Margaret Blackwood

Margaret Blackwood (1909-1986), botanist, teacher and administrator, ('Blacky' to friends and irreverent students), was born on 26 April 1909, youngest daughter of Robert Leslie and Muriel Pearl Blackwood. She was educated at Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar School and the Universities of Melbourne and Cambridge.

She knew her University from childhood. Her father was for a time sub- Warden of Trinity College, Melbourne University; her own association with the University was the focus of her life. After completing a first degree she studied and tutored genetics and plant cytology. Her research collection of 1000 maize plants was grown behind the Botany School and were used to teach principles of genetics. It was characteristic of an essentially practical woman that she liked to handle soil. She was Caroline Kay Research Scholar in 1939-41 and was awarded MSc.

During World War II she had opportunities to develop administrative skills as she rose from sergeant in the WAAF to wing commander. She also served as Dean of Women at the Mildura campus of Melbourne University in 1947-48. A PhD in 1951 at Cambridge led her back to academic life. She was Carnegie Scholar in 1958-59, member of Council of Janet Clarke Hall and president in 1961-64, member of Council of the University in 1975 and its first female Deputy Chancellor in 1980. She was awarded an MBE and DBE (1981). After the statutory age for retirement from teaching she remained in the Botany Department as senior research associate. Her influence in the academic world went beyond her department and her college. She played a leading role in 1974-75 as convenor of the working group on women for the University Assembly. This group of general staff, academic staff, undergraduate and postgraduate students reported on and made recommendations about the position of women in the University and in professional life. Dame Margaret presided over the celebration of the centenary of the first women admitted as graduates. She became an elected fellow of Trinity College and a founder fellow of Janet Clarke Hall, a fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, and Australian chairman of the Soroptomists International Association. She was invited in 1980 by the Minister of Education to chair a consultative committee on health and human relations education.

Her research and teaching was founded on first class scholarship. She published five papers between 1953 and 1968. In every organisation in which she played a part she was appointed to high administrative responsibility. Her personal life was simple and harmonious. She was a devoted member of her family circle and an aunt loved by nephews and nieces. Many women in her generation saw a choice between marriage and high professional endeavour and after making that choice Blacky maintained equable warm relationships with women and men. As a successful public figure she discounted the need for what she saw as explicit feminist positions while she achieved status which made her a role model for others.

She led the WAAF contingent in the Anzac Day march with authoritative decision. She relaxed with robust humour and common sense. She was a modest and hospitable neighbour in the inner suburb of Parkville where she lived in her later years. She bore her final illness from cancer there with exemplary patience and courage.

Barbara Falk