Nothing like a Dame

January 19, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Auckland’s Lesley Max has been made a Dame in the New Zealand New Year Honours List…joining her first cousin Barbara Goodman who was created a Dame in 1989.

It is understood to be the first time two Jewish cousins have been awarded the honour. Dame Lesley received her award for services to children.

Dame Lesley Max

Max is the CEO of the Great Potential Foundation an organisation established 19 years ago to better the lives of New Zealand’s underprivileged with a special focus on children. She told J-Wire: “Great Potential has seen  a marked improvement in the living conditions of those with whom we have had dealings, but we need to reach tens of thousands more…there is plenty of work to be done but we are limited by funding and rely on Government for that.”

The organisation describes its function as…”Our purpose is to work for children, young people and families to relieve suffering; release potential; reduce disparities in NZ society; reduce crime and violence; break the cycle of disadvantage and promote family functionality.”

In 1990, Max published a book entitled “Children – An Endangered Species?” in which she outlined the apalling neglect of children’s needs. The book was considered to be a trail blazer in highlighting the plight of underprivileged youngsters – especially in the poor areas such as South Auckland. She added: “We operate from the northern-most tip of the North Island south to the northern regions of the South Island.”

Her Home Interaction for Parents and Youngsters program known as Hippy has been adopted by the Australian Government and is currently operating in fifty locations.

Dame Lesley has a long history of involvement within New Zealand’s Jewish community and is a strong supporter of Israel. Her sister, Wendy Ross, is a former president of the New Zealand Jewish Council on which Dame Lesley served as secretary for about seven years.

Dame Lesley, officially a dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, was made a member of the Order of the British Empire [OBE] in 1994.

Dame Barbara Goodman with Topol

In the meantime, her first cousin Dame Barbara Goodman, 77, had a special Mazeltov for her. Robinson became a Dame in 1989 for services to the community in. Her son  Stephen is presidenf of the New Zealand Jewish Council. He told J-Wire: “Like Lesley it’s first names please and she is Barbara to all who know her and Dame Barbara to those who don’t.”

Dame Barbara’s uncle who died in 1989 was also a Kiwi honoree. Knighted  in the early 1980s Sir Dov-Meyer Robinson was Mayor of Auckland for 18 years. Dame Barbara joined her uncle in local politics serving as mayoress of Auckland for twelve years.

Goodman told J-Wire: “Boy oh boy…Lesley really deserves this honour. She is a woman who tirelessly pushed her causes but does not promote herself.”

Another member of the country’s Jewish community shares the same honour. Dame Grace Hollander received the award for services to women’s rights. She lives in Christchurch.

Under the former leadership of Helen Clark, the New Zealand titles of Knight and Dame were dropped. Current Prime Minister John Key has reinstated them

Dame Lesley found an added bonus to her new title. She said: “I have received congratulations from people from allover the world some of whom I have not heard from decades.”

As the excitement settles, it is back to the office for this tireless worker and another day in which to find ways of improving the lot of New Zealand’s underprivileged kids.

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