Page 1: Biography
Ingram, Laura May Cook
Teacher, community leader
This biography, written by Carol Markwell, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 5, 2000.
Laura May Cook Ingram was born on 11 June 1912 in Murchison, the daughter of Garden Ingram, a Scot, and his wife, Flora Agnes Matilda Cook, from Riwaka. Her father was employed as a blacksmith, but the family later moved to Motueka to run a guesthouse. Laura, who was also known as Dede, began her schooling at Motueka District High School; in 1929 she was both head prefect and dux. She entered Christchurch Teachers’ Training College in 1935. In her first year she was elected to the student executive and the following year became the women’s president.
Laura Ingram was to have a lifelong association with education. After a probationary year teaching in Motueka, she moved to a position at Ongarue in the King Country, where she taught many Maori pupils. Six years later she was back in the Motueka district as sole-charge teacher at Hau, a side school of Motueka District High School. She was appointed infant mistress at the main school in 1952. When the primary section became Parklands School, she retained the position, staying there until her retirement in 1965.
An energetic and dedicated teacher, she was also remembered for her sense of fun, and of occasion. One of her pupils later recalled how on the day the Second World War ended, she climbed ‘onto the old Post Office Hotel balcony dressed as Winston Churchill, complete with cigar and all – waving a flag and giving the V-for-victory sign’.
Outside teaching, Laura Ingram was actively involved in a wide range of community organisations. By the time she was 20 she was cycling the dusty country roads around Riwaka and Upper Moutere looking for girls to play outdoor basketball, and finding enough teams to begin the first competitions in 1932. She also formed the local Old Girls’ Basketball Club, played for it, and became its first president. This drive and energy, and her ability to motivate others, was to characterise her work in the Motueka community. In the early 1930s, tall, robust and resplendent in her father’s black busby hat, scarlet jacket and red tartan kilt and plaid, she was the drum major for the Motueka Ladies’ Highland Pipe Band, marching in front when the band paraded in competitions or on ceremonial occasions. She was proud of her Scottish heritage.
In all, Laura Ingram belonged to more than 18 community groups and organisations. She was the first woman president of the local branch of the New Zealand Educational Institute, and the first secretary of the women’s section of the Motueka RSA, later serving as president for 11 years and becoming a life member. Also active in local government, she was the first woman councillor in the Nelson region, serving on the Motueka Borough Council from 1944 to 1947. Elected to the Nelson Hospital Board for two terms, (1947–59 and 1962–78), she helped establish Motueka’s Phyllis Moffatt Hospital as a geriatric hospital (previously it had provided only maternity care).
Laura Ingram was a special mentor and friend to the Maori community in Motueka and had a long and close association with Motueka’s Te Awhina marae. In particular, she contributed substantially to the early development of Te Awhina by locating disused buildings in Nelson and having them transported to Motueka for use as meeting rooms and as teaching rooms on the marae.
One of Ingram’s most abiding interests was pre-school education. In 1954 she helped establish the Motueka Free Kindergarten Association and was the association’s president for 25 years. She was made a life member in 1967, and Motueka’s first kindergarten is named for her. She was president of the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union from 1966 to 1975 and a member of the National Advisory Council on Pre-school Education.
In addition to all her interests and activities, Ingram was a justice of the peace and a marriage celebrant. In 1965 she was made an MBE. Others in her family also rose to prominence. Her brother, Dan, became president of the New Zealand Police Association and her sister, Norma, was the wife of Keith Holyoake, prime minister and governor general.
Laura Ingram died in Motueka on 6 December 1994. Remembered for her quick and fiery use of language, she always commanded attention. She believed strongly in sound preparation and strict attention to detail and procedure. She never married, and throughout her life worked wholeheartedly and enthusiastically to serve her community, and to motivate others to do the same.