North Melbourne has lost a much loved and respected senior citizen in Jean McKendry-Paterson. The March service of thanksgiving for Jean’s life at St Mary’s Anglican Church was conducted by Rev Dr Craig Thompson of the Uniting Church (Curzon Street) where Jean had been a member for more than 70 years.
Jean was born into a humble working-class family in January, 1928. The family lived in turn in Richmond, Carlton and North Melbourne. Jean learned early in her life what it was to struggle. The would-be dressmaker knew from an early age just what sort of a suit she could cut from her cloth.
Jean attended Sunday school as a young girl. By the time Jean was in her mid-teens her attendance at church had become a genuine Christian commitment. Jean was inspired by her minister, Rev Stephen Yarnold, who strongly encouraged his congregation to be outward looking and responsive to the needs of the local community.
In the 1940s and 50s, the inner suburbs of Melbourne were predominantly working-class, industrial slums that harboured deep-rooted social problems. Someone saw the need for a North Melbourne Progress Society, and a youthful Jean McKendry saw the need to belong to it. Later she founded the North Melbourne Elderly Citizens’ Club (1956) and was a founding member of the North Melbourne Senior Citizens’ Club.
In providing space for social gatherings – first in the Town Hall and then in the early ’70s, in the present accommodation in Melrose Street, elderly people were able to form friendships and engage in meaningful activity.
Jean encouraged the University of the Third Age to offer classes at the Centre in Melrose Street, and she also established art classes there. The annual art exhibition was not just a notable cultural feature of life in North Melbourne but also a significant fundraiser for the Centre.
Jean served on numerous Melbourne City Council committees and acted as a consultant to the council on the special needs of the elderly. She worked closely with the Salvation Army and the Society of St Vincent de Paul in providing services to homeless people. She also coordinated a fortnightly lunch for disadvantaged people. She was active also in the local Abbeyfield Society, serving on its committee. She developed programs to help people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, and more recently she was instrumental in welcoming people from African countries into the broader community and to the Elderly Citizens’ Centre in particular.
In 1992 she married Jim Paterson. At the age of 64, Jean’s own personal happiness came to the fore. But it was not to last, for sadly Jim contracted motor neuron disease and died some 18 months later. This must have been a profound loss for Jean, and yet – testimony to her courage and devotion – the years after her tragic loss were as energetic and productive as ever before.
She was truly deserving of the honours bestowed on her. The centre in Melrose Street was aptly renamed the Jean McKendry Neighbourhood Centre. Jean was also honoured by the Victorian Government in being named Senior Citizen of the Year in 2008.
Jean was not a person who just talked about her faith: she lived it. When she received her Senior Citizen of the year award the first words of her acceptance speech were: “This all started with the church and I never thought I would end up here.” Her altruism did not die with her, for Jean willed her body to help further the cause of medical education, advancing others even after her death.
Despite her many achievements, Jean retained a humility and commitment to all people. While politically astute and feisty in advocacy, Jean was also diplomatic in her approach to people and the numerous organisations with which she worked.
The Uniting Church Congregation of Mark the Evangelist has lost by far its longest serving member. North Melbourne has lost a loved and respected citizen. Farewell, Jean – you will be fondly remembered in the local community that you loved and served for more than 60 years.
* This tribute by members of The Congregation of Mark the Evangelist, North Melbourne, is based on the eulogy delivered by Dr John Hood at the service celebrating Jean’s life on 16 March this year.