Vivienne Boyd received a knighthood for her highly active contribution in community and public affairs nationally. She was a loyal Baptist throughout her life and became the first woman on the Baptist Union Board and later its President.
Early life and family
Vivienne Myra Lowe, an only child, was born in Lower Hutt on 11 April 1926 to Winifred and Hugh Lowe. Lowe made a living with his iron foundry. Vivienne attended Hutt Valley High School and studied at Victoria University College, graduating Master of Science in 1948 – despite the difficulty of competing with boys who had received more teaching in the sciences at school.
In the week she graduated, she married Robert Boyd, and the couple went on to have four children—Vivienne, Alan, Dorothy, and Rosemary. Robert worked as an accountant for the railways and his work took them to Dunedin for some years. Vivienne quickly adjusted to the growing family and many aspects of traditional life for a married woman in the 1950s and early 1960s—cooking, gardening, flower-arranging, camping trips. In addition, her son had autism, so there were extra responsibilities associated with that.
‘I put a lot of energy into children,’ Vivienne says. ‘At one point I had a five-year-old who couldn’t talk, a two-year-old who couldn’t walk, and I was again pregnant. Frustrations are part of a woman’s life at home with small children. You can feel trapped. As it happened, the next child was perfectly normal, and both the others overcame their difficulties. That’s not to say that everybody overcomes. Some things can’t be put right.’
Vivienne was a brilliant organiser, and her Christmas shopping was done by November. From that organising bent and a keen mind, came her personal growth far beyond the domestic scene. Organising herself and other people was one of the foundations of her so-busy life of community service.
Community and public life
She began with Sunday School (every age level), and became president of the Dunedin Baptist Women’s League. She started doing fund-raising in the Free Kindergarten Association, and became the Dunedin Kindergarten Association President in 1965.
The next year she became the national President of the Baptist Women’s League (and also the family moved back to Wellington). Accepting that national position of leadership allowed her to take the opportunity of being the Baptist representative on the National Council of Women (NCW).
In the NCW she was later chosen as Vice-president (1974–78) and then president (1978-82). She focussed on growing NCW by enabling new branches and getting NCW represented on many national bodies. “I used a slogan in 1975 in the International Women’s Year when I was president of the National Council of Women,” she later reported. “‘A woman’s place is everywhere’. Every person ought to be willing and have the opportunity to do as much as she can and as well as she can. Women really haven’t had that until recently.”
Her outlook became international when she became convener of the social welfare committee of the International Council of Women, 1984-88. Her letters came from faraway places like Lesoto, Indonesia, Israel and South Africa with reports on topics such as women’s welfare and combatting prostitution.
Vivienne and her husband used to enjoy travel overseas, even though, as friends joked, neither had a good sense of direction and they frequently risked getting lost. Off they went and found many things to enjoy on the way. When she travelled to a conference, she talked long and late to accompanying friends, read light romances, and knitted energetically through the airports on the way.
When the government started a “Committee on Women,” Vivienne and her friends laughed when they realised what the initials formed. She threatened an article, ‘The Committee on Women—is it a fair cow?’ The committee was a precursor to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and Vivienne said she and four others worked ‘furiously’ to coordinate the 1975 International Women’s Year follow-up conference at the NZ parliament buildings in March 1976. She was the only non-employed member and felt it was important that she spoke for all unpaid caregivers.
Vivienne understood and considered her identity as an unpaid worker most seriously, and found many opportunities to promote recognition of all the kinds of work that women do, paid or unpaid. ‘Quite apart from children, women who care for disabled and elderly are often undervalued,’ she used to proclaim. ‘They aren’t even counted for census purposes. They work willingly, but they don’t describe their efforts as work. When ACC started, we fought for years to get women’s unpaid work at home recognised in the scheme.’
Vivienne trudged the country drawing attention to women’s unpaid work. She visited NCW branches from Whangarei to Invercargill, speaking at hundreds of meetings and parliamentary select committees, particularly drawing attention to the lack of recognition of so much that women do.
