Dame at peace with herself

Susan Devoy
Allen & Unwin

Let me just get one thing out of the way nice and early.

The title. Ye gods. If only the New Zealand squash immortal was as good with a catchy phrase as she was on the court.

I mean, Dame Suzy D? Dame Suzy D! Just ... dreadful. It represents either extreme laziness or a bizarre attempt by a 60-year-old woman to be hip.

The truly appalling title, and the fact Susan Devoy has garnered something of a reputation for being blunt bordering on rude, and the fact there are sadly so few New Zealand sports books that are really that good, had me wondering if I should waste my time.

Happily, the book is bright and breezy, a perfectly readable if hardly ground-breaking run through the latter half of the great dame’s life.

As her magnificent squash career was covered off in the Out On Top biography, by Robyn Scott-Vincent, Devoy sticks mainly to post-professional life as a wife, mother, sports administrator, Race Relations Commissioner, reality-television-show contestant and general stirrer.

There is, however, some nice stuff about her early life as the youngest of seven children, and only daughter, growing up in Rotorua, and how her resilience and work ethic was shaped by her life and times.

Being a woman in a man’s world is a running theme as, after her childhood, Devoy finds herself raising four sons, and fighting gender equality battles, and she has some nice insights into those challenges.

The highs and lows of her life as a mother are the highlight of the book, and give a nice window into how a woman so often seen as a hard-arse had a much softer side.

Also interesting are the tales of her long partnership, in both life and sport, with husband John, who comes out looking like a bit of a saint.

Devoy’s five years as Race Relations Commissioner feature positive and negative stories behind a complex role, while a chapter about her unexpected time on Celebrity Treasure Island is surprisingly interesting.

She gets in a few chips at the media, and people who crossed her, but generally this seems to be a dame at peace with herself and the world.

Hayden Meikle is ODT sports editor