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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Patricia Marie (Pat) White (1930–2013)

by Mary McCullagh

Patricia Marie White served The Australian National University for 30 years. She was a loyal and efficient member of an academic administration that functioned as a cohesive entity with members in all faculties, research schools and student administration throughout the University. It was also responsible for secretariats to academic boards and the University Council.

Having gained a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours at the University of Melbourne, Pat acquired teaching experience, including a period in England. On her return voyage, she accompanied a group of children emigrating to Australia under the auspices of the Fairbridge Farm Scheme. She was distressed in later years by press reports of mistreatment of some of these children. Arriving back in Melbourne, Pat joined the Joint Intelligence Organisation (Department of Defence) and subsequently relocated to Canberra with it.

Pat joined the ANU in 1962, initially as Sub-Dean and Faculty Secretary of the Arts Faculty. In this role she made an enormous contribution to the care of individual students. This was certainly not confined to the high performers but was freely available to others who were doubtful of their ability to complete a degree course. These included students who were struggling with unrelated difficulties in life and others whose academic progress was slow. On one occasion early in her ANU career, Pat served as Acting Deputy Warden of Bruce Hall while the Warden, Bill Packard, was on sabbatical leave, an experience she greatly enjoyed.

Since Pat’s death, a number of former arts students, who have had successful professional careers following graduation, have spoken of their profound gratitude for her personal support and care for them during their student days. ‘If it hadn’t been for Pat’, has been a typical appreciation. While she might have been surprised by their comments, she would undoubtedly have been pleased. Many former students kept in touch with her until her death, an unequivocal testimony to the friendship and understanding she extended to arts students throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as to the wider student community. At the lunch following her last University Council meeting before retirement, the Students’ Association formally acknowledged its collective gratitude to her.

Similar care and support were also a feature of Pat’s service as the representative, in the first instance, of the Academic Registrar, and subsequently of the Registrar, on the Student Loan Fund Committee. This group, which also included an academic staff member and a student, met at least once a week at lunchtime during teaching periods, and often during vacations, to consider applications from undergraduate students in financial need. Approved loans were financed by the then University Co-operative Credit Union and indemnified by the University. As the administrator on the committee, Pat spent additional time chasing up slow payers and defaulters. Operation of the committee was a long-term commitment that Pat regarded as a privilege.

Pat also acted as returning officer for Credit Union elections in her role as representative, successively, of the Academic Registrar and the Registrar. She served as the nominee of the University Council on the Burgmann College Council for some years.

Pat moved from the positions of Arts Faculty Sub-Dean and Faculty Secretary to that of Assistant Registrar (Student Administration) in 1973 where she was responsible for approximately 50 administrative staff who dealt with all student-related matters. Her new role required frequent contact with senior officers of government departments and agencies and staff of other tertiary institutions. It was her responsibility to devise and implement the administrative arrangements necessitated by changes in University policies. A notable example of this was the introduction of voluntary membership of student organisations that was necessitated by government policies.

In 1983, Pat became Assistant Registrar (University Council). She remained in this position until her retirement in 1992. It involved working closely with, and providing advice to, the Vice-Chancellor and other senior officers as well as providing secretarial services to the University Council and undertaking detailed work in collaboration with the advisers on legislation.

The term ‘mentor’ was not in vogue in the early 1970s, but the Academic Registrar’s division possessed three outstanding exemplars, namely Mollie Bouquet, Jane Flecknoe and Pat White. All three wrote well, paid great attention to detail and foresaw the wider implications of decisions made on behalf of the University. They ensured that the appropriate follow-up actions consequent upon those decisions were undertaken by the relevant members of the division. Each of these women was extremely supportive of younger staff members, offering friendship. They did not hesitate to provide guidance when it was needed. All three were highly regarded and respected in the Chancelry and by academic and general staff alike. None of the three was an empire builder. All placed the wider interests of the institution ahead of ambition for personal empowerment.

Mollie Bouquet has written of Pat in the following terms: ‘She had a profound understanding of what a university was about – not given to all administrators—and I am sure she has left a lasting impression on the lives of all who knew her. It was a life well lived’.

Pat died on 17 March 2013 after several years of ill health. Her partner of many years, Don Baker, died in 2007 and Pat is survived by her sister, Jean.

Citation details

Mary McCullagh, 'White, Patricia Marie (Pat) (1930–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

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