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Phillips, Nancy (Nan) (1911–1984)

by Suzanne Edgar and Martha Campbell

from ANU Reporter

Nan Phillips, by Suzanne Edgar, 1983

Nan Phillips, by Suzanne Edgar, 1983

News of the death of Mrs [Nancy] Nan Phillips, MA, on 19 April, was sudden and unexpected. Since her retirement in 1980 she had been the indispensable secretary, then library and resource officer, of the Canberra and District Historical Society, but she had been connected with the Australian National University for nearly 20 years before that.

In 1961 she joined the ANU as a departmental assistant in the History Department, RSSS. She then helped Professor Douglas Pike to establish the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the old Canberra Hospital building in Liversidge Street.

The Dictionary was the vocation of Nan Phillips' dedicated maturity and her organisational skills were partly responsible for the early pattern of its development. Among her notable contributions was the library she helped build up for the Dictionary by her personal and avid collecting. She shared many of the thousands of books that she bought with the Dictionary, and they have now been bequeathed to it. By her patience and persistent care in compiling bibliographies she developed a masterly system of abbreviations and thereby helped to build the Dictionary's high reputation for accuracy.

Nan Phillips also contributed articles to the Dictionary. These included articles on a naval explorer, a master mariner, a public servant, a solicitor, an architect, a doctor and two bushrangers. They comprise a fine set of what Douglas Pike, the foundation general editor, called 'samples of the Australian experience'. Nan Phillips was well known throughout the University for her devoted work for the Staff Amenities and Welfare Association. Her outstanding achievements were recognised by the University when it conferred upon her the degree of Master of Arts, honoris causa, on 23 April 1981.

Nan's serenity, loyalty and kindness were a constant and cohesive force in the day-to-day office life of the ADB. Her former colleagues will sadly miss her good humour, friendship and continued interest in the Dictionary despite the many demands of the historical society which occupied her last years. Her life could well be summed up in the motto by which Essington Lewis lived: 'I am work'.

Original publication

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Citation details

Suzanne Edgar and Martha Campbell, 'Phillips, Nancy (Nan) (1911–1984)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/phillips-nancy-nan-814/text815, accessed 16 June 2019.

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