Mrs Bernadette Magee
On a sunny November afternoon in 2016 Bernadette Magee called The University of Notre Dame Australia driven by loss and inspired by her wish to give: her beloved husband of over 60 years John had just passed away and she wanted to ensure he would not be forgotten.
The John Joseph Magee PSM Scholarship was established soon after with the aim to encourage students who have demonstrated drive and commitment to achieve academically, despite financial hardship or other personal difficulty.
Three years later Bernadette decided to offer an additional scholarship and this time support students from regional Western Australia through The Bernadette Magee Scholarship for Regional WA Students. When asked why she wanted to set up the second scholarship specifically for regional students, Bernadette said
I hope this scholarship will make it possible for country students to be able to go to university, especially to help with expenses for those who don’t have family or support in town and will need to find accommodation.
Bernadette remains sure that, as a country girl, she would not have been able to study at all if she had not been given accommodation to go with her first job. Her own incredible journey took her from Year 10 at St Gertrude’s College in New Norcia to sitting in classes at the Harvard Business School in the 1980s.
Bernadette was born in May 1930 in Moora and returned home to New Norcia with her parents soon after. Her father was the Farm Manager for the Benedictine Farm, a mixed farm of crops and animals, but which also provided fruit, olives and a bakery, which is still famous today. She was to commence her schooling at St Gertrude’s College, where she completed her Junior Certificate (now Year 10). Although academically able, it was a time when most girls went to work at 15; university was a place reserved for the privileged or the lucky. She was neither at the time but this was about to change.
Bernadette’s first job was at Moora Hospital as a Nursing Assistant, when asked why, she said “It was a job that came with accommodation, and I needed somewhere to live as there was not much work in New Norcia at that time. ”
So her nursing career began. Her sporting prowess was also continuing to develop, to a point where she represented Moora in ‘Country Week Basketball’.
From Moora, she moved to Fremantle Hospital in 1949 to begin her General Nursing Training and, on her successful completion, she along with several friends went to Melbourne to complete her Midwifery Course. The hallmark of her Fremantle and ‘The Vic’ experiences were the lifelong friendships she formed. Even now, at the age of 90, she is in regular contact with the remaining ‘49ers’ who still share lunches on a regular basis. Melbourne was also to prove a fortuitous move as she met her future husband John Magee there.
John Joseph Magee was born in May 1931 and lived in Inglewood. It wasn’t long until he began his moves around the country with his Railway Worker father and mother including to Narrogin, Merredin, Spencers Brook, Meekatharra, Mt Barker and back again to Narrogin. In 1946 John returned to Perth to attend Aquinas College, a rather more formal and disciplined educational establishment than those he had attended beforehand, which initially came as a challenge.
However, things settled and in 1948 John finished his final year at Aquinas as Head Boy, Dux, and Member of the Footy 18, Rowing 8 and the Captain of Cadets, and it wasn’t long before John commenced working as a Cadet Engineer at the then Postmaster-General's Department, now Telstra. His journey as an engineer was to take him many places, including to Melbourne in 1952 where the highlight of his visit was meeting the lovely Bernadette Thompson.
John and Bernadette returned to Perth in 1953 and subsequently got engaged and then married in 1955.
On completing her course in Melbourne, Bernadette had worked in Perth for a while until she had to leave employment as a married woman and await the children that followed. There were busy times ahead. John eventually rose through the ranks to become State Manager of Telstra with more than 7000 staff under his command. Meanwhile Bernadette remained a committed volunteer of the ‘Meals on Wheels’ service as well as an avid tennis player for a local club. Family became the main focus of her life, supporting John and raising her children. Bernadette was a stay-at-home mum in Bandung in Java for 15 months between 1969 and 1970, while John worked for the Colombo Plan. She took to the role with gusto and travelled far and wide through Java with the family in tow. Always with an esky full of food that she had organised to “save money”. She knew the value of a dollar!
John graduated from the Advanced Management Program at Harvard in 1984 and attained a Commonwealth Public Service Medal (PSM) in the Australia Day Honours list in 1990, equivalent to the Order of Australia. It was at around that time that John and Bernadette found themselves travelling more and more, with Bernadette solo at times on local buses in far flung places such as Hungary, as well as with John on places as diverse as the Silk Road, Greece, Russia, Uluru, Hong Kong, Thevenard Island, New York and Rottnest Island, always a favourite. Trains, planes, ships and road... intrastate, interstate or overseas… tent or 5 star hotel, travel was to provide an education for Bernadette. She learned to beware of ‘Cocktail Fountains’ in the Caribbean, how to crush a can with your head in Greece and from Russia that “caviar is best served with vodka.”
John was a volunteer his whole life and supported Our Lady of Lourdes School and Parish, and Sacred Heart College Sorrento for years, as well as being a life member of the Old Aquinians Association, a 50 year member and two times Honour Medal recipient of the Knights of the Southern Cross, and Deputy Chairman of Southern Cross Homes. On retirement we wondered how he would cope, but golf, bridge, and the Eagles filled the void along with more time for travelling and family and friends.
John was generous and a benefactor of many causes with Bernadette; with an enduring faith, love of their family and a strong commitment to social justice and education at an individual and systemic level, they supported Notre Dame from its inception.
Bernadette has certainly come a long way from the Farm Manager’s daughter, but she has taken all the best of every part of her life to make it what it has been: a full life.