‘It is in the taking care of ourselves that we learn to take care of others.’ Celia Lashlie, 15 February 2015.
Catherine Ryan, Principal, St Mary’s College, Wellington
On 16 February 2015, we, as a nation, lost Celia Lashlie, an outstanding woman of courage and strength of purpose, fighter for social justice and social reform.
At her funeral, Celia was honoured by many who knew her work for this country – work that saw her stand tall for the rights of women and children particularly. A poignant tribute came from Celia’s daughter who said that despite all she had been to the nation, to her children, Celia was first and foremost a loving, humble friend and mother.
For us at St Mary’s College, Celia was a former student. We too can lay claim to this woman of great passion and compassion, this woman who knew how to give great service and who cared beyond measure for those in need and those who had no voices of their own, this woman of Mercy who, in her life, lived to the full the values of Catherine McAuley.
Celia Lashlie is an inspiration to us all. May she rest in peace.
Judy Houlahan, retired DRS, St Mary’s College, Wellington
Ces attended St Mary’s College from 1966 to 1970. We walked up Guilford Terrace every morning together. Academically, she was capable of high intellectual analysis.
Sr Mary Dominic noticed her ability and placed her in the top debating team. This group competed in the O’Shea Shield in 1970 when St Mary’s was hosting. The experience enhanced her natural aptitude for public speaking and showed her interest in the power of the spoken and written word.
Ces married young and had two children who became the centre of her life. While her marriage did not last, she made sure the children had a good education and lifestyle. When living in a state house in Porirua,
Ces began in earnest her work to look after disadvantaged women.
Later she worked as a probation officer. From her frequent visits to WiTako (now Rimutaka) and Arohata prisons she developed an interest in the effectiveness of sentencing and the noticeable fact that generations of families were being sentenced to prison. She became the first woman appointed as a prison officer at the all-male WiTako Prison. She was quickly recognised as a leader and promoted to Third Officer at Ohura Prison, requiring a necessary move. Her passion led her to be the manager of Christchurch Women’s Prison. There she made a connection between a prisoner’s childhood and their path to prison. She wrote the book The Journey To Prison. This, along with her other two books, has been controversial but welcomed for the questions and answers given about family life in New Zealand.
Ces left the prison service and began her work to educate parents and students on how to make sure they had a fulfilling life. She believed every child was good and had the potential to live a good life, given the chance. This was what we were taught by the Sisters of Mercy during our College life. Ces did her best to get society to recognise that ideal and put systems in place to support it.
Ces lived life according to our College’s motto: Misericordia et Sapientia. She fought for justice for all probationers and prisoners who came under her care. She once took six prisoners out in a van from Ohura Prison without permission because she thought they should connect with their whānau and that connection could help them.
The authorities were reminded the prisoners would be on their best behaviour because they were with ‘Lashlie’.
Right to the end Ces was aware of others’ needs. In her last public statement she said how others could learn from her and not make the same mistake: ‘that we need to look after our own health and well-being or eventually we will pay the price’.
We have lost a remarkable SMOG.