The Life of Margaret Sheather
Margaret Millicent O’Keefe was born on Saturday November 2, 1929 in Lismore, New South Wales – the third child of James O’Keefe and Beryl Hoskins.
After completing the Intermediate Certificate at St. Mary’s College, Margaret worked as a typist and telephonist at the head office of a company that ran three butcher shops in Lismore.
During World War II, Margaret lived in Lismore with her mother Beryl and her cousin Betty while her father and two brothers were in Sydney. Her father James worked for the Commonwealth Construction Core (an essential industry) and was part of the team that built the St. Mary’s Munitions Depot. One of the brothers, Alan worked for the railways (another essential industry). Finally, her other brother Frank was in the Army.
In 1947, two years after the end of World War II, Margaret moved with her family to Sydney. Her father James worked for the Maritime Service Board as a rigger. Margaret worked as a typist for the New South Wales Valuer General’s Department in Sydney.
At the beginning of 1952, Margaret, then 22 years old, undertook nursing training at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. A notable medical resident at the Royal Prince Alfred in 1955 and 1956 was Gustav Nossal, who would subsequently go on to a long and distinguished career as one of the world’s leading immunologists. After four years of general nursing training at RPA, Margaret undertook specialty training for one year at the Potts Point Club. Following this Margaret and a nursing colleague Gwen moved to Melbourne to undertake specialty training in midwifery at the Royal Women’s Hospital. After graduating from nursing in September of 1957, Margaret moved back to Sydney where she worked as a night duty nurse at Concord Repatriation Hospital.
Margaret was married in January, 1958 to Kevin James Sheather, a bank clerk. The wedding took place at St. Declan’s Catholic Church in Penshurst.
After the wedding, Margaret and Kevin honeymooned at Lakes Entrance. After the honeymoon they headed to Melbourne moving into the family home at 388 Station Street, Lalor.
Margaret began work immediately at Prestonia Private Hospital for geriatrics. At that time, Margaret met Marge White, the matron at Prestonia. Margaret worked until September, 1958. In November of 1958, Margaret gave birth to her first child a son named Simon James.
For the next few years, Margaret took on Marge White’s role as matron when Marge went on holidays usually for 7 to 10 days each year. During this time a second son, named Martin Kevin, was born in November, 1959 and a third son, named Andrew John, was born in December, 1960. Margaret did not have a washing machine until Andrew was born. In those days, Margaret washed clothes by boiling them in a copper, picking them out with a pot stick and then rinsing them in a trove.
Margaret gave up the role as temporary matron at Prestonia Private Hospital after a fourth son, named Timothy Francis was born in August, 1962. Looking after four boys under four years of age was more than a full time job in itself.
When Tim was 20 months old (namely, April, 1964), Margaret returned to work as a nurse at Prestonia on night duty initially working Friday and Saturday nights. After a couple of years, Margaret increased her working hours adding a third night each week, namely Tuesday night. Margaret worked at Prestonia for 26 years ultimately retiring in October, 1989 just before her 60th birthday. In 1964, Margaret earned 24 pounds each fortnight for two nights of work each week.
In 1963 when Simon went to kindergarten, Margaret joined the kindergarten committee eventually becoming the secretary. Margaret stayed on the kindergarten committee until the end of 1967, at which time Tim finished kindergarten. A primary function of the kindergarten committee was to raise enough funds to pay the assistant’s salary.
In 1968, Margaret joined the St. Luke’s school auxiliary committee (a committee of 14) eventually becoming the secretary. Once again, Margaret was directly involved in fund raising activities. The committee ran a monthly cake stall on a Sunday after mass. Each month, Margaret made from scratch 8 chocolate cakes and 4 fruit cakes in time for mass on Sunday, after having worked both Friday and Saturday nights. In addition, Margaret iced nine dozen lamingtons, that is, Margaret picked up donated sponge cake from Brian Hurley’s cake shop in Reservoir, cut it into sections, dipped each section in chocolate and then added coconut. Margaret’s chocolate cakes were so legendary that they were always presold to the ladies who ran the cake stall. The St. Luke’s school auxiliary committee also ran a yearly fete and so-called sausage sizzles a few times a year. Margaret was heavily involved in both of these events. For the sausage sizzles, Margaret would literally make hundreds of hamburger patties. The money raised at these events was used for buying necessities for the school including books.
In 1973, with three of her sons at Parade College, Margaret joined the Parade College Ladies Auxiliary. In 1974, Margaret was a member of the committee that organized the inaugural Parade College Art Show. The annual art show continues to this day. In December of 1975, Margaret enjoyed one of her proudest moments when each of her four sons was awarded a separate prize for academic achievement at the Parade College Speech and Awards Night held at the Dallas Brooks Hall in Albert Street, East Melbourne.
Margaret’s charity work was not limited to work for the schools her sons attended. In addition, she was part of a local Helping Hand group that raised money for a centre at Epping. An important part of these fund raising activities was an annual “Coffee Morning with Brian Naylor”. Brian Naylor generously gave his time for free. The event was so successful it ran for five years. In later years, Margaret did charity work for the Benevolent Society handing out food vouchers.
In 1980, Margaret typed Simon’s Honours Project Thesis in Mathematical Statistics on her typewriter. Simon’s thesis dealt with the field of nonparametric statistics, specifically the area of distribution-free confidence intervals for location parameters which were obtained by inverting distribution-free test-statistics. The thesis consisted of many line by line mathematical derivations of this tedious inversion process. As is already clear from this brief description of the material, the thesis contained many terms that are foreign to those outside this specialized field. Mathematical symbols, denoted by Greek letters, had to be written in by hand in black pen. Needless to say Margaret did a splendid job on the typing and this thesis remains yet another testament to Margaret’s astonishing ability to deliver on a complex task against a very short deadline.
In 2006 Margaret entered Carnsworth Aged Care Facility in Kew. Margaret thrived at Carnsworth becoming involved in many activities including silk screen painting, cooking, reading during Church services and talking to many groups of official visitors ranging from students to accreditation officers. Margaret greatly enjoyed her fortnightly lunches at the Epping RSL club. Speaking of lunches, Margaret loved Christmas lunch at Hilton on the Park here in Melbourne. The photograph of Margaret which appears below was taken at the Hilton hotel on Christmas
day in 2009.
Margaret’s astonishing ability to multi-task and work calmly under pressure, her endless patience and support and her positive outlook in even the most difficult of times made her a perfect role model for a successful life and career.
Margaret on Christmas Day 2009