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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter LVI. — Retirement from Office

page 253

Chapter LVI.
Retirement from Office.

Early in 1923, I was notified by the Public Service Commissioner that I would be due to retire from my office at the end of February. This was, of course, no surprise to me, and in a way caused me no great regret, though I was feeling well, and quite fit to carry on. It is, I think, a wise plan to retire Government servants at the age of 60; some may be well able to carry on, but at the same time, it is only fair to those in the service to have the opportunity of advancement. Also, I think, by the age of 60 there should still be a few years in which well-earned leisure can be enjoyed, and the freedom from official work would allow of the indulgence in pet hobbies.

Many people also like to feel they are then free to give their services in different philanthropic ways, that were impossible while their time was fully occupied.

However, it was not my fate to be free so soon. My assistant, Miss Bicknell, who was to be my successor, had applied for leave of absence for eight months to visit England; Dr. Valintine asked me if I would remain on till the end of the year so that she might be granted this leave. I was quite ready to do so, glad that I did not have to give up my absorbing and interesting work so soon.

In order that Miss Bicknell should, on her visit to England, where she expected to look into hospital and training school methods, have the status of her new position, her appointment was made before she left, and I was made Acting-Director.

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About this time an interesting meeting of the International Council of Nurses was being arranged to meet in July, at Copenhagen. I had the year before been notified of this, and invited to attend, and again I received a pressing invitation to be present. As Miss Bicknell had already left it was, of course, impossible for me to be away, so I suggested that Miss Bicknell should attend in my place. It was arranged that as the representative from New Zealand, Miss Bicknell should be given a travelling allowance of £50 to defray her expenses to Denmark.

She was only too pleased to have this great opportunity. I envied her, as I should have much enjoyed being at the conference where nurses from all countries would be present.

Later on, long after my retirement, Miss Bicknell was again fortunate in being sent by the Government to another International meeting at Montreal in 1929, when 6,000 nurses attended.

I was unfortunate in never being able to go to any of these great meetings.

After my retirement I was, of course, free, but the great expense involved by the distance from New Zealand prohibited my going. Also in later years my health was not good enough for such strenuous expeditions.

My last year in office was a busy one, although I was not able to travel very much, the work at headquarters filled my time. Miss Willis was then my assistant.

Before finally giving up, I had a trip round to visit nearly all the hospitals, but my recollection of these visits is by no means clear.

I remember going to Central Otago to the Sanatorium at Waipiata, where I stayed for a night. From there I telephoned to the little hospital at Naseby, saying that I page 255 regretted that I could not spare the time to go there. I was so pleased when the doctor in charge offered to come for me in his car, and take me there and back in time to catch the train. It was indeed good of him, and I much appreciated the offer. It was a beautiful morning, and I much enjoyed the motor drive through the country. At the hospital, the matron had lunch for me, and we had a nice talk, and then the doctor after taking me to see his wife and child, took me on to the train and I returned to Dunedin.

At Dunedin the Nurses' Association gave me a farewell reception, and similar farewells took place at Christ-church and at the different towns as I went from South to North—I felt touched indeed by the evident regret that the nurses I had worked among so long, showed at my retirement.

From the South I went to Auckland, Hamilton and Rotorua, and everywhere met the same kindly reception and farewells.

Towards the end of October, Miss Bicknell returned, and at the beginning of November, I gave up my work. I was given three months' leave on retirement. It felt very strange to be a free agent, as, except for annual leave and my one trip of fourteen months to England in 1904, I have not been out of some sort of harness or other for over 30 years.

A great surprise awaited me. I was invited to a farewell party at the Pioneer Club organised by the Wellington Branch of the Association. It was in the evening, and besides the many nurses present, a number of medical men and their wives, as well as women doctors were there. Dr. Valintine of course, and others of the Health Department, men and women. During the course of the evening, page 256 Dr. Valintine, with a most kindly and appreciative speech said that he was asked to make me a presentation on behalf of the nurses of New Zealand, and gave me a beautiful handbag from the Central Council in which he said was a cheque from the Association. I replied as best I could, but feeling very overcome. Then Dr. Platts-Mills spoke of the cordial relationship which had existed between me and the women members of the profession, and Dr. Young of the appreciation of the medical profession generally—I am not a ready speaker, and felt very embarrassed at much that was said, so I am afraid I made very inadequate replies. After all this, a pleasant social evening was carried on with music, chat, and supper, and I departed to my little cottage on the hill—not till I arrived at home did I open my bag and see the very generous offering I had been given of a cheque for over £230.

