Giant of our Time: Celia Lashlie
Fearless. Selfless. Relentless. In between the headline-grabbing fever of the Cricket World Cup and our museum’s pathetically provincial exhibitionism of a puerile t-shirt, the tragic death of Celia Lashlie and her life’s extraordinary work, hasn’t been accorded the depth of media coverage so richly deserved. Few people have touched the lives of so many, quite like Celia. Few people are so worthy of a gong – not that she received one. Since my career switch two years ago, following 20 years of full-time radio, people routinely ask me who was the most impressive interview guest. My reflexive response is Hollywood legend, Charlton Heston. I’ll never forget the day he walked into the studio, his disarming grin belying a palpable presence of greatness. After all, this was the man who played Moses and parted the Red Sea. But on further reflection, the most satisfying guest who I had the privilege of interviewing multiple times was unquestionably Celia Lashlie. A straight-shooting, transformative voice of home truths, who challenged and confronted us with compassion and conviction, in equal measure. Despite her towering wisdom and compelling force of argument, interviewing Celia always felt like a conversation, given her resonating finesse as a raconteur. She had the remarkable ability to transcend political, social and ideological lines, earning admiration across the spectrum, from the Cameron Slaters’ to Ken Strongmans’, from Women’s Refuge and the Howard League to the Union of Fathers and Big Buddy. Even if you didn’t agree with Celia all of the time, she was right most of the time. Despite being an ardent feminist, Celia was never afraid to rock the boat of the sisterhood. She was at the vanguard of shaking the nation to its senses about our sole-parenting disaster and the crisis of fatherlessness, she decried the feminisation of education and the dearth of male teachers, and she urged mothers to stop molly-coddling their boys. I’ll never forget the day she remonstrated with talkback callers, irate at her objections to mothers making their teenage son’s lunches. “ Get off the bridge” was her clarion reposte, while extolling men to step up and get on that bridge. Her ground-breaking Good Man Project, while conducted in state-schools, was deliberately operated at arms length from any bureaucratic interference. As she once remarked to me , “They would have told us what the outcomes had to be before we started.” Last week in Sydney, I noticed her seminal book from 2005, He’ll be Ok, taking pride of place in a bookstore window. Her spirit, her legacy and her life-changing lessons will live on.
Mike’s weekly opinion column, as first published in The Press. February 24, 2015. http://www.press.co.nz