The Most Important Assignment of My Life

I've spent nearly three years producing and directing a feature-length documentary on the life and the work of author, social justice advocate and storyteller, Celia Lashlie who died in February 2015.

My relationship with Celia dated back to 2000 when I interviewed Celia for TV3’s 2020 and then a decade later for 60 Minutes. In her final months, she asked if I could make a documentary about her work.

Following Celia’s death, I worked alongside  her daughter, Beks Henderson to help publish the revised edition for the 10th anniversary of Celia’s international bestseller “He’ll Be OK – Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men”.

Celia and I at Beks' daughter's Christening, 2014. 

Celia and I at Beks' daughter's Christening, 2014. 

The following excerpt is from my introduction about ‘our work’ in the book:

“It was January 6th, 2015. I’d just sat down to begin work for the New Year and an email from Celia Lashlie with the subject line stopped me in my tracks:

'Some brutal news to share'

I took an inward breath and read on…

'On Tuesday afternoon I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has been there a while and has spread to my liver. Worst cancer I could get they say - no doing things by halves! No cure, no treatment (no decisions I have to make, which oddly makes it easier) and best-case scenario 12/18 months... As you can imagine, a bit to deal with…'

How do you respond? What do you say when one of the most charismatic and powerful influences in your life says she’s dying… and fast.

We had seen it building over the last year at least but who knows how long the cancer had been there.

On reflection, I now can see that there had been less and less of the easy laughter, the wicked humour, the spontaneous story-telling and that wry, wayward eyebrow that was the ‘in-form Ces’.

That was what the world loved about Celia - her compelling stories, her sharp and fearless mind and a mouth that could kneecap you.

There aren’t many people in the world who frighten me, but Celia Lashlie was a force you didn’t want to fight.  You’d always lose.

Her thoughts, her passion and her clarity were seductive.  She was like a drug and I became addicted.  You could never get enough of Celia. She always made you buzz with energy and hope.

An excerpt from Celia's final interview, February 14th, 2015. 

At the end of 2010, I left TV3’s '60 Minutes'. After nearly 30 years in TV, I wanted to do other things and work with other people.

Celia was at the top of my go-to list.

In late January 2011, we met at a café in Newtown and planned the future.

There would be a series of documentaries that would highlight Celia’s work. I would also help her manage the media. No easy task. I had great ideas how she could advance her work through the media. Celia saw it differently.

She hated the 10-second ‘soundbite’ and rejected any labels such as ‘expert’ or ‘specialist’ etc. She maintained she was first and foremost, a storyteller who specialised in telling it how it is…

…It was January 12th 2015,  the first time I saw Celia following the news she had pancreatic cancer. I could see a dramatic decline already. The presence, the power, the spirit was fading.

However, she appeared to be having none of that. She had a plan because Celia always had a plan.

We blindly followed her faith that she had 12 months. Perhaps she was protecting us and herself.

Our long-held plan for the documentary series was now not going to happen. Instead, Celia told me, she wanted to make a documentary of her ‘final journey’.

I’m left with this sense of gratitude and humility that I was blessed to be so close to such a private and inspirational woman.

She’s changed my life for the better. She’s changed my relationship with my husband for the better. She’s changed the way I talk to and laugh with my son for the better. I understand them better but more importantly, I understand myself better. She’s taught me to shut up. Not a lot of people could do that.

And I’m just one of tens of thousands in the world whose lives have been changed by Celia Lashlie.

I thought I’d seen a lot of suffering and social ills in my work as a TV current affairs reporter and documentary maker but Celia taught me so much more about listening, compassion, advocacy and integrity. It’s an over-used word but if ever one person represented integrity, Celia Lashlie was it.

Celia also taught me about patience. Forever, the deadline junkie, I wanted everything to happen now.

Celia would always say, 'All in good time'."

Since I wrote that introduction in “He’ll Be OK”, I’ve followed her advice.

Nearly three years on, I’ve allowed the documentary to happen ‘all in good time’. Part of surrendering to the ‘Universe of Celia’ was to let things happen. And they did.

We were able to raise nearly $13-thousand dollars through a Givealittle campaign. But unfortunately, it was nowhere near enough. But that all changed in March - thanks to a ‘random’ angel who came to our rescue.

His name is Garry Robertson. While he was sitting at the lights in Auckland, he heard my shameless plug on RNZ’s The Panel for donations towards  the production of the documentary.

The father of four sons was so grateful for the advice and humour that Celia had offered him, his wife, and his family that he made the decision to fund the entire documentary in the time it took for the lights to turn green!

Thanks to Garry's very generous support, as well as others through Givealittle, I'm now going to be able to fulfil Celia's final wish.