Gladys Reid (b. 1914, d. 2006) was known to the science establishment as a crackpot. ‘Mad Glad’ they called her, and ridiculed her publicly, causing her fellow farmers to also doubt her and laugh at her. For from 1959 Gladys insisted on proclaiming that facial excema – a dreadful disease in cows – was caused by a deficiency in zinc. She’d used her training as a dental nurse, and some careful experimenting with her own dairy herd in Te Aroha, to show that adding zinc sulphate to the water trough significantly lowered the incidence of facial eczema, even when other farms in the area suffered.
Despite this, scientists and officials refused to take her findings seriously. The Animal Health Board even noted in 1975 that zinc was ‘completely useless as a form of treatment’. Reid battled on, trying to prove her case. Despite getting overseas recognition, it wasn’t until 1981 that she was vindicated in New Zealand. That year farmers were advised to spray their farms with chemicals that depleted zinc in the soil. The practice caused a big outbreak of facial eczema and the Establishment was forced to back down. They admitted Reid had been right all along. She received an OBE in 1983 for her research efforts – and, one suspects, for her perseverance in the face of opposition, scepticism, sexism and most likely prejudice against people from Te Aroha.