Energetic and sharp-witted, Cath Vautier was a child who learned quickly and well. As the eldest in a family of 12, she grew up leading by example. This was to be the pattern of her life. A teacher for over 40 years, a player, coach and organiser of netball for over 50 years, and an active member of numerous Manawatu sporting and community organisations, she thrived on being involved.
Catherine Wilhelmina Vautier was born on 27 August 1902 in Palmerston North, the daughter of Ada Wallis and her husband, Reginald de Jersey Vautier, a farmer. She attended several Manawatu schools, and her abilities were evident at an early age. She sat the proficiency examination before her 12th birthday and won a Junior Scholarship at Palmerston North High School. In 1920 Cath was in the first class of pupils to attend the newly established Palmerston North Girls' High School, where she won a Senior Scholarship and became head prefect and first dux. The following year she enrolled at the University of Otago, where she studied for a diploma in home science. Throughout her life she had a high regard for academic achievement.
As a schoolgirl Cath Vautier was keen on sports and good at them. However, two early incidents involving a hockey stick – one when she suffered a cut to the head, the other when her stick was destroyed in a house fire – deterred her from that game. Instead she took up basketball (now netball). Tall and strong, she played at high school and university, where she became club captain and led the 'A' team to the New Zealand University Easter Tournament on at least two occasions.
After taking up a teaching position at Palmerston North Technical School in 1927, Vautier joined several others keen to establish a regular competition for Wednesday and Saturday play. Teams in these early years were drawn from girls and young women in local factories and department stores as well as from the high schools and old girls' groups. The Manawatu Basketball Association, which Cath helped found in 1928, was one of a handful of provincial associations formed after the launching of a national tournament in 1926.
Cutting short her own playing career, Vautier took up umpiring and moved into administration. In 1930 she was elected president of the Manawatu association, a position she was to hold for all but 6 of the following 41 years. Never a figurehead, 'Miss Vautier', as she was universally known, was active in all aspects of the game, serving as coach, manager, umpire, selector (including national selector in 1948), announcer, publicist, delegate to national meetings, and fund-raiser, as well as being responsible for the weekly draw. Her greatest success came in 1946 when the Manawatu team, which she coached and managed, was joint winner at the national tournament. She was made a life member of the New Zealand Basketball (later Netball) Association in 1967.
Cath Vautier led fund-raising efforts over many decades. Jumble sales, market days and raffles were regular sources of income alongside the modest weekly fee collected from each team. Her distinctive contribution to the association's funds and to innumerable family occasions was an elaborately decorated cake.
In the summer, tennis was the focus of Vautier's sporting interest. First as a member of the Whakarongo Tennis Club, then at regional level, she applied her organisational capabilities to supporting the game, especially among younger players. She was to become the first woman president of the Manawatu Lawn Tennis Association in 1971 and later was made a life member. Croquet, bowls, cricket, swimming and table tennis were other sports she enjoyed.
On top of her daytime teaching Vautier ran night classes in cake decorating, flower arranging, sewing and a range of crafts. She was a founder member of the Manawatu Embroiderers' Guild and the Whakarongo Country Women's Institute, with which she staged a series of successful dramatic productions. As with her sporting interests, Cath took on much of the detail of the groups' activity herself. She had little inclination for delegation, formal demarcation or advance planning.
The only member of her family not to marry, Cath Vautier was a generous aunt to her numerous nieces and nephews. Her teaching career was spent almost entirely at Palmerston North Technical School, from which she retired in 1967, by which time it had become Queen Elizabeth College. Her principal subject was domestic science but over the years she taught a variety of classes. She lived in the family home at Whakarongo until her mother died in 1957, soon after which she moved into a flat in Palmerston North.
Cath Vautier's long service to sport, netball in particular, was recognised in 1976 when the Puriri Terrace courts complex, the main venue for Saturday netball competition, was renamed Vautier Park. The following year she was made an OBE for services to sport and the community. She died in Palmerston North on 12 June 1989.