Babette Stephens 1922-2007

Prosectors 1942-1943
Prosectors 1942-1943. Back row left to right: A Grant, L S Basser, R J de Monchaux, M T Havyatt. Front row left to right: L White, Alison K Garven, Norma C Yeomans, C A K Campbell.
Photo courtesy Department of Anatomy and Histology, Faculty of Medicine.

In her work as a GP in Northbridge, Dr Babette Stephens didn't just treat her patients, she sometimes helped out by putting on a load of washing when she thought it necessary for the patient's wellbeing. In return, sharing the responsibilities of a 24-hour-a day practice with care for her family often necessitated that she seek babysitting assistance from patients' relatives.

Her colleague and friend, Dr John Grant, remembers her as "one who exhibited the ultimate in the qualities of a general practitioner. Her knowledge was exceptional and its application to patient care extended far beyond the confines of a consulting room. Her concerns extended not only to the sick room in the home but as well, covered the whole spectrum of the patient's daily life."

Norma Clyde Yeomans, always known as Babette, was born in Adelaide, the daughter of Clyde Yeomans and his wife, Norma. She had a brother, Allan, who was killed in service with the RAAF in 1944.

The family moved to New Zealand when Babette was four but she returned to Sydney to complete her schooling at Ascham. She studied medicine at the University of Sydney in 1941 and her family remembers that she wrote her lecture notes out twice - one for students who had difficulty with English and one for herself.

She graduated in 1946 with first-class honours, the Dagmar Berne Prize (named for Australia's first female medical student and awarded to the university's final-year medical student with the highest marks) and the Norton Manning Memorial Prize for psychological and addiction medical work.

In 1945 Babette married a doctor, Dick Stephens. The following year she began her residency at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The couple lived and worked in Newcastle and Vaucluse as their first two children were born. In 1951 the family moved to Northbridge, where a third child was born. It was there that Babette and Dick practised, she as a GP and he as an anaesthetist, until her retirement in 1987.

Despite her large and active practice, Babette Stephens was involved with the Medical Women's Society of NSW from the early 1960s on, including its presidency in 1967. She was medical convenor of the National Council for Women and a member of the Ascham School Company, as well as the council of the Medical Benevolent Association from 1982 until her death. Her contribution there is recalled by fellow councillors as her attending every meeting, and her generous provision of delicious asparagus rolls to annual general meetings.

Stephens was a very active member of Christ Church Anglican, Lavender Bay. Her grandchildren said at her memorial service that "hers wasn't a solemn or austere kind of faith, it was a living, natural thing. It was active, like her compassion - it existed in her behaviour and in the world. We read psalms to her and spoke about faith as she was dying, but I think we needed it more than she did. Her faith was always unshakeable."

Babette Stephens is survived by Dick, their children Allan, Rosemary and Tony, and their families.

John Yeo
By permission of the Sydney Morning Herald