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Margaret Honor Evans (1927–2014)

by John Clanchy

Margaret Evans, 2011?

Margaret Evans, 2011?

ANU Archives, 1885/12908

From the standing-room-only attendance of people of all backgrounds and ages at Margaret’s funeral at St John’s Anglican Church in late June 2014, it might easily have been assumed that she had lived her entire productive 87-year life span here in the heart of the Canberra community. And it was clear from the comments of speaker after speaker at her service that they kept her close to their hearts and would continue to keep her memory.

In point of fact, Margaret was actually an interloper—a mature and highly adaptive transplant from across the Ditch, as was her husband, plant scientist Lloyd Evans. They settled in a raw, young Canberra in November 1956, following some years of advanced research and training in the UK and set about the usual practices of starting and raising a family, establishing careers, building an extensive home garden of fruit trees and vegetables at their house in Campbell, and putting out feelers into the wider Canberra community. Where they flourished.

Lloyd became deeply engaged in his research in Plant Industry at CSIRO, while Margaret, busy with children at home—first Nicholas and later the twins, John and Catherine—continued to pursue her intellectual and professional interests, first as a teacher in the Department of Psychology at ANU and, in time, through her appointment as the University’s first counsellor to its staff and students.

A first in this respect, Margaret proved herself to be a consistent groundbreaker and innovator over the next four decades of her service within the University—most of it as Head of the Counselling Service. Wherever she identified a gap or need in support services for students or staff, she worked with vigour, and cunning, to fill or satisfy it. She charmed, harried and cajoled two generations of Vice-Chancellors, registrars and other administrators into supplying the necessary resources, and—once supplied—plied them with such warm congratulations on their foresight that they came to believe that the whole initiative was theirs in the first place, and went about recommending its virtues to the rest of the campus.

By the mid-1970s, a whole range of services were in place under Margaret’s leadership: a communication and study skills unit, a careers unit, a student part-time employment office, a mature-age student support service. Later, when these services expanded with the growth of the University and were hived off into independent centres, Margaret was free to refocus her energies once more on her special interests in personal and group counselling and therapy for students and staff in need of help.

The 1970s and early 1980s were a period of turmoil and change in universities throughout the world. Vietnam, feminism, student protest, struggles for control over curriculum all unsettled the Old Order. Other demographic changes were also at work, including a very noticeable rise in the number of mature-age (predominantly female) students asserting their right to a tertiary education.

These were contexts in which Margaret’s clear-mindedness, her native generosity, her communications skills and her constant attention to the rights and needs of individuals on all sides of sometimes bitter conflicts were often on display and in huge demand.

Above all, Margaret was an agent of inclusiveness in the ANU community. She was quick to spot the ‘loner’ and find ways to draw them in. Whether it was isolated PhD students at Mount Stromlo or the wives of overseas researchers and doctoral students in Garran or Turner flats, she found ways to set up strategies and social networks whereby they were offered some sense of attachment to campus life.

In her own professional practice, Margaret insisted that if she had any special skills or gift—and she had them in spades—then it was her duty not just to develop them within herself but to pass them on. To this end, she supervised both trainee counsellors and other less specialised workers (including deputy wardens and tutors in the residential colleges, marriage guidance advisers, Lifeline and other service providers in the general community).

If these observations on Margaret’s professional life paint a picture of someone filled with energy, intelligence, integrity and seriousness of purpose, then it wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it would be incomplete, indeed misleading. For, as a human being, the last thing Margaret Evans was— for all her empathy—was a ‘sober-sides’. She was funny, feisty, unfussy, enjoying laughter, verbal jousting and teasing. As someone who was given my first job at ANU under her leadership, I was always sure of her support and encouragement, but that never got in the way of her belting me mercilessly around the tennis court or, if I ever got ‘over-sure’ of myself, of reminding me that, though she was the one who had employed me, ‘anyone was capable of making at least one serious professional mistake in their career’. This would invariably be followed by a warm hug and hoots of laughter.

All of those gathered at St John’s to say goodbye on that sad, sunny June morning, together with so many who could not be there physically on the day, remain the richer for having known Margaret Honor Evans, and the poorer, of course, for having lost her—not least the immediate family who survive her: her husband, Lloyd, her children, Nicholas, John and Catherine, and her many grandchildren.

Vale, Margaret, friend and counsellor to so many.

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Citation details

John Clanchy, 'Evans, Margaret Honor (1927–2014)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Margaret Evans, 2011?

Margaret Evans, 2011?

ANU Archives, 1885/12908

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Newell, Margaret Honor

29 July, 1927


19 June, 2014 (aged 86)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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