This biography is largely based on two Nelson newspaper obituaries and written information supplied by her daughters Judy Fanselow and Prue Fanselow-Brown.
The Early Childhood Years
Margaret Miriam Hart was born in Feilding to her elderly parents Helena Miriam (nee Clarke) and William Hyde Hart (forty-three and sixty-two years respectively). She was the youngest of four children. Her three older brothers Masterton (Merv), Harry, and Edwin were born in 1918, 1920 and 1924 respectively and were all at school when she arrived on the 30th October 1929.
Her mother was born in Auckland to Mary Annie (nee Kerr) and Edwin Clark. Her father, William, had immigrated from Upton Grey, Hampshire, England as a young man; at the time of her birth he was a publican in Feilding. A family story has it that Margaret would crawl amongst the tables and some of her first words were “Bit of beer”. (2) In 1930 the family moved to Whanganui and ran a corner dairy, living in rooms at the back of the shop throughout the Great Depression. (3) They never owned a car so early on Margaret enjoyed riding on the handlebars of her father’s bike down to the Whanganui River on weekends. Because he was older, he had retired and was able to spend quality time with her when she was younger. (2) Margaret recalled her childhood with much happiness. Her daughter Prue, in her eulogy recounts Margaret’s childhood in this way: (2)
Life was pretty tough due to the great depression, hard-working parents, her mother’s health problems and little money but mum recalled much happiness… She loved biking along the river with her friends, picking apples, mushrooms and wild white violets. She loved playing tennis, being a Brownie, reading books and later dancing. She regularly wrote letters to her relatives, a practice she maintained all her life. It seems her early experiences may have contributed to a capacity in her to find great happiness and joy in small and simple pleasures. She genuinely appreciated beauty in nature and was able to find gems in many experiences.
Margaret was ten years old when World War II started, and it wasn’t long before her three brothers were called up, causing great anguish in the family as the news for the Allies was grim and Hitler initially seemed unstoppable. (3) All three brothers came home without physical injury.
The war years gave Margaret an early appreciation of the importance of caring for others and of the preciousness of life. One of her tasks was to take home grown sweet peas to the home of any customer who had lost a loved one. She was told by her parents that if she was invited to enter the home to view the body of the deceased then she should do this, and she always did. She was also introduced to death at a young age within her own family when her own father passed away at the age of 82 years on the 24th May 1949 when she was only twenty years of age. From these early encounters she developed compassion for and kindness towards others. She was empathetic and knew how to listen with complete presence and patience. (3)
Going to church was an important part of Margaret’s childhood. She was fascinated by spiritual matters from a very early age and loved the messages and stories from the Bible. By the time she was eight years old, each Sunday morning she would run from the Anglican Sunday School to the Methodist one, and then attend a further two services in the afternoon. (3) She had such a passion for spirituality that she engaged in some form of practice every day of her life. (2)
Margaret could not remember a time when she did not want to become a doctor. She enjoyed school and made good grades; no doubt spurred on by her doubting headmistress at Whanganui Girls’ College who scoffed at her plans. (3) Apparently she said “But Margaret, you need to be very bright to become a doctor”. (2) She was head prefect in her last year at college.
