When Betty retired 26 years ago she began some of the busiest years of her life, and was eventually appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.
Betty Dorothy Johnson, now a resident of Ashburn House in Gladesville, was born in Sydney on July 21, 1926, and spent a total of eight years of her early life in the Children’s Convalescent Hospital in Collaroy, because she had contracted TB of the hip at the age of four.
The doctors did not believe that she would be able to walk without assistance when she finally left hospital, but she proved them wrong, and this will-power and resilience has characterised how she has faced challenges all through her life, as has her personal warmth and her concern with social issues and making a difference to the lives of others.
Betty undertook her education in the school attached to the hospital. She was taught the curriculum of the School of the Air correspondence course, but did not complete formal schooling because of her lengthy visits to hospital.
At the age of 14, she was fortunate to be employed by what was then called the Crippled Children’s Society and this organisation arranged for her to undertake secretarial training.
She married Brian Johnson in 1945, and while her three children, Lesley, Pauline and Terry, were still young, was a full-time mother. But she quickly got involved during this time as a volunteer in the canteen and then helping to organise the library of local primary school at Denistone East, as she also subsequently did in the library of Ryde High School.
In the 1960s, Betty began working as a secretary at the University of Sydney where she stayed until her retirement in 1991. While there, she became involved in the Health and Research Employees Association, a union that worked for the interests of the general staff including clerical, administrative and technical staff at the University.
She was elected by the general staff to the Senate, the governing body of the University, and rapidly gained the admiration and great affection of the university executive, academic staff and general staff across the university. She was a member of the Senate from 1984 to 1991, and in 1992, she was awarded an honorary Masters Degree in Industrial Relations by the University in recognition of her huge contribution.
Betty never really retired but moved from paid work at the University of Sydney back into a dedicated life of voluntary work in 1991. She became involved in the Older Women’s Network (OWN), an organisation established in the late 1980s focused on older women and the issues that specifically concerned them. She was President of both the NSW branch and OWN Australia at various times.
It was her work in this organisation that led to her becoming increasingly involved in health consumer issues and advocating for the active involvement of health consumers in their own health care. She worked with several others to persuade the NSW Government to fund and establish a not-for-profit organisation called Health Consumers NSW in 2010 and she chaired this body for many years, only stepping down from this role in 2015.
She became widely known and respected as a leader in the area of health consumer activism in NSW and more broadly in Australia, and served on as many as 20 committees at any one time in this area and in other health related areas including quality and safety. From 2011 to 2016, she was a member of the Board of the Northern Sydney Local Health District, appointed to that position by the then Minister of Health of NSW, Jillian Skinner.
Betty Johnson was appointed an Officer of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2000 “for service to the community as a consumer advocate in the areas of aged care and related health issues”. She is also an Honorary Fellow of the College of Nursing.
As well as her interests in OWN and various health policy organisations, Betty has always been a great lover of books, movies and music of a wide variety. She still regularly attends concerts in Sydney and the occasional opera performance. She is immensely proud of her children who all graduated from universities in Australia and have led busy professional lives.
Her sister, Patricia, step-sister, Audrey, her children, and her grandchild, Harriet, regularly visit Betty at Ashburn House and are enjoying spending this somewhat quieter life with her.