Brendan Boyle, Chief Executive, Ministry of Social Development spoke wise and compassionate words at the Ashburton Civic Service to remember Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble yesterday:
. . . Whenever people die at work, different communities of family, friends and colleagues are drawn together. We see different sides of people. Death illuminates the whole person.
The thoughts I have to share are about the work of Public Servants, such as Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble, and our injured colleague Lindy Curtis, whom I am pleased to say is making progress to the relief of her family, friends and colleagues.
New Zealand is a democracy, something for which many have given their lives.
Public servants rightly commit to implementing the policies of the elected government, under the law.
For all of us it is a job. For many – perhaps most of us – that job includes elements of a calling, a vocation, a commitment to others.
And so it was for Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble and Lindy Curtis at work last week.
In the Ministry of Social Development we say: “We will always be here to help people in need”.
Leigh and Peggy were at work, being there for people in need, when they lost their lives. Lindy was there for people in need when she was shot.
They were serving people directly by providing them with information, entitlements, and services.
They will not be forgotten. Family and friends will remember and mourn them with an intimate and personal insight.
Those of us who worked with them will remember their service to New Zealand.
Like our other staff, they came to work each day prepared to face the whole range of New Zealanders who seek our services and support.
Like our other staff Leigh and Peggy responded with firmness in implementing policy, with kindness in explanation, and with intelligence in seeking solutions to people’s problems.
You can’t work on our front desks without empathy, sympathy and commitment to people.
In marking this tragedy, let’s also mark the professionalism they showed on all the other, uneventful, days of their working lives.
All of us who are committed to public service can take pride that Leigh and Peggy were a part of us, and realise, in their loss, the importance of our own work and the public service itself.
It is an honour to be here with both families and to share your grief.
Our respect for Leigh and Peggy has been shown by government workers throughout New Zealand marking two minutes silence a week after the event and in many other ways.
It is shown in the expressions of concern for Lindy and for those affected emotionally by the experience.
Most of all, our respect is shown by our continued work – often difficult, and always challenging – to help New Zealanders to help themselves to be safe, strong and independent.
Those who do this work also need to be safe.
Their families should not have to fear that they will not return home at the end of the day.
In the days, weeks and years ahead we will continue to think about, and learn what we can from what happened.
I take my responsibility for this seriously.
I will be asking myself, over and over, what more could I have done?
I know others are doing the same thing, and that at times we feel as if we are searching in darkness.
I’ve heard it said that it is better “to light one candle than to curse the darkness”. We are looking for those points of light, those things we can learn from what has happened.
Every action we take so that in the future staff will be safer will be a tribute to Leigh, and Peggy, and all victims of this terrible act.
But while we look for lessons, we cannot ignore the darkness.
We must not hesitate to condemn, utterly, the evil that occurred in the Ashburton office that day.
We may in time learn to what extent it was a result of social conditions, or medical issues, or psychological processes, or an act of will, or all of these.
But the victims – those who have died and those who must live with these memories – bear no responsibility for what has happened.
By seeking concrete actions for the future we honour the victims, and we push back against the darkness.
Already, our people are reflecting on what has happened and, putting aside their shock and anger, concentrating on what this means for us and our relationship with clients.
We respect those who need our services.
I see indications that we will be stronger in our expectations of mutual respect.
We will not be less tolerant but we will be more willing clearly to say what cannot be tolerated.
In that process we will begin to restore and renew trust.
But today is about this moment and honouring two whose lives have been taken because they worked for others, and recognising all those wounded and harmed by this attack.
Today is about realising, in our shared grief and loss, the strength of that community and society we work to build.
And it is about our responsibility, even at this moment, to not back away from our commitment to serve New Zealanders.
Hat tip: Lindsay Mitchell