IN HER ELEMENT
St Margaret’s College’s new Executive Principal, Diana Patchett, has an abiding passion for helping to empower young people. She exudes warmth and humility, and has a refreshingly buoyant spirit.
Diana has worn many hats in her life: she has competed nationally in Canada in both rowing and water polo; she has worked in advertising and marketing in Papua New Guinea; and she is Mum to four grown-up sons. She comes to Christchurch from Auckland’s North Shore, where she was the Principal at Kristin Junior School since 2013.
Born and brought up in Canada’s far north, Diana recalls exploring the wilderness with Brownies and Girl Guides in -40°C. ‘A daughter of the midnight sun’, she also remembers her mother covering the windows with black paper in summer so that she and her sister could sleep. Growing up in ‘such ridiculous extremes of climate’ instilled in her a lifelong love of the natural environment and, with that, an appreciation of the importance of dressing for the elements.
Studying Cell Biology and Zoology at the University of British Columbia, she envisioned a career in medicine, specifically in paediatrics. However, she came to realise that it was her love of children – and, quite possibly, the dreamy ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce (Alan Alda) from M*A*S*H – that had influenced her thinking.
Diana left Canada in the mid-80s, and spent six years in Papua New Guinea, before moving to Australia where she and husband, Michael, started their family. Her interest in the learning and development of her own children moved her to ‘test the waters’ in the teaching profession.
She speaks with immense pride of the different strengths of her four sons – a sailor, a writer, a musician and a sportsman. Diverse in their endeavours, they each share their parents’ love of the natural environment and demonstrate a strong sense of community service, she says.
Diana’s love for family and her passion for education have been parallel drivers in her life. ‘No two children are the same. We have a responsibility to recognise the gifts each child brings to the world. We need to offer opportunities and fan those flames’, says Diana, speaking as both a parent and an educator.
Excited about her new position, Diana says that St Margaret’s College focuses on developing in girls the ‘skills and attributes that will see graduates enjoy challenges and embrace diversity with a strong sense of community service and gratitude’.
She remarks on the ‘vibrancy and upward energy’ of Christchurch and the beautiful natural environment surrounding the city. Keen trampers and skiers, she and Michael look forward to heading to the mountains. Diana is also longing to get back in the saddle, having sold her horse before moving south.
There is little point asking her how she is coping with the cold Canterbury weather. No doubt born of her experiences growing up in Canada, Diana lives by the maxim, ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’.
It is as much about embracing challenges and seizing opportunities as it is about being prepared, and it speaks volumes about her character and about her capacity to inspire others.
WORDS Kate Barber PHOTO Cassandra Kovacs