of intense and developing interest, with a scholarship now set up in Ms Munro's name to enable students to go on with the work.

Ms Munro is survived by her husband, Ron Rattai of the United States; her mother Coral and brother John, both of Tuatapere; and her sisters Irene Smith, Alexandra Marilyn Provis, Invercargill, Jill Tredennick, Tuatapere, and Debbie Lyon, Invercargill.

Her brother, John Munro, said the memorial function to be held on February 15 at the Town and Country club was open to everyone and would provide an opportunity to share memories through photographs and talk.

He had organised a similar service in the United States before coming back to Tuatapere to prepare for this one.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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