Studying at the Otago Medical School
Margaret, after completing her medical intermediate year at Otago University, commenced her university medical studies in 1948. She graduated in the class of 1954 at the age of twenty-four years, along with nine other women. On their first day of medical school, the twelve women in the class were told to sit at the front of the lecture theatre, so as not to distract the men. The women had their own common room and soon developed a natural camaraderie. (4)
Her university costs were beyond her parent’s resources but were paid for with the gift of her older brother Merv Hart’s war pension. Margaret did well at Medical School and as far as her family are aware spent her sixth year and house surgeon years at Whanganui Hospital (3)
Early Career and Motherhood
During her time at Whanganui Hospital, the radiologist introduced Margaret to her future husband Colin (Bus) Fanselow at a social function. There was an instant attraction despite Bus being eleven years her senior. After this initial meeting, the radiologist invited them both to dinner. Shortly after dinner they both left but didn’t go straight home. Sometime later, Margaret’s mother, becoming worried rang the radiologist’s home asking where she was. He was astute enough to say, “they’ve only just left”. In 1955, at the age of twenty-six, Margaret married Bus who was a Major and later a Lieutenant Colonel in the New Zealand Armed Corps and together they had five children between 1957 and 1964; (Prudence Margaret 1957, Judith Anne 1958, Gerald Christian 1959, Belinda Jo 1960, and Robert William 1964). Her daughter Prue recounts that she so loved giving birth that immediately after her first baby arrived she totted up the number of babies she could possibly produce over her reproductive life. (2)
Margaret joined a General Practice with another general practitioner in Wellington circa 1957-58. She quickly gained a reputation for her diagnostic skills and was called upon by her colleagues on difficult diagnoses. Many times, she helped others receive the medical help they needed by listening and watching attentively. The children were looked after by a woman in her own home when Margaret was working.
The family had several moves due to the nature of Bus’s role in the army; Whanganui, Nelson, Christchurch and Wellington. Sadly, in 1967 at the age of forty-nine, Bus passed away. Margaret was left a widow at the age of thirty-eight years. Her mother had passed away three years earlier, on 2nd May 1964, so she had limited family support. (3)
After her husband’s passing, Margaret and the children moved from Wellington to Nelson in 1967 where she took up the position of Medical Officer at the Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital. The family were able to live on site in one of the staff houses. The hospital operated from 1922 to 2000 and was quite isolated – being located down a deep, twisting valley road at the end of Ngawhatu Valley. The residents were housed in several villas each housing between forty to sixty people. For many patients, it was their home. It did not just accommodate people with mental illnesses and disorders, it also catered for developmental disorders, older patients with disorders that had developed over the years and dementia. People whose mental illnesses meant they could not live independently were also cared for by Ngawhatu Hospital. There were large amounts of free space outside in the “beautiful gardens” for patients to do activities such as golf, tennis, and croquet. (5)
During her time at Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital, she rekindled a friendship from medical school days. Dr Humphrey Belton, now a Nelson general practitioner, had recently been left a widower with seven children. (3) They arranged a joint family picnic at Little Kaiteriteri and it became apparent that an amalgamation of the two families would be a wonderful arrangement. (2)
The Nelson Years
On the 12th of October 1968, Margaret and Humphrey married and together created a charismatic, blended family known as the “Fan-Belts” – derived from their two surnames – Fanselow and Belton. The children ranged in age from three to twenty-three years and in 1972 Tom, their combined child, was welcomed into the family circle. They lived in the early 1970s in a large two storied pink house called “Walton”, opposite the Girls College in Bronte Street. It was often mistaken for a hostel with the comings and goings of thirteen children. Margaret and Humphrey never used the terms stepmother and stepfather, never thought of the children as “yours” and “mine”, and there was an unwritten rule that no one should talk about another in a way that was negative or bring division within the family. (3)
Humphrey maintained his work at his General Practice, his work as the police doctor and his shifts on the anaesthetics roster at the hospital. Meanwhile, Margaret worked part-time for the Health Department doing paediatric assessments which she loved to do, in addition to running a large and busy household. She was also known to offer help and comfort to anyone in need. She often said that people didn’t fully realise the immense pleasure that comes from giving. This compassion no doubt came in part from her spiritual journey, firstly through incorporating as a young girl the beliefs of the Christian faith and later practicing the Ba’hai faith. She was an active member of Nelson’s Ba’hai community for many years. (3)
The Retirement Years
After the busy years of raising their large household at “Walton”, in 1988 the Beltons and their youngest son Tom moved to Maranui, their ten acre farmlet up the Maitai Valley, where Margaret indulged her love of gardening. In 2000, Humphrey passed away and Margaret returned to Nelson to be closer to three of her children. She lived out her remaining years here. Her daughter Prue recounts: (2)
Our mother genuinely loved reaching out to all and introducing one to another to tighten networks and bonds. This was especially true of the huge family and those extended family members who had been lost contact with. She worked hard to support and bring loved ones together and was responsible for lost relatives to be found and reunited. She was the keeper of knowledge and the care-taker of family history and she treated these treasures with great reverence and importance. Not just for her Hart and Clarke history but for Fanselow and Belton histories also. Mum had the ability to make everyone feel heard and important especially all the children.
