It was sad indeed to learn of the death of Gordon Dryden. This man, who was a household name in New Zealand for many years as a broadcaster, was instrumental in the founding of Great Potentials Foundation.

Journalist Gordon Dryden pictured on May 20, 1973. Photo / NZ Herald archives

As a young mother at home, I listened to Gordon on radio, taking particular interest in his promotion of the importance of the parent/child relationship and the critical nature of the early years, especially in brain development.

We did some broadcasting together and I gave him the manuscript of the book I had written – “Children: Endangered Species?”  Its subtitle was: “How the needs of New Zealand children are being seriously neglected: a call for action”.  Gordon was deeply shaken by my findings and proposed that we should go together to the ASB Charitable Trust and make a case for the establishment of a foundation that would put into effect the initiatives we believed would make a positive difference.

The Trust was persuaded and, soon after Penguin published the book, our Foundation was born, in August 1990.  We called it Pacific Foundation for Health, Education and Parent Support. The name change, some 15 years later, to Great Potentials Foundation, was in order to give a clearer indication of the purpose and effect of our work.

Gordon led our activities as CEO for about three years, before pursuing an international career related to education. I succeeded him as CEO, a role I filled for 25 years. 

Gordon was a self-made man of exceptional capability and energy. In the years we worked together, I marvelled at his capacity for research, writing, strategic planning, promotion and execution. He created a television series, “Where To Now?”, based on research we had both done, and his astonishing international network of experts. He was responsible for the production of three parenting books I co-wrote, which we made available at no cost to parents in Auckland and Northland. He strongly supported my development of our first Family Service Centre in Papakura, with New Zealand’s first HIPPY programme.  (Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters).

Dame Lesley Max

I always remember his response to me, as he left me in charge of our new entity, when he left on his filming trip overseas.  His statement for how I should lead and operate was and is my guide throughout my time with the Foundation: “Use your best judgment at all times.”

The tens of thousands of New Zealanders from low-income communities who are leading more positive lives as a result of our Family Service Centres, HIPPY programme and MATES (Mentoring and Tutoring Education Scheme) programme, are part of Gordon Dryden’s legacy.