Lesley Milne CNZM

Lesley Milne (nee Keys)

Lesley Milne has given nearly five decades of service to rowing. All these hours have been voluntary, over and above her day job as a primary school teacher, where she also excelled.

Much of the voluntary time given, has been in the evenings and weekends.

Lesley Milne CNZM

A Lifetime of Service to Rowing

Lesley is a pioneer for women in rowing. She has given nearly sixty years of her life working with groups across all sectors of rowing to improve the sport and open opportunities for others, particularly women. 

Her work has contributed to the following stand out initiatives:

  1. New Zealand women being able to compete at national and international levels in rowing.
  2. Professional training for race officials so that New Zealand regattas are organised and run in line with international standards
  3. The establishment of the Rowing Race Officials Association which was the body that ensured consistent umpiring in regattas across New Zealand. 
  4. She was on the organising committees and supported the planning and execution of the World Rowing Championships at Lake Karapiro, New Zealand, in 1978 and 2010.
  5. Lesley has been involved in the administration of rowing at the local level, Auckland Rowing Club; regional level, Auckland Rowing Association; and nationally with Rowing New Zealand. She is a life member of all three organisations as well as the Legion of Rowers. 
  6. Over the past fifty Lesley has been involved in the administration of the Legion of Rowers, which has been pivotal in supporting Masters rowing.  Masters can now train and compete in regattas across New Zealand. One of the side benefits is that Masters rowers have become the backbone of Club administration.
  7. Through the Legion of Rowers funding support is available for New Zealand Junior rowers. These high potential rowers can apply for funding and receive much needed support to help them compete internationally. 

  The Early Years

Lesley was the third child of four children. She had two older brothers and a younger sister. She was born and grew up in Mt Wellington, going to Panmure Primary School and then on to Otahuhu College for her secondary school years. No one in her family rowed or had an interest in rowing. 

At College only boys were allowed to row at that time, so there was no opportunity for her to row during her secondary school years. 

After school, Lesley went on to train as a primary school teacher at Auckland Teachers College and then travelled overseas. When she returned to New Zealand and was trying to pick up the threads of her life again, she went to Otahuhu College evening art classes where the teacher, Lionel Gray (a stalwart member of Auckland Rowing Club). Lesley said “He used to talk to me about his experiences rowing on the Thames. It sounded amazing and I wanted to give it a go.”

At the age of 22 Lesley decided to learn to row and in 1965, Lesley joined Auckland University Women’s Rowing Club that was rowing out of North Shore Rowing Club, on Lake Pupuke. There were no facilities for women, so the women would just change in the bushes. 

Lesley Milne in bow seat


 In 1966 Lesley moved with the Auckland University Women’s Rowing Club to the Tamaki where over the next nine years (1966 through to 1975) she won eight National titles in a range of boats from Coxed Fours to a Single rowing skiff.  

This was a time where very few clubs accepted women as members, they were seen as the fairer sex who should provide cups of tea and cake to the men who were rowing. 

  Lesley was a member of the first New Zealand women’s crew to compete at the World Championships in 1974 in Lucerne, Switzerland. Prior to this Lesley was in the coxed four at the Australian Women’s Championship in 1970 at Brisbane where they were the winners and again in 1973 at the same championships in Geelong. In recognition of her being a New Zealand representative Lesley received the Rowing Legacy Medal (number 122).

Lesley’s rowing career did not end there, from 1985 through to 2012 she continued to compete in the Masters regattas. She achieved gold and silver medals at the World Masters Games Brisbane 1994.

Lesley Milne

 Race Official 

A Race Official is a voluntary role where the individual covers the costs of their travel and accommodation around New Zealand and works long days, sometimes from 7am to 6pm on the water. Their role is to ensure the safety of the rowers, manage the starting procedure, carry out regatta control, and judging for the regatta.   

Since 1978, Lesley has been a Race Umpire and continues to be a Licensed Umpire officiating at regattas from Twizel (Ruataniwha) in the South Island through to Whangarei in the North.

 Lesley was the inaugural chair of the New Zealand Rowing Race Officials Association (NZRROA) in 2007. This organisation was established to advocate for Race Umpires, give them a voice and to standardise umpire training throughout New Zealand. Lesley and the Race Officials committee put in place a programme that trained umpires along the lines of World Rowing umpire training, with recognition for local situations, leading to the raising of the standard of regatta management and consistent rule-based decision making. 

Lesley was the Lead Examiner for rowing officials on behalf of Rowing New Zealand from 2014 to 2021. She has ensured that her knowledge is up to date by attending several international regattas in Europe between 2012 to 2022 where she acted as an official in a voluntary capacity. 

Rowing Advocate, Administrator and Leader

After competing internationally, Lesley was co-manager of the Colts and women in Australia in 1975 and in 1986 was the Junior Rowing team manager. 

 Then from 1975 to 1979, Lesley was a Member of the Organising Committee for the 1978 World Rowing Championships, Lake Karapiro. Lesley was the sole woman on that committee, in charge of women’s rowing, looking after the needs of all the women who competed in this Championship. This was the first time the Championships were held in New Zealand and they were so successful that New Zealand won the rights to hold them again in 2010. 

 Since 1973, Lesley has been a member of Auckland Rowing Club, where she rowed, coached and actively participating in Club decision making. She has been made a Life Member in recognition of her contribution and service. She continues to contribute to her Club, currently in the role of Member Protection Officer, ensuring members safety and well-being. 

 Lesley also served on the Auckland Regional Rowing Association, the body representing rowers in the Auckland region from Whangarei to Mercer, overseeing elite training programmes and support for rowing across the region. Lesley was on the Committee and rose to the role of President. In 2000 she was recognised with a Life Membership for her service. 

Lesley held roles at a national level from early in her rowing career. Her first role was Secretary of the New Zealand Women’s Rowing Association, which was formed in 1966. Later she was involved in lobbying for the integration of this Association into the men’s association called New Zealand Rowing. This occurred in 1974. The result of this integration meant women were offered the chance to compete on equal terms to men at the national championships and to represent New Zealand internationally. 

 Lesley has been a Member of the Legion of Rowers committee for fifty years. This is a significant national organisation that organises and runs competitive regattas for Masters Rowers as well as raises funding for New Zealand Junior Rowers. Lesley held the president’s role twice and is Life Member of this organisation. 

 Lesley has served on the Rowing New Zealand Council from 1991 to 1996 and was elected as President of Rowing New Zealand for two years in 2007-2009. She is the first and only woman to hold this role. 

In 2009, she led a promotional tour to Europe to encourage and entice attendance at the 2010 World Rowing Championships at Lake Karapiro.

 In 2010 she was elected a Life Member of New Zealand Rowing in recognition of her significant contribution to rowing. 

Lesley reviewing past glories

A Pioneer and Advocate for Women in Rowing 

Lesley Milne is one of the longest standing volunteers in the rowing community, with nearly 50 years serving the sport. She has been a pioneer and mentor in the rowing world, as William Falconer says “Lesley is the Kate Shepherd of the New Zealand rowing…”. 

She has inspired many women to enter and compete at the highest levels of the sport. One of these women was Philippa Baker (now Philippa Baker Hogan) who was the first New Zealand woman to win a gold medal at World Championship and she twice represented New Zealand in the Olympics. Philippa says in her support letter “The name Lesley Milne was mentioned to me as one of the very earliest pioneers in our sport.” “… I have always referred to her as the first New Zealand female to make a mark on the world stage…”.

Dr Michele Hawke, Chairperson of the New Zealand Race Officials Association says “…Lesley has shown outstanding leadership in all aspects of rowing. The place of women in rowing is unlikely to have made the progress it did without her advocacy and determination to stand up to the establishment. The high standards of our umpires that enables them to pass the extremely stringent World Rowing examination and then be selected to officiate at the highest-level international regattas is a legacy of Lesley’s work.”

 The national body, Rowing New Zealand, fully support this nomination. “Lesley has committed her life to the sport of rowing, it is with great pleasure that we support this application for her outstanding service and commitment for more than 50 years.“  

Lesley Milne’s leadership in rowing organisations, many of them at the national level has opened doors for women competitors and raised the standard and professionalism of the sport.  

Today women make up 60% of the people who row in New Zealand. This has been made possible by the pioneering work that Lesley and her rowing colleagues did in the 1960s. 

Lesley was a female giant in the rowing world of men.

Notable Achievements 

Source of some of the material: Rowing New Zealand Facebook site 3 June 2024

After starting her rowing career in the early 1960’s Lesley has gone on to become an outstanding female leader for Rowing New Zealand and rowing across New Zealand for more than 50 years.

Notable Achievements include:

  • Lesley was the first and only woman to be elected to be a Life Member of Rowing New Zealand
  • Lesley was the inaugural chairperson of the Race Officials committee and developed our Race official’s development framework.
  • In 1974 Lesley was a member of the women’s rowing crew selected to represent New Zealand at the World Rowing Championships. 
  • Lesley has been an Active Race Official for over 40 years.
  • Lesley has been a member of the Rowing New Zealand Council (10 years) and was elected the first and only (to date) female President in 2008 for Rowing New Zealand
  • Lesley has been an administrator at Auckland Rowing Club and the Auckland Rowing Association and has been awarded Life Membership of both entities. 
  • Lesley has been actively involved and is a Life Member of the Legion of Rowers for over 50 years, the organisation supports Masters rowers and provides funding for the Under 19New Zealand Junior Rowers.

Lesley has committed her life to the sport of rowing and has been awarded the Companion to the Order of Merit, which acknowledges her outstanding service to our sport for more than 50 years. 

Positions or offices held 

OrganisationPositionFrom (date)To (date) / currentPaid or voluntary?
University of Auckland Rower19651973Voluntary
New Zealand Women’s Rowing AssociationSecretary19661973Voluntary
Race Official Race Official1978CurrentVoluntary
New Zealand Race Officials Association Chairperson20072013Voluntary
Rowing New Zealand Race Official Trainer and Lead Examiner20142021Voluntary
Organising Committee for the 1978 World Rowing Championships, Lake KarapiroCommittee member and Women competitors Liaison19751979Voluntary
Auckland Rowing ClubRower, Committee Member, President and Life Member1973CurrentVoluntary
Auckland Rowing AssociationCommittee Member, President (1990-92) and Life Member (2000)1975CurrentVoluntary
Rowing New Zealand Council Member (1991-?), President (2008) and Life Member (2010)1991CurrentVoluntary
Legion of RowersCommittee Member, President and Life Member1973CurrentVoluntary