Last month we said goodbye to our long-serving and much-loved Director, Thérèse Angelo MNZM. Thérèse passed away on 15 October 2018 following a long, and brave, battle with illness, and was farewelled in a fitting service at the Museum she loved so much.
Thérèse has left an indelible legacy across three decades of service to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). Having joined the Museum as its first Research Officer, just two months after it opened in 1987, she rose to become the first civilian Director in 2002. Since then, she has forged a path for the Museum which has taken us to our present position – an internationally respected institution which shares the story of our Air Force with over 130,000 visitors every year.
Her list of achievements is impressively long. She was honoured with Chief of Air Force and Chief of Defence Force Commendations, national museum achievement awards, aviation and training industry awards and civic recognitions, culminating in her being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2011 for services to museums. In addition, she oversaw a number of major works projects which transformed the Air Force Museum into a world-class facility, the pinnacle being a $16 million, 7,500 sqm extension, completed in 2013.
Thérèse’s greatest legacy of all, however, may be seen in her generous guidance and selfless support of others. This was strongly evident in her response to the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010/2011. With the Air Force Museum being in the fortunate position of having suffered very little damage, Thérèse never hesitated in offering assistance to others less fortunate. With the Board’s full support, she opened our doors to displaced organisations, sent our team to help salvage a number of affected heritage collections, and, following the opening of the new extension, made space available for ‘homeless’ cultural and heritage organisations to temporarily store, and work on their collections. This Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre as it became formally known, was the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and is a testament to Thérèse’s vision and determination.
In the words of a fellow director, Thérèse was a ‘powerhouse’ of the museum sector in New Zealand. There are few leaders who have had such a far-reaching influence across an entire industry, and her loss is deeply felt. Not only did she head national heritage bodies, including three terms as Chair of Museums Aotearoa, but she also generously supported and mentored countless individuals in their careers, many of whom owe their own achievements to her inspirational guidance.
She was tirelessly loyal to the RNZAF, too, always striving to ensure that the Museum supported the Chief of Air Force’s command directive, and that it was recognised as an integral part of the RNZAF; its own whare taonga – a house of treasures, and collective memory. Under her leadership, the Museum became an institution with people at its core; not only in the stories that are told within its galleries, but also in its inclusive, visitor-centric focus, sharing the RNZAF story with an ever-expanding audience. Thérèse’s emphasis on people extended to her own team, and anyone who has been part of this close-knit, passionate group of staff and volunteers will remark on how special the unit culture is here at Wigram - in itself a testament to her leadership.
The high esteem in which she was held by so many has shone through in the countless tributes that have flowed in the wake of her passing. Around 500 people turned out on 23 October to pay their final respects to Thérèse, while an additional 340 followed the service from afar via live stream on our website.
The RNZAF honoured Thérèse with a moving and respectful service, led by Chaplain Di Woods. She would have felt greatly honoured and humbled by the tributes from Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Clark (Chief of Air Force), Phillipa Tocker (Executive Director Museums Aotearoa) and Air Vice-Marshal Peter Adamson (Retd), Chairman of the Museum Trust Board. The flypast of a C-130 Hercules as she departed the Museum for the last time was perhaps one of the most touching moments of all.
As the Museum moves forward now into a new chapter, we will strive to honour Thérèse’s memory and legacy while also looking to the future and embracing new opportunities - just as she would have wanted.
The Air Force Museum team wish to thank all who sent their condolences to us in the wake of Thérèse’s passing. The heartfelt words of tribute and support have meant a great deal to us during this difficult time.
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