The community role is by far the most time-consuming part of vice-regal duties. ‘This part of the job is to accentuate the positive,’ Dame Catherine Tizard recalled. ‘Luckily for incumbents, it can also be the most enjoyable.’1
Vice-regal sporting trophies
In the 20th century giving a sporting trophy bought a small piece of immortality. The names of governors and governors-general live on in the rugby shields and cups donated by Lords Ranfurly, Plunket and Bledisloe. Bledisloe, a particularly generous governor-general, also donated the Ahuwhenua Trophies for excellence by Māori farmers (from 1932), with separate trophies for sheep and beef and for dairying from 1954.
Patron of societies
A modern governor-general may be patron of 200 to 300 societies. Some are uniformed organisations, such as sea cadets, scouts, guides and boys’ brigades, and governors-general often wear the uniform of these organisations, although Paul Reeves’s wife, Beverley, reported that while ‘Paul would put on a scout shirt’, he ‘drew the line at wearing shorts’.2
In the past there were also ‘loyal societies’ (patriotic, pro-empire organisations) such as the Victoria League. Until the later 20th century many governors and governors-general were grand masters of the Freemasons. The governor-general has also had a long association with the Order of St John in New Zealand. Patron from 1920, the governor-general held the office of knight commander of the Order from 1944 and prior from 1946.
Most recipients of vice-regal patronage, however, are philanthropic, cultural or sporting organisations. They must be well-established and financially sound.
Some vice-regal couples went beyond conventional passive or formal support and founded or supported new charities. In the early 1900s Lord and Lady Plunket presided over the creation of Dr Frederic Truby King’s Plunket Society. In the early 1960s Lord Cobham led the formation of Outward Bound (an outdoor-pursuits organisation) in New Zealand.
In the 1930s Lord and Lady Bledisloe gave the Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi to the nation. Lord Bledisloe’s successors presided over the increasingly elaborate and often controversial proceedings that took place at the grounds on Waitangi Day (6 February), the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
As well as attending public events, the governor-general hosts many community functions at Government House. In a typical year, over 15,000 people will attend such events.
‘The governor’s lady’
The governor’s spouse took on a demanding unpaid job, since she was expected to accompany her husband in public, to appear fashionable (the lady-in-waiting kept records to ensure that Her Excellency never wore the same outfit to the same organisation twice) and to be patron of many institutions. In Victorian times, Their Excellencies often split up while visiting a centre, the governor attending Masonic or military functions, while his wife visited hospitals or women’s groups.
Some later spouses were more adventurous. In the 1920s Alice Fergusson started the League of Mothers in New Zealand. Forty years later her son’s wife, Laura, learned to fly in New Zealand, and founded the Laura Fergusson Trust to house the disabled. Ladies Liverpool, Galway and Newall were patrons of wartime patriotic societies.