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James (Jim) McLoughlin (1920–2008)

Jim McLoughlin, n.d.

Jim McLoughlin, n.d.

Jim McLoughlin was a fierce warrior for the disabled.

His passionate advocacy in the 1960s and '70s, when he confronted many a politician, led to reforms that made education more available to children with disabilities.

He later broadened his battle to improve the lives of the intellectually disabled by working to provide jobs for them.

Born in Holywell, north-eastern Wales, James McLoughlin's father, Tom, was a miner until 1928, when the coalmines shut down. Tom's long unemployment during the Depression ignited the boy's passion for politics and the union movement. His mother, Mary, was a prolific reader who believed that the only way forward for her seven children was education.

Jim began his career as an educator in 1936, when he took up the position of student teacher at a Catholic school in Holywell. His studies at St Mary's College, which was attached to the University of London, were interrupted by World War II, when he left to enlist in the RAF.

He served as an instructor in Cheshire before he was posted to India and later led a special unit to take over captured airstrips.

While on leave in 1944, McLoughlin married Mary Palfreyman. Discharged from the RAF in 1946, he completed his teacher training, and in 1948 became head teacher at the Catholic school in Bangor, a Welsh coastal city. He arrived in Sydney in 1959 with Mary and their six children.

Upon the birth of their seventh child he taught schoolchildren during the day and English to adult migrants at night. In 1962 he took charge of a unit for children with partial sight at Tempe. In 1966 he became principal of a small school at Merrylands for children with intellectual disabilities. The school grew to about 150 pupils and 70 staff, and moved to new premises at Holroyd.

McLoughlin changed the perception of what was acceptable for people with intellectual disabilities. He determined that all people had a right to education, and his ability to enlist the support of the NSW Teachers Federation often took him to Parliament House.

He became a director of the former NSW Council for the Mentally Handicapped, represented national organisations and remained at Holroyd as principal until 1980.

In retirement, McLoughlin chaired the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability and fought for the establishment of the NSW Guardianship Tribunal.

He could tell a story, particularly about cricket, to fit any occasion. However, he had little time for rank and humbug. He could be stubborn and inclined not to consider another point of view, and he wore criticism from the emerging rights movement and some service providers.

But he had changed services for the disabled across Australia. In 1985 he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.

Jim McLoughlin, who died at 87, is survived by Mary, their children Paul, David, Brian, Kevin, Peter, Anne and Karen, their partners and many grandchildren.

Original publication

Citation details

'McLoughlin, James (Jim) (1920–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 4 March 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Jim McLoughlin, n.d.

Jim McLoughlin, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


22 July, 1920
Hollywell, Wales


7 April, 2008 (aged 87)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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