Dr Margaret Belton. Photo: Supplied.

Margaret Belton’s life was a ‘lifetime of love and care for her fellow human beings’


On Good Friday, Margaret Belton went to little Kaiteriteri with her family. She sunk her toes into the warm sand and listened to the waves lap at the shoreline as her children and grandchildren talked and played and laughed.

It was a similar scene about 50 years earlier when Margaret, recently widowed with five children, went on a date with Humphrey Belton, whose wife had also recently died, and also had his own seven children.

From there began a journey of two families and a matriarch – one who was celebrated as powerful but quiet force for good in Nelson and the world.

Margaret died on Monday April 2, at the age of 88 – just after sharing that trip with her family to the beach. And last Friday, Old St John’s was filled with people who had their own stories about how Margaret touched their lives. She was then interred in a Bahá’í ceremony in Richmond.

“She found great happiness and joy in small and simple pleasures,” said her daughter Prue Fanselow-Brown. “She genuinely appreciated beauty and nature.”

Prue said her mother had always wanted to be a doctor. However, Margaret’s own headmistress told her that you had to be “very smart” to be a doctor.

“The comment only motivated her,” said Prue.

She married Bus Fanselow and between them they had five children.

He died in 1967 and the family moved to Nelson where Margaret met up with Humphrey who she knew from medical school.

He had his own children and they then had a son, Tom, – bringing the total number of children in the family to 13.

“But not once did Margaret present herself as the ‘old woman who lived in a shoe’ – quite the contrary, she had youthfulness and style and grace,” said her stepson Peter.

Margaret and Humphrey were both doctors in the community and fought for better access to healthcare for those who in need. Margaret also helped push for Nelson to declare itself nuclear free in 1993 – a full year before New Zealand followed suit. She was an active and foundation member of the Nelson Multicultural Council, the National Council for Women, Amnesty International and was awarded a Peace Medal in 2009.

Prue said her mother derived great pleasure from helping other people.

“I don’t think people fully realise the immense pleasure that come from giving,” she said Margaret told her many times.

Former Nelson mayor Philip Wollaston said it would be hard to imagine Nelson without Margaret.

“It was a lifetime of love and care for her fellow human beings that have touched as all and left this community richer.”