Margaret was extremely active in the Nelson community, particularly in causes based around peace and equality.
Her memberships and community involvements included: (1, 6, 7)
- Foundation member of the Nelson Multicultural Council
- Foundation member of the Nelson branch of Amnesty International
- Women’s representative for the Ba’hai faith on the National Council of Women
- International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
- Assisted in establishing Nelson as nuclear free in 1993 – a year before New Zealand
- Assisted in establishing the Victory Health Clinic for accessible health care for those in need
- Assisted refugees to settle in the Nelson community
In 1999, Margaret wrote a fifty-page booklet called “Millennium Stardust – Making Peace Inevitable (8) to encourage the use of “the millennium as a way of realising our potential as human beings rather than just an excuse for a party”. (6) In 2000, the Nelson branch of the National Council of Women, with Margaret as co-ordinator, organized a week of events to mark the United National International Year of the Culture of Peace. (9) Margaret was awarded a Peace Medal by Nelson City Council in 2009 for her work towards promoting peace in the community. (7)
On Good Friday, 2018 Margaret enjoyed an extended family picnic at Kaiteriteri and on Easter Monday at the age of 88 years, she passed away. She was survived by all thirteen of the Fanselow-Belton children, and the wider family which numbered 108, including sons and daughters-in-law and grand and great-grand children.
Former mayor, Philip Woollaston, said at Margaret’s funeral celebration held at Old St Johns:
“It is hard to imagine Nelson without Margaret. For so long she has been a force for good in our community – helping individuals and families and espousing and guiding causes that serve peace and humanity.” (3)
At her funeral, her grand-daughter Liv, read the poem “God Knows” (also, known by the popular name “The Gate of the Year”) written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins. (10) Margaret, as Head Prefect at Whanganui Girls’ College, had recited it at a function for her fellow high school leavers many years prior and had endeavoured to live out its message each day in her own life:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
- Bell J. Obituary: Faith the guiding light in the compassionate life of Dr Margaret Belton. Nelson: Nelson Mail; 2018. Available from: https://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/103428036/faith-the-guiding-light-in-the-compassionate-life-of-dr-margaret-belton
- Fanselow-Brown P. Eulogy: Dr Margaret Belton 30th October 1929 – 2nd April 2018.
- Bell J. Obituary: Faith Guided Good Doctor. The Nelson Mail. 2018; 28.04.2018.
- Bowden K. Katharine Helen Campbell Bowden (nee Thomson) Auckland: The Early Medical Women of New Zealand Stories from graduates: 1896 – 1967; 2018 [cited 2021]. Available from: https://www.earlymedwomen.auckland.ac.nz/2020/05/23/katharine-helen-campbell-bowden-nee-thomson/
- Thomas C. Ngawhatu Hospital… Home or nightmare? Nelson, New Zealand: THEPROW.org.nz; 2011 [updated 2020]. Available from: http://www.theprow.org.nz/yourstory/ngawhatu-hospital/#.YR3y5nzivcs
- Book written to mark millennium. The Nelson Leader. 1999; 25.11.1999.
- Anderson C. Hard to imagine Nelson without her. . 2018; 10.08.2018.
- Belton M. Millennium Stardust – Making Peace Inevitable. 1999.
- Week dedicated to promotion of peace. The Nelson Mail. 2000.
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Gate of the Year; [cited 31.08.2021]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gate_of_the_Year