Story: Lange, David Russell

Page 6: Later career

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Lange, David Russell


Lawyer, politician, prime minister

This biography, written by Barry Gustafson,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.

After his resignation as party leader, Lange gave up the education portfolio and instead became attorney general (outside cabinet) in the new ministry of his former deputy and successor, Geoffrey Palmer. He held that position until the defeat of the Labour government the following year.

Retirement from politics

Lange did not enjoy his last six years in Parliament on the opposition back benches. Disillusioned, he retired from Parliament at the 1996 general election and chose not to renew his Labour Party membership thereafter.

Second marriage

In 1989 Lange announced his separation from Naomi after 21 years of marriage. He had been having an affair for some years with his speechwriter, Margaret Forsyth Pope. After his divorce, they married in a civil ceremony in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1992. They were to have one daughter.

Post-Parliamentary career

Lange lived the last years of his life in Māngere Bridge, in his former electorate. After 1996, he had a parliamentary pension. He supplemented this by writing newspaper articles, making speeches in New Zealand and overseas, and performing shows with the comic speaker Gary McCormick around New Zealand.

Defamation actions

Lange engaged in a lengthy, costly and eventually (in 2000) unsuccessful defamation case against a university lecturer who had suggested in a magazine column that Lange had been a lazy prime minister. He settled favourably a 1997 defamation action against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which had broadcast a programme suggesting that Lange had a corrupt involvement in the sale of public assets.


Lange declined an invitation to become ambassador to India after a new Labour government took office in 1999 but accepted appointment to the boards of Housing New Zealand and the Land Transport Authority. After rejecting the offer of a knighthood, Lange was made a Companion of Honour in 1990 and a member of the Order of New Zealand in 2003.


Lange suffered all his life from obesity, smoked until the early 1980s and was later in life to have an alcohol problem which he confronted by joining Alcoholics Anonymous in 2002. He experienced health problems such as diabetes (diagnosed as early as 1981). After having angioplasty in 1988, he had heart bypass operations in 1995 and again in 2001. In 2002 he was diagnosed with a rare and incurable blood plasma disorder, amyloidosis, and was told he had about four months to live. Seven months of chemotherapy prolonged that period.


Lange had home dialysis treatment for kidney failure. In mid-July 2005 he entered Middlemore Hospital, where on 2 August his lower right leg was amputated as a result of complications of diabetes. The immediate cause of his death on 13 August at the age of 63 was heart failure, the end stage of 20 years of heart disease. He was cremated at Purewa Crematorium in Auckland.

How to cite this page:

Barry Gustafson. 'Lange, David Russell - Later career', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2010. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 2 October 2020)