FACE TO FACE : Lynette Stewart – It’s the People

The morning after standing alongside people like Sir Ron Carter and Emeritus Professor C K Stead to receive Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Auckland, Lynette Stewart is recalling much earlier career highlight.
“I remember years ago ringing my Dad when I’d just been given promotion. I told him the news and there was this silence, then he said: ‘Well that’s wonderful, girl – but never forget from the pipi bed you came.’ I knew exactly what he meant. He was glad for me, glad for my promotion but he always wanted me to stay in touch with my roots.”
Even though her father died over 15 years ago, that memory carries emotional weight for Stewart because it touches the core of her own sense of commitment toward the people she serves.
“He was one who really believed in he tangata, he tangata, he tangata – it is the people. I reflect on that whenever I’m dealing with policy and its implementation. The policy itself can be absolutely fine, but unless it touches the pulse of the people to uplift them into something better I feel it is less than useless.”
It is one of her ongoing challenges both as founder and inaugural head of the Te Tai Tokerau MAPO Trust and chair of DHB that employs over 2000 staff and serves population approaching 150,000 – to ensure policy is implemented in such way that it does hit the mark and achieve the desired outcomes for people. “Too often we have good policy but it’s not given its best facilitation because managers sometimes short-circuit their own knowledge base by rushing in to implement it without totally understanding the nature of those it is targeting.”
There is, she adds, good reason why Tai Tokerau was behind most other DHBs in implementing the Primary Health Organisation initiatives, because it wanted full understanding of what was required from all parties involved, mainstream and Maori.
“Because if either group ran off and implemented it by themselves, then the likelihood of it being the same old same old is very high. But by working together on this, both sets of people are adding intrinsic value to the process. It’s all about reaching the population they needed to reach to get early intervention in there and get the outcomes. Instead of clogging up corridors and hospital waiting lists, we needed to ensure that early intervention from primary care perspective was occurring in the very best way.”
There is little doubt of the passion she applies to job she loves – and role as social contributor that she was raised to embrace.
Born in Whangarei of Ngatiwai-Ngatihene-Tainui and Scottish/English descent, Stewart was number five in family that included three sisters and seven brothers.
“Our parents raised us with very strong sense of serving the community – and I really think if there is anything any of us have done that is worth anything, then it is because of our upbringing. Our parents very much wanted us to be contributors to this country – to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and to be frank they sacrificed lot to make sure that could happen.”
She could be called ‘sister of the more famous’ Winston. Our current Minister of Foreign Affairs (and head of NZ First) is probably one of the more well-known members of what proved high-achieving clan. Despite living in remote farming area near Whananaki, the family was always tuned in to what was happening in the wider world. “Some of my earliest memories are of listening to the first bulletin from the BBC in the morning – Big Ben followed by the news. When the [British] parliament was in session, that was our nightly menu – it took me while to realise this wasn’t standard practice in other families.”
It was household full of lively discussion that also provided her with positive template for Maori-Pakeha relations. Her father is Maori (though his great grandfather was Scot from America) and her mother Scots/English.
“For me the Scots/English side of my heritage is as important as the Maori side and I have no conflict between them. Neither did my parents – they made it work through love and respect and getting on with it – doing what needed to be done.
“When you’re brought up in an environment like that you know it can be done. It’s about listening to each other, getting grasp on what others are thinking and working on it until we get it right together – Maori and Pakeha alike. We’ve got too much to lose not to do it properly – not to absolutely commit to it.
“Because look at the country we’ve got here – I absolutely love it. And it would be unthinkable to me that we wouldn’t want to add value to each other as people.”
Stewart’s desire to go nursing was also product of her upbringing. Her mother was nurse whose skills were called on frequently because there was no local doctor.
“She’d go out on horseback to help women in labour. One occasion I remember well was when the children of family who lived way round the coast came to our door for help – their mother had had miscarriage and was very sick. The quickest way to get there was by boat and it was stormy weather. My brother Ian and I were left in charge of the littlies while my parents went off in the dinghy – and they were away the best part of day.”
With no means of communication, the kids were left wondering whether their parents had made it – or when they’d get back. That, says Stewart, was the background that drew her to nursing and even though family circumstances saw her earmarked as the one who would stay home to help her mum with the younger kids, Stewart had other ideas.
“I was admitted to hospital with appendicitis when I was about 15 and decided while there to apply for nursing training.”
She didn’t mention it to her family until she’d done the interview and although there was some opposition, her mother supported the move. Apart from break to raise her adopted twin girls, Stewart has continued her commitment to community health, working in social and disability services. After working with the Crippled Children’s Society (now CCS) in Hawkes Bay, she took up role with the society in Auckland covering the wider Auckland/Northland area.
By then she’d had experience in executive roles and knew she could handle the administrative side of management, but her appointment as CEO of newly formed Te Tai Tokerau MAPO Trust in 1996 was her first taste of leadership.
“Suddenly you’re not the 2IC, the buck stops with you – and it did give me whole new profound sense of best practice.”
The code of conduct she instilled in her team is based around what is simple but powerful value.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you … it has served me well and it’s by no means weak way of looking at things. I think I’ve learned over the years to be extremely patient with people, but at the end of the day that patience has its limitations. What I will not do is allow myself to be fooled around with because someone is wilfully obtuse about what we all collectively want to achieve. It’s about the collective will of Maori and mainstream working together.”
One of her greatest challenges, says Stewart, is around the misunderstandings people have in regards to the Treaty – reality that she sees as totally central to the people of Tai Tokerau.
“One of the challenges I face in my job on daily basis is entreating people to entreat with the Treaty with each other so that it does not become the divisive point – it is not the blockage. The blockage is in people’s minds. It is about understanding how we can apply that today in 2008 in simple and profound way that measures how, actually, we respect, value and treat each other.
“I have only three things I put on my team when they go out on daily basis and three things I expect of everyone I work with – we need to do what is fair, reasonable and just. And I believe everyone has what you might call god-given conscience about the principles of what is fa

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