The Measure of the Years . . Page.. 1450 ..
The citation conferring the Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire on Mrs R.G. Menzies in 1954 read in part:
In recognition of years of incessant and unselfish performance of public duty in hospital work, in visiting, addressing and encouraging many thousands of women in every State of Australia ...
This honour was conferred nine years before her husband received his knighthood, and it recognised her work in her own right. While Dame Pattie believed that she should not be involved in politics, her influence on Sir Robert did result in policies and tangible outcomes. Sir Robert, in his book The Measure of the Years, recalled that Dame Pattie had made a remark which took root in his mind. She had said that, while there was a great deal of talk about rates of pensions, she believed that the greatest social need for the elderly was housing. She asked whether there could not be some scheme under which the Government could assist in this area. Sir Robert followed up this remark, and the result was legislation to provide for that need.
Dame Pattie lived most of her life in Melbourne and is well known for her work there. The Children's Hospital in Melbourne, the Women's Hospital and the Royal Melbourne Hospital all benefited from her work on their behalf. But Dame Pattie maintained strong links with Canberra from the time in 1939 when she first moved to the national capital and to her home in the Lodge as the wife of the Prime Minister. Because of these links, her death was a sad event for Canberra as well as for the nation. Dame Pattie, with her love for people, ran the Lodge as a generously hospitable place. She entertained parliamentary colleagues and, whenever possible, their wives, public servants and the diplomatic community. Family friends were included in the gatherings, which were informal and lively.
This was not always an easy task, as the nation faced restrictions because of the Second World War. Dame Pattie could be seen at times doing her shopping on a bicycle and carrying out her domestic duties in an apron. In fact, one of the more amusing stories that I heard Dame Pattie tell a couple of years ago was the story of how, during the war, she grew vegetables at the Lodge and had bantam chooks for eggs. They became fully self-sufficient. But when she had some left over she did not feel that she could really set up a stall outside. It is hard to believe, with the way the Lodge looks now.
While Sir Robert may have put names on the guest list for political reasons or for reasons of government, Dame Pattie made sure that the conversation was lively, enjoyable and certainly informal. Dame Pattie excelled at making people feel at ease and was at home talking to people from all walks of life. She supported community work here in Canberra. I am sure that many former girl guides and brownies who grew up in Canberra remember cleaning the silver at the Lodge for Dame Pattie as part of Bob-a-Job Week. She was an advocate for Canberra as a place to live. She believed that Canberra was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Dame Pattie helped arouse the interest of her husband in Canberra in the 1950s when she drew his attention to the lack of footpaths for mums pushing prams. This was the start of the Commonwealth Government's genuine commitment to the development of Canberra, not just as a national capital but also as a desirable place to live.