Tribute to Jeanette Fitzsimons

By Rachel Brown

Jeanette Fitzsimons and Russel Norman
The news of Jeanette Fitzsimons’s sudden death has rocked many of us. She was one of my heroes and our paths had crossed many times. She was a friend of the Sustainable Business Network (SBN), a judge at our annual awards a number of times, a presenter, and a longtime supporter of the work we and many of our members are undertaking.

For most of her working life Jeanette was a major supporter of climate action. She championed the global shift away from climate polluting coal to clean renewable energy and using resources in ways that don’t deplete them. Jeanette brought kindness, and a steely determination into politics – stick to the policy – not the person! Something I believe we should all focus on in life, as well as politics.

I first met Jeanette when I was studying for my Bachelor of Science degree. She was one of my lecturers and introduced me to the notion of climate change long before it became part of the international conversation. She also made sure her students understood the planet wasn’t an infinite resource, that we were guardians and that it was up to our generation to start changing the way we all lived.

That made a deep impression on me. It informed my work at Waitakere City Council, then the Auckland Environmental Business Network which later became SBN. That was more than 20 years ago and throughout Jeanette was a friend offering support and advice. She was also a delightful and inspirational co-conspirator for change.

Over the last few days I’ve been reminiscing with my colleagues, Phil Jones and Glen Crowther, who were also friends of Jeanette. We agreed that her influence in the sustainability space was probably unmatched in New Zealand. She was extremely determined and committed to moving society onto a more sustainable path. Phil put it nicely.

“What made Jeanette unique in her effectiveness was the rare ability to talk tough but in a gentle way. She was also prepared to work with those who wouldn’t be natural allies if that collaboration could yield a positive outcome. Not an easy tightrope to walk but Jeanette could and did.”

Like me, Glen also had a long association with Jeanette. I asked him to put some of this thoughts down so I could include them here.

“Jeanette always had wise, well thought through views about the important issues of our time. I first encountered her when working with local communities all over New Zealand on energy issues in the 1990s, and watched with admiration as she kept true to her principles after entering parliament later that decade.

“Jeanette was always kind and able to spare some of her busy time to talk through strategic issues, and I valued her input on climate change policy discussions in recent years. It’s sad to lose her when there is still so much work to do to guide this country towards the low carbon future she envisaged.”

On Sunday I spent the day with old friends, and new, from across the country at a small hall in Kauaeranga Valley, in the Coromandel not far from Jeanette and Harry’s farm, to say farewell to her. Friends, family, admirers and colleagues all shared some special time together reflecting on her life. Beautiful music, fabulous poems and heartfelt stories of good times (and some frankly crazy times) over the very full 75 years of her life.

Jeanette’s death is a huge loss to Aotearoa and an enormous loss to Harry, her partner of some 30 years, her children and mokopuna. For many reasons she will be missed very much, but her legacy will be around forever.


Photo: Jeanette Fitzsimons and then Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman, at the 2011 NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards.