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The longest continually serving mayor in New Zealand, Ms Cardno, of Te Anau, has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year's Honours.
She said the news she was to be rewarded for services to local government left her ''a bit overwhelmed''.
Speaking from Florida in the United States, where she is on a family holiday, she said she felt ''very honoured''.
''I accept [the honour] on behalf of rural and provincial New Zealand communities because that's what I stood for ... Local government is about local communities and it's something I'm passionate about - and I still am.''
She was a strong believer in community development and delegating full decision-making powers to community boards.
Under her leadership, the Southland District Council had developed financially, to become one of the strongest councils in the country.
She did not seek re-election this year after being elected mayor in 1992.
She was a founding member of the Mayoral Task Force For Jobs in New Zealand; a strong advocate for rural New Zealand and environmental conservation; has been the chairwoman of the Regional Identity Southland Trust; a member of Progress Southland and is a trustee of the Women's Refuge Trust.
Ms Cardno had been recognised locally and internationally, receiving the Jean Harris Award for the development and progress of women in society and the United Nations Certificate as an outstanding woman in local government.
She has been a prominent voice against the proposed Fiordland monorail and in 2012, with a group of Southlanders, gathered signatures in Wellington against the monorail and the now declined Milford Dart Tunnel.