‘To me to be a Christian is by definition to be a feminist, believing men and women are equal. Christianity sees the worth of every individual, male or female.’ Vivienne said this at a time when many Baptist men and women thought that if you called yourself a feminist you could not possibly be a Christian, and vice versa.
She also said, ‘Being a Christian is more important to me than being a woman or a wife or a mother and certainly more than being a Baptist.’
At the time there were not many women science graduates and Vivienne was invited on to the Royal Commission on Nuclear Power Generation. She had no objection to being a token woman on the committee. She said it was better a woman was there than none. It sat for two years and went on a seven-week world tour visiting nuclear power plants in USA, Canada, and Britain; Vivienne went on to Switzerland. The government decided against nuclear power even before the commission reported back.
Then came a string of honourable positions on national panels. Indeed, Vivienne had accepted nomination to the Baptist Union board and then withdrew when she was asked to chair the Abortion Advisory Committee, a task she saw high value in even when she was criticised by some Christians, including Baptists, for being involved at all. She was the first woman member appointed to the Union Council of the Baptist Church (in 1970) and was president in 1984. She somehow found time to deliver Meals on Wheels for the Hutt Hospital for 30 years.
Here are lists of Vivienne’s many committees and high awards (some with specific dates, and this is not a complete list!).
- lay leader in the Epuni Baptist Church, Petone
- President of the Baptist Women’s League (1966–1968),
- Vice-President of the National Council of Women (1974 to 1978),
- President of the National Council of Women (1978–1982),
- Convener of the social welfare committee of the International Council of Women from 1984 to 1988,
- a member and later chair of the Consumer Council (1975–1988),
- a member of the Royal Commission on Nuclear Power Generation,
- member of the Equal Opportunities Panel,
- member of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board,
- member of the New Zealand Media Alert Trust,
- chair of the Abortion Supervisory Committee (1979–1980),
- member and later convener of the Baptist Public Questions Committee (1967–1972, 1977–1979),
- member of the Baptist Union Council (1970–1985),
- president of the Baptist Union (1984–1985).
- She was the first woman to hold the latter two positions.
- In 1977, Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal,
- Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1983 New Year Honours,
- Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1986 Queen’s Birthday Honours, for public and community services.
Asked what drove all her committee work, Vivienne claimed two things. ‘I’m interested and like doing it, and the friendships with the people I meet, but also it stems from my Christian worldview. There’s a bit in the Bible, “From whom much is given, much shall be expected.” I had a good education and a good start in life. I believe I should do something useful with it. I wouldn’t say I enjoy committee meetings for their own sake, but for what they achieve.’
Vivienne had two guiding rules on whether to accept a place on a new committee. ‘I don’t seek office, but wait to be asked. And then if I can’t find a good reason why not, I do it. I exhort women to accept responsibility rather than to ask for their rights.’ Perhaps in a sign that she was a woman of her age, she said, ‘It’s neither appealing nor particularly Christian to demand rights.’
She commented on regrets once. ‘I don’t think one can get through life without regrets, but they’re not major ones.’
Well, what was Vivienne’s personal practice of her Christian faith? ‘Just as marriage is one long conversation, so with God. I talk to him whenever I wish. When I know I’ve done something I shouldn’t have, I have to start with an apology.’
Robert Boyd died seven years before Vivienne. She died in Lower Hutt in 2011 and was buried in the Taita Old Cemetery.
Tim Donahugh, Dominion Post, August 22, 2011, https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/obituaries/5478532/A-champion-of-women .
GT Bielby, Handful of Grain, vol. 3, 1914-1945, NZ Baptist Historical Society, 1984, p. 72.
Wood, Beulah, “What Makes her Tick?” Carey Baptist College, Auckland, 1989, pp 11-20.
Tallon, Mary E., “Interview with Vivienne Boyd”, https://natlib.govt.nz/records/35831940.
“Vivienne Boyd”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivienne_Boyd