Vale Margaret Roderick

The Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, based at JCU, honours the life of their founding benefactor.

Although I never had the opportunity to meet Margaret, it is clear that she made of her life a celebration of the people, places and issues she cared about.  With her example to guide us, the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies will continue to uphold the values she espoused, and to promote the best in Australian literature.

Dr Paul Hardisty, Chair, Foundation for Australian Literary Studies

The news of Margaret Roderick’s passing last week was confirmation that 2020 is the end of an epoch, in this and so many other ways.

Margaret made an important, measurable difference in real and felt ways to the lives of dozens of Australian writers who enjoyed her personal, continuing support after the passing of the late Colin Roderick, and to those of us who study and hope to nurture the continued development of Australian literature and its reading public.

As all who met her will attest, Margaret was an astonishingly bright, intelligent, and engaging raconteur.  Her vibrant recall of events and people she met in her many years as a sojourner with Australian literature proved that she had a talent for friendship. By the example of the life she lived and her background as a scientist, she made lifelong friends in and with the Arts in Australia— friendships as critical now as ever.

In my capacity as Executive Director of the Foundation for Australian Literature, I count myself as personally and genuinely lucky to have had the pleasure of meeting the singular Margaret and having enjoyed her steady friendship and support for the arts in the North.   I will miss Margaret’s stories and memories, and the way in which she made every encounter meaningful, personal, and important.

The Foundation pays our sincere respects to Margaret Roderick: without her none of what we do would have been possible. May we honour and remember her contributions and her memory as she honoured and remembered so well.

Dr Victoria Kuttainen, Associate Professor, English and Writing James Cook University, Executive Director, Foundation for Australian Literary Studies

It is hard to me to accept that there is no one living now who would remember the scientist who married scholar-publisher Colin Roderick in 1954, entering a lifetime of hard work in the service of literature. Sadly, there are only very few who can remember Margaret and Colin Roderick dining on Royal Yacht Britannia, regularly entertaining Governors General and distinguished visitors, travelling extensively overseas, hosting international scholars, and presiding over Foundation of Australian Literary Studies Dinners. When Harry Heseltine took over the Professorship, the visiting speaker declared “It is obvious that to make a success of this job, you only need a good knowledge of Australian Literature, and a wonderful wife called Margaret!”

For many years when the Foundation was short of money, Margaret kindly subsidised the FALS Prize and the Colin Roderick lecture. Margaret’s career, her generosity, and her determination to give money where it would do the most good will be outlined in greater detail by others. Students and staff of the English department remember Margaret Roderick best as a hugely modest and unpretentious person. Don Gallagher’s experience and these words from Denese Gray bear this out:

I will never forget how, when John and I arrived in Townsville… Colin turned up at the motel bright and early on Monday morning to take John to work, but first took me and dumped me on Margaret.  She had me all day until Colin and John came home that evening.  She was so kind, taking me down to the city and showing me where banks and shops were.  Colin seemed to take it for granted that she would spend all day looking after the silly young bride of his newest, most junior, tutor.   I have always been grateful to her for what seemed to me a great imposition.

That seems typical of Margaret's legendary hospitality and kindness--and unflagging energy. I can remember her carrying all the groceries and alcohol required for Colin's generous entertaining up the hill to their house--Colin thought she didn't need a Queensland driver's licence--or a car, apparently! Then I remember her regularly making the long, slow journey by bus from Melton Hill to visit our mutual friend, Marie, at the Masonic Home at Kirwan. I also remember how very kindly she broke the news to me of this beloved friend's death, and stressed the joy that knowing our little family had given to Marie.

Margaret had a talent for friendship, and the friends in her circle were numerous and varied. She was the kindest of neighbours.  She enjoyed meeting people and talking with them on all sorts of occasions, not just those connected with Colin's interests and Australian literature.   Even when she was less well and not as comfortable about going out, she very loyally came to events I organised and family celebrations.  In the same way, even though she had never imagined it possible, she joined whole-heartedly in the recreational activities at the Good Shepherd. “Because the staff have worked so hard, it’s discouraging for them if people don’t come.”

Margaret held the conservative opinions of her day and age (and of her husband!) on employment conditions and women's rights. When she moved into the Good Shepherd Home, however, she became very aware of the difficulties faced by the caring staff, and indignant on their behalf if their employment conditions deteriorated. She was endlessly grateful for their hard work and sympathetic about their modest salaries. She told everyone how their care and advice had helped her.  And it was obvious that she thrived there.

Although Margaret's primary degree was in science, she was always keenly interested in and knowledgeable about literature. She kept this very quiet, but it was she who wrote Colin Roderick's book reviews for the Townsville Bulletin: "Of course Colin checked them to make sure they were right". I know she always did enormous amounts of research for Colin’s publications, as well as his typing. Her joy in reading a wide range of literature was so great that she endured those horribly painful injections into the eyeball itself to treat her macular degeneration. The books chosen by the Council Librarians for the Good Shepherd Home were often not to her taste, but she would apologise for being difficult to please, saying, "Of course I'm only one person, they have to cater for everyone." It certainly stimulated me to try to find books that would give her pleasure--and they had to be printed in sharp black on white paper.  (I know now what she was talking about.)

Throughout her life, another of Margaret's great and abiding pleasures came from gardening and plants, she bonded with so many people over the joy of growing things.  Plants, books and friendships continued to sustain her in her calm and pretty riverside room at Good Shepherd.

To the amazement of many, after Colin’s retirement and as a result of his acuity, the Rodericks became multi-millionaires. Both, while continuing to live in Scottish simplicity—always generous but never wasteful--gave huge endowments to research in medicine and literature. We will not see a modest millionaire like Margaret again.

Mary Gallagher, Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and Don Gallagher