Dedicated To Patients And Nurses

The Age

Tuesday January 6, 2009

Susan Hudson

Ruth Moira McNair

Nurse, Administrator, Unionist

23-3-1925 - 21-10-2008

MOIRA McNair, a rare career nurse who worked hard for wage parity and workplace justice for nurses while holding senior positions in Victorian hospitals, died of pancreatic cancer at St John of God Hospital in Geelong. She was 83.

In a climate that frowned on union activity, McNair helped prepare the way for the increased wages and career structure that came out of the nurses' strike of the mid-1980s.

Her work as inaugural president of the Royal Australian Nurses Federation (Victorian branch 1975-1978) was rewarded with the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal. Deakin University now awards the Moira McNair Gold Medal for nursing excellence in recognition of her support of the educational shift to the tertiary sector.

The eldest of three children born to accountant David and Constance (nee White) in Melbourne, she graduated from Korowa Anglican girls' school in 1943 and became a nurse rather than being drafted into a munitions factory during World War II.

After training at the Alfred Hospital, she gained midwifery and infant welfare certificates before returning to the Alfred to direct the children's ward for eight years. In 1961, she gained a diploma of nursing administration from the College of Nursing Australia, and then worked as an administrator at the Royal Children's Hospital before again returning to the Alfred as assistant matron.

McNair later was registrar with the Victorian Nursing Council for the eight years, and president of the state branch of the RANF (now known as the Australian Nurses Federation). She and several colleagues each donated $500 to launch The Australian Nurses Journal. Their faith was vindicated as union membership soared from 19,000 to 45,000.

It must have been painful for the old guard to watch nurses walk out in 1986; the exodus still excites debate. But no one had taken their complaints seriously for almost a century.

In 1973, McNair became director of nursing at Box Hill Hospital, her last post.

She was a much-admired administrator, and Michael Kirk (CEO at the time) said many in the eastern suburbs "have a lot to be grateful for to Moira McNair ... she and her deputies visited every bed every day to hear what patients had to say".

She moved to Torquay after retiring in 1986. She is survived by her sister Elizabeth North and brother John.

Susan Hudson is a Melbourne freelance writer.

© 2009 The Age

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