Award of honour ‘pretty special’: Leonie Metcalfe

October 1, 2021

NZNO’s award of honour recipient Leonie Metcalfe has spent her life sticking up for the underdog.

“You forget about it sometimes, it’s just what you do, but when you get something like this you realise it has been meaningful,” Metcalfe told Kai Tiaki. “It’s a team thing – I’ve had a huge amount of wonderful people around me who do great things.”


Recently retired after being diagnosed with the asbestos-linked cancer, mesothelioma, last year, Metcalfe’s award was announced at the annual general meeting (AGM) last month.

‘My father was a union person,’ she said of her fitter-turner dad. ‘So I naturally got involved.’

Graduating nurse Leonie Clark's award from the Wairoa Hospital Board in 1970.
Graduating nurse Leonie Clark’s award from the Wairoa Hospital Board in 1970.

Metcalfe trained as a community nurse at Wairoa Hospital in 1969 and – from a unionist family – was part of the then-Nurses’ Association from the start. “My father was a union person,” she said of her fitter-turner dad. “So I naturally got involved. I always went for the underdog and being true to yourself and what you believe in. It pisses people off sometimes!”

Such as in the early 1980s when she pointed out to Wairoa Hospital management that she and colleagues were entitled to a half-an-hour break after five hours, leading to “quite a bit of money” being paid out for missed breaks. “That didn’t go down very well with the board!”

She moved to Hamilton in the 1980s, where she now lives, and worked as an enrolled nurse (EN) at Waikato Hospital for the next 35 years. At NZNO, she chaired the Enrolled Nursing Section (ENS) and also became vice-chair of NZNO’s Midlands regional council, as well as being a delegate for 16 years.

Metcalfe says her philosophy is simple – speak up: “If you don’t ask for anything, you don’t get anything – you’re either at the table or you’re on the menu.”

‘If you don’t ask for anything, you don’t get anything – you’re either at the table or you’re on the menu.’

These days, despite the debilitating effects of her terminal cancer and chemotherapy (see Kai Tiaki’s August article), Metcalfe has successfully lobbied the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) to accept claims of accidental workplace exposure to asbestos and is now working to create a national mesothelioma support group. “There is nothing around for people with mesothelioma, so I’m just going to try and set it up.”

She says while it’s a lot of work, it’s also very rewarding to take action and connect with other sufferers here and overseas.

The award – given every two years – includes lifelong honorary NZNO membership. Metcalfe said it was “pretty special… I didn’t think much got past me, but that did!”

Seven grandchildren

She recently celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary and has seven grandchildren, some of whom participated in a congratulations video when the award was announced.

ENS chair Robyn Hewlett said Metcalfe showed “passion and dedication” and had been a “great advocate for enrolled nursing at every opportunity and in a variety of forums, locally and nationally”.

At the Midlands regional council, she said Metcalfe always took the time to support members and encourage others to get involved.