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Denis Bazeley Gordon McLean CMG: 18 August 1930-30 March 2011.

The sudden death of Denis McLean on 30 March came as a shock to NZIIA members. It was the third blow in as many months--following the passing of fellow vice-presidents Neville Beach and Mary Boyd.

Denis presided over the Wellington branch from 2002 to 2004. He was a member of the Standing Committee from 2002 and an honorary vice president from 2003 until his death.

Educated at Nelson College and Victoria University College, Denis won a Rhodes scholarship that took him to Oxford University. He excelled in many fields--initially as a diplomat, after joining the Department of External Affairs in 1957. His postings included Washington, Kuala Lumpur and Paris. From 1972 to 1977 he was deputy high commissioner in London. At his side was his delightful wife Anne, an Argentinian of Scottish descent whom he married in 1958.

Denis became the government's leading civilian defence adviser. After a brief stint on secondment to the Ministry of Defence in the late 1960s, he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies in London in 1971. Eight years later he left External Affairs to become secretary of defence.

In this capacity, not least because of his firm belief in the need for close ties with the United States, he soon faced a difficult task when the fourth Labour government took the country out of ANZUS. Although he acted with commendable professionalism in carrying out the government's wishes, it was clear that there was no meeting of minds with Prime Minister David Lange. Denis left the position in 1988, in circumstances that would later lead to angry exchanges in Parliament.

The change of government in 1990 revived Denis's career in the public service. The new National administration led by Jim Bolger saw advantage in using him to assuage hard feelings that lingered in Washington from the ANZUS crisis. They appointed him ambassador to the United States in 1991. Denis spent the next three years trying to overcome the negative attitudes to New Zealand of key US policy-makers. With New Zealand restricted for much of his term in its engagement with the administration to assistant secretary level, this was a thankless task. Sometimes the snubs were direct. According to former Labour Cabinet minister Michael Bassett, who interviewed Denis, when he approached former Secretary of State George Shultz at a function in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992, 'Shultz glared at him and barked: "Your Prime Minister lied to me", then walked away.'

At the end of his ambassadorial term Denis did not return immediately to New Zealand. He embarked on a new career as an educationalist. In 1995 he joined the faculty of Simmons College in Boston as the Warburg professor of international relations. He spent a congenial and productive period at the college, a colleague later describing him as 'a passionate teacher'. He also had other academic connections, being later variously a visiting scholar or fellow at several other institutions in the United States and Australia.


Returning to New Zealand in 1998, Denis and Ann took up residence in the Wellington suburb of Khandallah. Apart from his NZIIA activities, Denis pursued other interests, especially history. His biography of leading soldier Sir Howard Kippenberger (Howard Kippenberger: Dauntless Spirit) was acclaimed for its broad perspective on the life of one of New Zealand's greatest citizen-soldiers. Denis also wrote a perceptive account of New Zealand's relationship with its trans-Tasman neighbour, The Prickly Pair, Making Nationalism in Australia and New Zealand. His literary efforts were not, however, confined to history: a keen tramper, he wrote an account of one extended walk in the North Island's east coast, The Long Path: Te Araroa. He also compiled a biographical account of leading New Zealand soldier Sandy Thomas: Pathway to Adventure.

Denis chaired the Te Araroa Wellington Trust, part of a nationwide effort to create a walkway from Te Reinga to Bluff, served on the New Zealand Press Council and Victoria University Council, and was a trustee of the New Zealand War Graves Trust. At the time of his death he was still active in the NZIIA, having been re-elected to the Wellington branch committee just the night before he passed away. He was also a member of the advisory committee assisting in the preparation of the anniversary history of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

For all his many achievements and high offices, it was Denis' personal attributes that endeared him to his many friends. He was a man of great intelligence, perceptive judgment and good humour. As longtime colleague Gerald Hensley put it in his moving eulogy:
   What we will miss is Denis the man, Denis whose sweetness
   of nature meant that he was ever interested in the
   doings of other people, whose easy friendship meant
   that even his friends' children saw him as their friend,
   and whose inability to bear any resentments impressed
   us even for the one or two occasions when we thought
   he had good reason to do so.

His passing is a great loss both to the NZIIA and to his country.
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Article Details
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Author:McGibbon, Ian
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:May 1, 2011
Previous Article:Mary Beatrice Boyd: 8 October 1921-8 March 2011.
Next Article:Making a difference: Russell Marshall reflects on a half-century of involvement in international affairs.

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