One of Canberra's nursing pioneers has been remembered as a no-nonsense woman who would do "anything for anyone".
Mary Kellow (nee Gillespie) was the first director of nursing of the then-new Woden Valley Hospital, taking up the position in 1972.
Most recently living at the Jindalee Aged Care Residence in Narrabundah, Mrs Kellow suffered a stroke and passed away on August 30, aged 91.
Then "matron Mary Gillespie" told The Canberra Times in an article in 1972 she felt "a bit numbed" after taking on the job of helping to open a new hospital in the still nascent national capital.
"No one else in Australia has had to face the commissioning of 600 beds. It's the largest construction from grasslands to new hospital in this country," she said at the time.
Decades later, in a video interview with ACT Health, Mrs Kellow remembered she had been appointed to the Woden Valley Hospital job "one day before I turned 40".
While she was born and raised in Sydney, Mrs Kellow had family links to the Canberra region. Her family settled in Goulburn in 1884. Her great-grandfather Dennis Gillespie opened a tannery and boot factory there.
But there were also nurses and doctors in the family and young Mary chose to study nursing at St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst.
She also served 18 years in the military as a nurse, joining the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps in 1954. Commissioned as a lieutenant, she served until 1972, when she retired with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, then turning her sights to Canberra.
During her military service in the 1960s and early 1970s, she worked at the 2nd Military Hospital at Ingleburn Army Camp and looked after many injured and incapacitated servicemen who had returned from Vietnam. Her uniform and medals are now on display at the Australian War Memorial.
Before moving to Canberra, the then-Miss Gillespie had some experience of expanding hospitals. She had been closely associated with the construction and opening of an 11-storey complex at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney in the late 1960s when she was an assistant director of nursing there.
Miss Gillespie started as director of nursing at Woden a year before the hospital opened to patients, in 1973. She remembered putting together a "very good team" of nurses to work in the new hospital.
"They were first-class," she said.
"They were young and they were lively. And they did a good job for me."
In Canberra in 1978, she married a widower, John Kellow, who had three children - Philip Kellow, Hugh Kellow and Marian Duggan.
"Mary was a dignified woman who would do anything for anyone," Mrs Duggan said.
"She showed integrity in every aspect of her life and went to great lengths to look after her family and friends.
"Mary loved and was incredibly proud of her family, and cared for us all as only Mary could."
Philip Kellow said his stepmother provided "a lot of love and routine" to the family and had delivered "strong leadership for ACT nursing notwithstanding various organisational changes in ACT health".
Her nephew John Gillespie said his aunt was "a strong advocate for women, especially those in her family and career".
"She was a very caring, loving and guiding influence for all her nieces and nephews. Mary had a strong social conscience particularly in relation to the public health system," he said.
Mrs Kellow received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1988 for service to nursing.
A service celebrating her life will be held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Curtin at 11am on Tuesday.
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