The AICCM is saddened to hear of the passing of Margaret Dorothy Alexander, (known to many of us as Marg), on the 13th of November this year, aged 83. Marg was a long-standing, much respected, and popular member of the AICCM, remembered as much for her professional drive as for her good humour and generosity. Marg made a sustained contribution to our profession, holding various positions of office on AICCM Council from 1986 – 2001, including that of National President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Publications Officer. In each of these roles Marg made significant contributions that have had a lasting impact on the Institute’s capacity to function effectively and to build its profile, notable amongst these is the move to an outsourced professionally managed Secretariat, and the commissioning of our first web presence. Marg’s outstanding service to the profession was officially recognised in 2000 with the award of Honorary Life Membership. At the AGM that same year Marg stepped down as Secretary, after what she said with a smile ‘seems like forever’. She may have stepped down as Secretary, but Marg knew there was more work to be done and she immediately accepted nomination for the role of Publications Officer, in time to celebrate the Silver Jubilee edition of the AICCM Bulletin.
I had the great good fortune to come to know Marg not only as a professional colleague, but as a friend. First as a generous mentor as I stepped into my first role on National Council, Marg’s intelligent insights and experience helped me to see the bigger picture, and her capacity to see things through to a sensible conclusion left me in no doubt that we were in safe hands. Soon we became friends and shared many a chat about life outside of conservation – those are the moments that come back to me now. Thank you Marg, RIP.
As a national council member and treasurer during the years when Marg was on Council and President from 1987 to 1990 I worked closely with her. These were exciting times for the conservation profession with the change in name from ICCM to AICCM, the Bicentenary celebrated in 1988 and the National Museum finally getting under way with a physical presence. Conservators were being asked to tackle problems and give advice on issues that had not been previously asked of them. Marg was an unassuming conservator and she carried that forward to how she handled the AICCM Presidency. Diligent in her reading on issues and well organised in the execution of Council duties, she was a pleasure to work with and I look back fondly on the times we spent together.’
Marg employed me in 1988 as her assistant in the Conservation department of the National Museum of Australia. I continued to work for Marg until her retirement in 1996. During this time 4 more colleagues joined myself as part of Marg’s Conservation team. They were Carmela, Ros, Peter and Ellie. Marg was also very focussed on employing temporary staff to undertake specific projects as well as creating work and training programs for students requiring practical experience. Marg was known to a number of career advisors at schools and colleges in the ACT so students who were interested in a possible career in Conservation or Museums in general could have an opportunity to work with the team on a voluntary basis. A personal outcome of what I’ve just described is that for many years I would come across people all across the country when I travelled for work. These people remembered their time working at the National Museum of Australia and they would ask after Marg.
The Museum’s budget was always relatively modest during those early years but Marg seemed to be very effective managing the Conservation budget and applying those funds to the spectrum of work requiring attention. One of the collection areas that required care was the wet specimen collection from the old Institute of Anatomy. This included the famous Phar Lap’s heart preserved in a formalin solution. Phar Lap’s various components were brought together at the old Museum of Victoria in the late 1980’s; the skeleton, his hide and his heart. Marg transported Phar Lap’s heart to Melbourne by air and she insisted on buying an extra seat to place the heart on. As a result Marg was issued with 2 tickets; one for Margaret Alexander and one for a Mr P. Lap. Needless to say this caused much amusement at the time. I always hoped that somewhere this ticket might surface after all these years.
As well as playing a key role as part of the National Museum’s management structure Marg played a significant role in a number of related professional organisations. For many years she had various positions on the committee of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material and she was involved in many key developments of this organisation. Marg was also a significant player as part of the committee of Museums Association of Australia and it’s amalgamation with many small professional cultural bodies into Museums Australia which is now the peak body representing most museum professionals across the country. Marg played a very supportive and active role in the early years of the Friends of the National Museum of Australia. The Friends played a key part in promoting a future for the National Museum. I found Marg to be a thoughtful and kind person. As the manager of Conservation she gave prime importance to the welfare of her staff. I believe that her dedication to the National Museum of Australia and the Conservation profession was of the highest order. Marg continued to maintain an active interest in the Museum’s progress long after her retirement and she was always keen to attend Museum functions.
Marg was a Quiet Achiever;
and a good friend.