Reeve, Mary Jo

Mary Jo Reeve was a formidable activist and supporter of the communities of Beecroft and Cheltenham. [1]

She was raised in a Catholic orphanage where she gained an inner strength and resilience. One of the nuns, in particular, encouraged her to take up nursing – which she did with a vengeance. She paid for her nursing course by nannying for wealthy New York families and did not apply for medical school as it would have meant that she had to borrow the funds. As a scrub nurse (or theatre sister as the role would now be called) she was in the operating theatre in 1952 when a young Australian surgeon was, in his words, playing with some new and expensive state of the art surgical instruments. “The truth is, she read me the riot act.” Dear reader, she married him.

One of Professor Reeves former students recalled that: “When I was a very young doctor working with Tom [I was] invited, usually of a weekend, to the Reeve home after checking on our patients at Royal North Shore Hospital, [where I have memories] of Mary Jo’s generous welcome, and then of sitting in their comfortable living room, surrounded by art, family portraits and memorabilia, having indescribably good coffee always served with cream, not milk. Conversations while having coffee at the Reeves were always upbeat, often led by Mary Jo and covering a wide range of topics; from what was on the television, or in the paper, to health care education, government policies, politics and recently read books. There were always interesting and sometimes hotly contested views expressed.

Mary Jo had a reputation of having strong opinions and of speaking her mind. Absolutely true. Being around Mary Jo was never dull and she was never invisible; she was constantly trying to improve life for her family, her community and her country. When no one who could make changes was listening, Mary Jo spoke at local council meetings, engaged with her local member and wrote to Ministers. She would also ‘work the phones’, call talk-back radio and even call decision-makers in the middle of the night! She was not to be denied when she believed in what she was doing and of course she was successful.”

Her son Tom says that a lot of her thinking was based on Ann Rand and as a result she was a strong supporter of right wing views with a few socialist ideals of compassion, second chances and giving people a leg up but with no handouts.

When she saw the eroded gullies and poor soil of the neighbouring Booth Park she didn’t complain but started doing – planting, sculpturing and mulching. She recycled old concrete and timber and dragooned the assistance of any neighbour standing still for long enough. She created a diverse and healthy ecosystem around the oval with a complex mix of native and non-native plants. “Whatever works Tommy.” She was the unofficial Park Ranger and kept the grounds and toilets clean. She was forever buying and planting new plants to create a place of beauty.

She also campaigned over traffic flow on Sutherland Road, the Beecroft Primary School (for its library and art work in corridors), unnecessary development, lack of Council support for amenities and traffic lights.

She was generous with compliments as well as criticism and often gave little gifts to shopkeepers in Beecroft.

She was a voracious reader – everything from Erich von Daniken to Egyptology to Jane Austen.

A fierce supporter of her husband’s medical and teaching career, she kept the home fires burning while he saved lives and taught young men and women at the University of Sydney how to be surgeons. Later they established the Tom and Mary Jo Reeve Scholarship Fund, that enables two young surgeons from around the world to come to Australia each year as part of their surgical training.

Her children were Tom, Annie and Graham and any child who played in Booth Park. Her grandchildren were Lauren, Michael, Thomas and Caitlin.

She died on 25 January 2021.

 [1]        These notes were compiled from the eulogies at her funeral.