Minna Shaw Smith 1928-2009

Minna Shaw Smith ... committed to the welfare of others

Minna Shaw Smith became a doctor when it was an uncommon career for women, worked in medical administration, left the Department of Health in protest and devoted her retirement to community organisations and charity.

Minna Golomb, who has died at 80, was the younger daughter of Gilbert Golomb and his wife, Pearl Joseph. She attended North Newtown Public and Sydney Girls High schools, taking honours in French in the Leaving Certificate and being noted for her strength on the hockey field.

She began her degree in medicine at the University of Sydney in 1946, "with full scholastic and academic honours - and a penchant for angora knitting and card games", to quote the medical school yearbook.

After marrying Keith Shaw Smith, a fellow medical student and a returned servicemen, in 1950, she completed her internship in Lithgow, then did her residency at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Camperdown.

Shaw Smith's first position with the NSW Department of Health was at Ryde Child Health Centre, working with handicapped children. She then worked at Merrylands Health and Teaching Centre, where she supervised paramedic training and set up services in mental health, community nursing, geriatric nursing and day care, school medical care, physiotherapy, psychiatric, baby health and Aboriginal health.

As well as this, she was invited to join Altrusa International, a community service organisation for professional women. She was its president from 1968 to 1970.

She was seconded to be the senior community physician in the Western Regional Office, where she oversaw 12 health centres and 900 staff. Her office provided medical translation services and health education for 1.3 million people, and she was drug and alcohol co-ordinator, regional pediatrician and honorary assistant physician in the Mental Retardation Centre at the Children's Hospital, Camperdown.

In 1984 Shaw Smith completed a master's in health planning but resigned from the department in 1985, unhappy with a reorganisation she felt downgraded community health. She spent six months learning Greek before visiting Greece and Turkey and later did much more travelling.

Back in Australia, she taught English to migrant women, was an official visitor to psychiatric hospitals and was a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

She joined the NSW branch of the Australian Federation of University Women and became its president. She was determined to have more than a group of "ladies who lunch" so meetings were held in the evenings, with speakers such as Christine Olsen about the filming of Rabbit-Proof Fence, Mabel Lee about translating the works of the Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, and Anne Whitehead about New Australia, the utopian settlement in Paraguay at the turn of the last century.

During her presidency five branches were founded or reinvigorated and the Education Trust established. When she stepped down, she served as health adviser and membership secretary. She spent hours on the phone welcoming new members, chasing up non-renewers and checking on the sick and suffering. In 2007 she was made the first (and so far only) member emerita of the NSW branch.

She was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund, which helps women in the Third World.

Minna Shaw Smith's marriage did not last. She is survived by her sister Sara's grandson, Michael D'Agostino, and his family.

Jane Baker and Harriet Veitch
By permission of the Sydney Morning Herald