CID Life Member Jeanette Moss pays tribute to ‘Marj’ McDonald – a CID stalwart and formidable advocate. 

Vale Marjorie McDonald OAM, NSW CID Life Member 

“Marj”, as she was known to decades of the membership of NSW CID, has died. Marj died on 24th March 2015 at the age of 86, after many years of ill health.

Marj’s last visit to a CID function was for the 50th anniversary of the organisation celebrated in 2006. By then she was dependant on help to get from her home at Green Point to Sydney and, again, as had happened on so many occasions, she was helped out by her friend and former CID CEO, Anne Elysee. Although she couldn’t get physically to events, she remained interested and vocal about CID and intellectual disability matters right up to the last conversation I had with her earlier in March.

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Photo: Marj with former NSW CID chair Robert Strike at NSW CID's 50th Celebrations. 

When I came to my first CID meeting back in 1979, Marj had already been involved for many years and was a Director and later Vice Chair of the organisation, then known as the NSW Council for the Mentally Handicapped. Jim McLoughlin was chairman and strong advocates in the form of John Taplin, Dr Helen Beange and Judy Ellis were shaping the advocacy for people with an intellectual disability. Marj’s interest in the 1970s had been on raising funds to keep the organisation, and its national body, afloat. These were the days before government grants and members really had to put their personal finances into their advocacy. Marj was a key member of what was known as the “Eternal Childhood Foundation” and she often talked of the hard work, and the fun, of the street stalls and events she and others worked at in order to keep dollars coming into CID and AAMR.

A week after my first regional CID meeting I well remember Marj arriving at my home late one evening with a piece of paper and the instruction to “sign here” and before I knew it, I was filling a vacancy on the CID board. This marked the beginning of a close friendship which spanned the decades of our agreements and disagreements and led to enormous admiration for a person who not only lived and worked for a better life for her own son, Andrew, but who cared about a better life for all people with intellectual disability. Marj was tenacious and adamant; brilliant in argument, smiling through clenched teeth when she needed to make a point she thought we were missing. And she had history to back her. Very few of Marj’s colleagues are left to remind us of the hard days around getting access to education for people with intellectual disability, lobbying to get health issues taken seriously, gaining recognition for the support of people with aspects of autism, educating police on their handling of a person with disability. Marj lived through all this and occasionally reminded us that what was being achieved now was somewhat easily won when compared to the struggles of those earlier years.

My personal memory of Marj is that of a stalwart friend and one who was able to bring humour to CID board meetings when she thought we were getting bogged down in argument. None of us will forget the banter between Marj and Jim McLoughlin, often brought on by a perceived difference of opinion, but achieving a short break in the meeting so Marj could go and have a smoke outside. Although smoking went by the board in later years, Marj maintained, with somewhat good grace, that Jim and directors on the national organisation always managed to arrange national AGM’s and important speeches by visiting notables on the weekend of football grand finals so that she was thwarted from watching, as an old Melbourne girl, her beloved “Bombers”. Right to the end, we could have a laugh about those missed occasions and other highlight events on the CID calendar. I have always been in awe of Marj’s phenomenal memory; she could attend a conference and then produce an almost word-for-word written record of what the various speakers had said over the past few hours.

Above and beyond Marj’s influence on the state and national intellectual disability scene has been her love and advocacy for her son, Andrew. She was always a fierce “tiger” on Andrew’s behalf, from his earliest days when she and her late husband, Ken, realised that Andrew had special needs. Her efforts to help establish the Autistic Association when Andrew was younger led to her being awarded Life Membership of that organisation. In more recent years, when she was unable to physically attend meetings about Andrew’s welfare, she still remained involved with her advocacy and letter writing, and relied very heavily on Anne Elysee and others to ensure Andrew’s needs were kept at the forefront of those agencies providing him with support.

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Photo: Marj with David Richmond, Robert Strike and other ‘Richmond warriors’, the parent advocates who fought to close the institutions in the 1980s.

Since moving to Green Point from Collaroy some years ago, Marj had relied very much on friendships formed through intellectual disability issues and through the years of her working life as a nurse. Marj maintained a regular and close friendship with many of the nurses she had trained and worked with at various hospitals, most importantly at Royal North Shore Hospital where she was involved with the setting up of the Spinal Unit under Dr John Grant. In later years she managed a nursing home on the northern beaches before an accident with a lift cut her working hours short. She endured considerable pain for years but being an old nurse, she just carried on. Nothing put a stop to Marj; she was determined to keep her independence until close to the very end.

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Photo : Marj (note beloved Bombers merchandise behind her!)

As a former director of CID, along with many others, I pay tribute to Marj – for her indomitable spirit as a person, for her resilient advocacy, for her intellect which helped shape ideas for those of us who came after her, for her continued strong commitment to her beloved son Andrew through good times and bad, and for the laughter and humour which came with her friendship. CID today would not be here but for the efforts of Marj McDonald and those of her generation.

Jeanette Moss AM
NSW CID Life Member

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