A few days later I was invited to the annual Christmas meeting of the officers of the department, where all the medical officers, nursing division, clerks, typists, and cadets joined in a party to wish each other a Merry Christmas. The Minister of Health honoured us on that occasion, Sir Maui Pomare, and he it was who made me a presentation of a very generous cheque from the department.

This was quite unexpected, also I had to listen to very kindly speeches again.

Thus came to an end a happy (on the whole), seventeen years of interesting work. There were, of course, ups and downs, times of difficulty, strain. Disagreement occasionally with other officers, but looking back, these are all forgotten and the happy association among us all only remembered.

So my work for the most part ended, and as I had many hobbies, to which all my life I had not had time to page 257 devote myself, I did not attempt to take up any other regular pursuits.

When I heard of other women going on committees and working for public causes I sometimes felt very idle, but of later years I realise that my health would not have permitted me to lead anything but a private life.

One thing remained to me as work, the editorship of the Nurses' Journal, and this, still makes a link with the nursing profession which I shall be sorry to give up.

In 1925 I had the honour of being appointed by the Board of Directors of the International Council of Nurses at a meeting held at Helsingfors, a member of the International Publication Committee. There were then four other members, Miss Alexander, Editor of South African Nurses' Journal for Africa; Miss Hearn, Editor of Nursing Journal of China for Asia; Miss Mary Roberts, Editor of the American Journal of Nursing for America; and Mrs. Bedford Fenwick, Editor of the British Journal of Nursing for Europe.

I felt it a great honour to be associated with these leading women, and carried on sending various papers and reports, until recently, when I resigned. My resignation however, was not accepted, so I must endeavour still to be of use.

A great joy to me in my retired life was my cottage, which I bought in 1918, and the garden at which I worked really hard, digging, planting and planning, until of late years I have had to abandon such strenuous work.

In these reminiscences I have said nothing of my manner of living. When first I arrived in New Zealand, I stayed for a short time with my old friend, Dr. Bennett; page 258 then I searched for rooms and found comfortable ones in Austin Street, under Mt. Victoria. I had my own sitting room with a lovely view over the harbour and city, and here I had my meals served.

From here one night, or early morning, I saw the great fire which destroyed the House of Parliament, leaving only the wing in which the fine Parliamentary Library was housed. It was a grand sight. I lived here for about a year. While I was living there I was surprised one day in my office, when a tall man walked in and greeted me: “How are you Hester, I am Alister.” (Alister Maclean a cousin whom I had not seen for years). It was a great surprise and a happy one, as I did not know I had any relations in New Zealand, except the distant cousin already mentioned.

After a year of semi-boarding life, I thought I would like to be more independent and do entirely for myself; so I searched for other rooms and found a convenient little flat at Kelburn. My niece was still with me, and we settled in comfortably; I had a nice sized bed-room, and a sitting-room with a beautiful view over the harbour. Also I had a little bit of garden which was a great joy to me.

I had one more change before finally settling down at Highland Park, always with a beautiful prospect before me, and my present home is very dear to me.

Always, if possible, I would recommend a life of independence, with pleasant surroundings, rather than one in a boardinghouse. It gives more opportunity for saving and with some little domestic life and out-door life, such as gardening, is more healthy for women who are engaged in office work especially.

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I have spent a good deal of my time alone in my cottage, but also have had long visits from my relations in Australia.

Drawing my recollections to a close, I hope that after a few years, the portion of this volume relating to nursing conditions and their progress will be continued by an abler pen than mine.

Still keenly interested in the work and progress of my old departments, this little record might go on interminably.

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