Remembering Gail Helen McIntosh

Gail Helen McIntosh.

She was a hard-nosed Tauranga business woman and staunch feminist who took an each way punt on a racehorse to make a political point.

The horse was Prince of Penzance, a $100 rank outsider in the 2015 Melbourne Cup. But the late Gail McIntosh, full of the cause, backed it purely because there was a woman in the saddle.

Jockey Michelle Payne delivered for Gail, and womanhood. She rode a perfect race to become the first female jockey to win the great race in its 155-year history. Gail had made her point.

“I hadn’t heard that story but I am not surprised one bit,” says close friend and colleague, Tauranga Labour MP Ange Warren-Clark. “It sounds exactly like her. Oh God, I am going to miss that girl.”

The former one term MP and serving Tauranga City Councillor died last week after a short illness, and hundreds turned out at the ASB Baypark Arena on Wednesday for a celebration of her life, some shared sadness and stories.

Stories like the Melbourne Cup flutter which apparently made Gail laugh when Prince of Penzance got up and won. “It was out of the blue. No one expected the horse to win,” says council colleague Catherine Stewart. There was no interest in horses and no interest in gambling - Gail McIntosh was simply assisting the empowerment of another woman.

“It put a smile on my face,” says Cr Stewart.

It’s not known how much Gail invested in Payne and the Prince, but the horse paid $65.90 and $16.60. The quinella paid $784 and the trifecta a whopping $17,036.90. As well as making a political statement, Gail may have had good financial reason to laugh.

Gail McIntosh was as National as Ange Warren-Clark is Labour. McIntosh was on the committee that selected Simon Bridges as its candidate for Tauranga in 2008, and she has choreographed election day for the MP ever since.

“But because of our friendship, because I was a woman trying to get into politics, she was great to me,” says Ange. “She gave me all sorts of really good advice. “She would tease me mercilessly about being on the wrong side but the thing I really appreciated was, regardless of our political affiliations, we were friends.”

And that friend would step up again and again.

As Warren-Clark anxiously waited to see whether MMP and the specials would deliver her a ticket to Parliament, the former National MP would ring to comfort her.

“She told me that all I could do was wait, there was nothing more I could do.”

McIntosh had been part of a swing against Labour in 1990. She knew what it was like. She had to wait for the specials to come in before ending up with a majority of just 68 votes.

“She just gave me some really sensible advice when she didn’t have to. She told me how well I had run my campaign, to enjoy the experience either way and congratulated me. That was the mark of the woman.”

Another election success for Labour might not have been the result Gail McIntosh wanted, but because of their friendship, she was right behind Warren-Clark. “She did some really caring things - she would just give me a ring every now and then, ask how I was going and have a chat about things. Just like you would with any friend.”

But she wasn’t to be underestimated. “On one hand she was very, very funny, she made us all laugh. But she was also a bit scary at times. She would hold a line with her opinion, and while we were never rude or mean to each other, we knew exactly where each of us stood and that was on opposite sides of the fence.”

Ange Warren-Clark was president of Zonta at the same time she was campaigning. The would-be MP struggled with the workload. “Gail stepped up again. As treasurer she ran the board meetings and did a whole pile of work behind the scenes. I will always be grateful to her.”

This chartered accountant running her own accountancy firm, this city councillor driving the redevelopment of Tauranga’s CBD, this Zonta executive empowering women through service and advocacy, also had a practical streak.

“She sewed us a whole pile of aprons with pockets,” says Ange, “so when Women’s Refuge was running garage sales, we had somewhere to put the money. That tells you a wee bit about the woman.” Nothing too big or too small.

As a councillor Gail McIntosh helped push through a rent rebate for Women’s Refuge so it didn’t have to pay rent for a couple of years. “She was 100 per cent behind women’s causes and issues and hers was a natural relationship with the refuge.”

Gail Helen McIntosh - friend, benefactor, mentor, respected adversary, has gone. “God, I will miss her.”