Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern was honored as a dame as part of a celebration for King Charles III's birthday, highlighting her efforts to lead the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic and 2019 terror attack. File photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
June 5 (UPI) -- Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been recognized as a dame for her leadership in steering the country through multiple crises during a tumultuous five years in office before she resigned unexpectedly in January.
In one of the nation's highest decrees, Ardern was granted the title of Dame Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit as part of King Charles III's Birthday and Coronation Honors, which hailed 182 total recipients across the United Kingdom, including three other appointments as dames, and three who were granted knighthood.
"Each of today's 182 recipients has contributed individually to our country. Viewed collectively, their efforts reflect an overwhelming commitment to service." said current Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.
Ardern was the only one in the collective to be named a dame or knight grand companion. The honor is rare, with only 20 living persons allowed to hold the title at any one time.
In a nod to tradition, Queen Camilla was awarded a New Zealand order of merit to recognize her union with the monarch.
In a written statement, Ardern accepted the nation's highest honorary title but noted she was "incredibly humbled" about receiving it, saying the country was still dealing with the lingering impacts of the pandemic and the Christchurch terror attacks of 2019.
"I was in two minds about accepting this acknowledgment. So many of the things we went through as a nation over the last five years were about all of us rather than one individual," she said.
"But I have heard that said by so many Kiwis who I have encouraged to accept an honor over the years. And so for me this is a way to say thank you -- to my family, to my colleagues, and to the people who supported me to take on the most challenging and rewarding role of my life."
Hipkins recalled Ardern's governance during "periods of intense challenge," and praised her leadership after a self-proclaimed white supremacist gunned down 51 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch more than four years ago.
"Dame Jacinda Ardern is recognized for her service to New Zealand during some of the greatest challenges our country has faced in modern times," Hipkins said. "Leading New Zealand's response to the 2019 terrorist attacks and to the COVID-19 pandemic represented periods of intense challenge for our 40th prime minister, during which time I saw first-hand that her commitment to New Zealand remained absolute."
Since leaving office, Ardern has continued to tackle online extremism and terrorism as a special envoy to Hipkins, although she has shunned the limelight despite her enduring public popularity.
Ardern also oversaw the federal response to the White Island volcanic eruption in late 2019 that killed 22 people.
Other royal honorees included indigenous leaders, sports figures, and members of the arts, business and medical communities.
Damehood is typically conferred by a reigning monarch or, in some cases, by a senior government official acting on behalf of the monarch. Being named a dame serves as a symbol of an individual's dedication, expertise, and positive impact on society.