Te Kotahitanga
Manu Reo o Aotearoa

Leonie Lawson: Legend

Leonie Lawson: Legend

24 May 2024

It is with considerable sadness that we note the passing of Leonie Lawson MNZM on 20 May, 2024 at the age of 93.

In 2009 Leonie was made a Life Member of NZCF for her outstanding contribution stretching back to the earliest years of the Federation. Leonie was Chair of NZCF Auckland for almost a decade, was active in the organisation of The Big Sing and, along with Shona McIntyre-Bull, initiated the event now known as The Kids Sing for primary and intermediate school-aged children.

In the mid 2000s, NZCF was facing the loss of its Creative NZ funding and the organisation was in danger of collapsing. Olive Leddy (Chair NZCF Auckland 2007- 2018) wrote in her citation for Leonie’s Life Membership of NZCF: 'Leonie’s indomitable spirit was not going to allow that to occur, and with the help of Di Lenihan and Yvonne Hewitt, she proceeded to run the whole enterprise from her home. Her organisation, communication skills, drive and amazing commitment meant that NZCF survived what could have been a ‘mortal blow’. Whatever needed doing, she just got on and did with no fuss and no expectation of applause or praise, treating all with respect.'

For many years Leonie was Director of Music at Auckland Diocesan School for Girls. She founded and was a long-standing Musical Director of Cantemus which was originally set up for parents and staff at the school. She also founded the Auckland Girls' Choir and was their Musical Director until recently, and served as Assistant Director and accompanist for the Auckland Boys' Choir for more than 10 years.

Leonie remained a passionate supporter of The Big Sing and was a regular volunteer until a few years ago. She was always prepared to take on any task regardless of how menial it might seem. Leonie was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2010 for her services to music.

The following tribute to Leonie was shared by Hope Whitehead, a former member of the Auckland Girls' Choir.

It was not a love for singing that led me to audition for the Auckland Girls’ Choir at the age of eight — my baffled parents would agree. I just wanted to hang out with a good mate of mine after school. So off I went. None of the gear, absolutely no idea, but I passed the audition and joined on a probationary basis to see if my ‘trouble with pitching’ improved. Thus began my acquaintance with Leonie Lawson, who was, at the time, the scariest person I had ever met.

At Choir Camp, an annual event that always promised furious rehearsal, a piece wasn’t going as well as it should’ve. 'It’s coming,' Mrs Lawson announced, before adding wryly, '…So’s Christmas.' You could always count on her to give it to you straight.

That chance meeting with Mrs Lawson changed my life. I sang with the Auckland Girls’ Choir for eight years. And every school choir I could. Then, the NZ Secondary Students’ Choir, then, the New Zealand Opera Chorus, Queens’ College Chapel Choir… Everywhere I have lived — NZ, LA, the UK — choirs have opened the door to friendships and community. It’s all thanks to her.

There are people that you absolutely believe will live forever. Leonie was one of them. And in a way, she might, through the great magnitude of her impact and legacy. 

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