1924 - 2005
Barbara Angus broke the ‘glass ceiling’ limiting woman officers’ progress more than once in her foreign service career. In 1978 she became New Zealand’s first female ambassador when she was appointed New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines.
Barbara Angus was born in Woodville in 1924, and attended school in Riverton and Balclutha. She graduated with a Masters degree in history from Otago University, and in 1950 was appointed a research assistant at the Department of External Affairs (at that time, it was not open to women to become diplomatic trainees).
From 1954 to 1957 Angus served as information officer at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, still outside the career foreign service. Her commitment and manifest ability subsequently saw her accepted into the diplomatic stream, and appointed to increasingly senior posts in Singapore, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur.
While in Sydney, she was despatched to Outer Mongolia to represent New Zealand at the 1965 UN Conference on the Participation of Women in Public Life. She found the experience notable more for the exotic location than for the outcomes achieved, but handled it with her customary good humour (she later claimed to have filled the long periods of procedural wrangling by sending vituperative postcards from Ulan Bator to all those, from McIntosh down, who had had a hand in choosing her for the task).
From 1976 to 1978 Barbara Angus served as minister in Washington. The appointment was the highest held by any woman in an overseas posting. Even so senior a position did not always bring with it the recognition it merited: seated next to Henry Kissinger at a diplomatic dinner, his first question was, “What does Mr Angus do?”
From Washington, Angus was posted directly to Manila to serve a three-year term as New Zealand’s ambassador to the Philippines (1978–1981). Her role was a pioneering one, both for the New Zealand foreign service and for the Philippines foreign policy establishment.
Returning to New Zealand in 1981, Barbara Angus headed Protocol Division until her retirement in 1984. She was awarded the CMG in 1988. In her retirement she continued her involvement in public service staffing issues, and in promoting greater recognition for the contribution made by woman officers.
Barbara Angus died at Paraparaumu in February 2005. A New Zealand Herald obituary recalled the comment in 1978 of her Ambassador in Washington, Lloyd White, that the Philippines (where there had not previously been a woman envoy) was in for a shock. Whatever they might expect, “what they’ll find is that they’ve got a highly efficient, hard-working diplomat who knows her stuff”.