Page 1: Biography
Teacher, nurse, community leader, local politician
This biography, written by Mim Ringer, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Viva Bedlington was born at Auckland on 12 March 1893, the daughter of Elizabeth Jane Meldrum and her husband, Percy Bedlington, a surveyor. Her paternal grandfather, William Bedlington, had surveyed much of the Whangārei district and through her paternal grandmother, Caroline Mair, Viva was directly related to two eminent Northland families, the Mairs and the Puckeys. Both families were associated with the earliest days of the Church Missionary Society in the Bay of Islands.
Viva attended Kamō School, where her mother had taught before her marriage. After passing the Junior National Scholarship examination in 1906, she became a pupil at Whangārei High School for four years. In 1908 she gained the junior civil service examination. During 1911–12 she was a probationary assistant at Kamō School, going on to Auckland Training College in 1914–15. Apart from three years in the Bay of Plenty, she taught within the Whangārei district at Glenbervie, Hora Hora and Whangārei until 1922.
Viva Bedlington left teaching in 1923 because of throat trouble. On an extended trip overseas she qualified as an obstetric nurse at the Glasgow Royal Maternity and Women’s Hospital. She then spent time as an exchange teacher in Canada and the United States. Back in Glasgow, she married James Donaldson, a widower, also from Whangārei, on 26 August 1925. After their marriage the couple returned to Whangārei, where James had a small farm and served several terms as a borough councillor. They had no children, and James died in 1941.
After her overseas trip, Viva Donaldson became involved in community affairs. She was on the local branch of the Plunket Society for several years, serving as secretary, president and committee member. In 1927 she became the first woman to sit on the Whangārei Hospital Board, and was a member until 1933. She was appointed north ward representative on the Auckland Education Board in 1929. From the same year until 1947 she was on the Whangārei High School board of governors, the second woman and the first old pupil to be a member. She was the first president of the Whangārei branch of the Women’s Division of the New Zealand Farmers’ Union in 1934 and served as vice president of the North Auckland provincial body.
In 1938 Donaldson resumed teaching during a teacher shortage. She retired in April 1949, having taught at Hikurangi, Ngunguru, Hora Hora again, Matarau and Ngararatunua. Soon after retiring, she accepted a temporary position as head teacher at the Maunu Children’s Health Camp.
Donaldson was a member of numerous clubs. For several years she held office in the Whangārei Ladies’ Golf Club; she bred dogs and was president of the Whangārei Kennel Club. A keen and able horsewoman, she belonged to the local agricultural and pastoral society, the racing and trotting clubs, and in 1949 was secretary of the pony club. She taught many children to ride. She also joined the Whangārei branch of the Red Cross as an ambulance driver and became its commandant.
In 1950 she was elected to the Whangārei Borough Council and was returned at the next five elections. As well as being a member of the government housing committee, she headed several council committees and represented the council on the Northland Hospital Board and the health camp committee. She became a justice of the peace in 1954, proudly following both her father and grandfather. In 1956 she was made an MBE and the local progressive society gave her its first citation. She retired from public life in 1968 and died in Whangārei on 2 August 1970. Her ashes were ‘scattered to the four winds’.
Viva Donaldson was fiercely proud of her Northland pioneer ancestors. Severely dressed, with close-cropped hair, she was a commanding figure, remembered as a disciplinarian, a lover of animals, and a committee person. Her contribution to the affairs of the district during her several interwoven careers was that of a capable and sensible person.