Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Remembering Anne

Today, Anne would have celebrated her 70th birthday. She died at the age of 49, in October 1994, as the result of a secondary cancer.

Anne was the consummate public servant. I met her when she joined the Automated Data Processing Branch of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (DIEA). While it was the scene of my first full-time job offer, Anne, and many others who had been ignominously separated from a public service project called Mandata, were distributed to any Department which could fit them in.

Almost as long-running as a Defence project,  the failure of Mandata was well documented by The Canberra Times between 1973 and 1981, in both prose and poetry form., 1973, 1978

There was a match between Anne's skills with the Mandata system, and the new Burroughs mainframe purchased by DIEA. For a while, Anne and I were the only two female IT programmers at DIEA and she took me under her wing. We ate lunch together almost every day so we could discuss our thoughts about colleagues openly.

She was a striking looking lady, tall with red hair. As a divorcee, she lived alone most of the time and companionship was provided by her beloved dogs. She was an experimental chef and enjoyed cooking for friends and colleagues. One colleague became close. He was a contractor to the IT team, and a skilled pilot. He took us to Moruya one Saturday in a four-seater propellered aircraft. Anne loved it, but it put me off flying in small planes for a while. Anne continued however. She was intrepid in her adventures - taking one of the first hot-air balloon rides over the site of the new Parliament House while it was under construction.

She also reluctantly left her dogs behind to spend three months in Hong Kong for the Department, learning about the new IT system which would take us to the next level of expertise. 

Anne was passionate about gardening, or so it seemed until the conversation changed to the best way to core a lawn, or which outdoor furniture to buy.  I inherited a green thumb for indoor plants from her. She was a curious mix - we once visited the same fortune teller, a first time for me. Anne was told that 'she would die young', but she continued to focus on her work and her pets. She helped me find my next appointment, and after I left the Department, she left too. Alas her career track was once again derailed, with the closure of the Australian Government Publishing Service.
The AGPS tried very hard to stay in the publishing game. In 1990 and again in 1991, it published guidelines which recognised the changes looming in the publishing world.

Webb, Eric & Lovelock, Marjorie & Australian Government Publishing Service 1990,
Looking good : desktop publishing, Australian Govt. Pub. Service, Canberra

Anne died on the cusp of technological disruption, when the world wide web gained serious traction in the Australian Public Service. What a powerhouse she would have been with web technologies. She was the most professional public servant I ever met. The number of hours she worked seemed irrelevant. Filing was always detailed and up-to-date. Relationships with colleagues were managed with care. She worked from home between cancers, and had time to document her business decisions prior to finally downing tools. 

Her dedication and her determination offset family issues. 
After her father's death, she missed him desperately. Close relationships seemed elusive. Anne decided to be buried at the Gungahlin Cemetery in Canberra.  Her gifts to her home city were thoughtful and heartfelt:

"Her passion for her dogs and the companionship they provided was evidenced by her decision to also make a significant bequest to the RSPCA as well as to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service." 

[From the ceremony to open the Ducrou Pavilion on the Eucalypt Lawn of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, built with a generous bequest from the estate of Anne Ducrou.]

I am always in her debt. As a mentor, close colleague and exemplar, she was without peer.