On Sunday 13th October, we will remember the life and passion of the indefatigable and incandescent Mandy Press.
Mandy died in her sleep on 1 October 2013 at home at Yarambat, Victoria.
Mandy’s husband, Gerry Morris, provided this obituary.
Mandy was born in on 7 December 1947 in Brighton, and apart from three years working in New York, lived in Melbourne all of her life.
After training as a Social Worker at Melbourne University where she was inspired by the lectures on urban history and renewal (from Professor Renate Howe) she worked with disadvantaged people at the Clarendon clinic, and then at a centre for disturbed children in New York. She was a founding staff member of the Brotherhood of St Laurence’s experimental Family Centre Project under Connie Benn. She then became a lecturer for the new Social Work degree course at the Phillip Institute (now RMIT) for 8 years — working with Viv McCutcheon and Wendy Weeks. Each of these women demonstrated their vision and commitment to human justice through advocacy in the demanding of society equity and justice and introducing women’s studies.
Mandy’s focus then switched to policy, planning and community development through action research in local government. She was foundation Director, Community and Cultural Services (1984-94) at Eltham Shire, including a brief period when she swapped roles with the Chief Engineer to create new approaches to resident issues.
Mandy then moved to the City of Port Phillip as a Senior Manager specialising in the `wicked’ problems which confound policy makers. “Sex, drugs and parking” was her description of one part of her role.
Mandy managed the Port Phillip council’s community housing program for eight years and was involved in establishing 120 community housing units through four different projects, all of which were hotly contested. She wrote her Master’s thesis: Planning contested ground: place, voice and governance in local government planning – based on this experience (Melbourne University, 2009).
Professor Carolyn Whitzman (Urban Planning Melbourne University) remembers her thus:
When I first met Mandy Press, soon after my arrival in Australia in 2003, she was already sick with the cancer that would take her life. She was presenting at a conference on community safety, and her story of the transformation of Talbot Reserve was an immediate inspiration to me. Talbot Reserve is a small park, cialis generique adjacent to the National Theatre in St. Kilda. As Manager of Neighbourhood Development for the City of Port Philip, Mandy could have responded to concerns of some residents about alcohol use and prostitution in the park by bringing in police, increasing lighting, installing CCTV, or some other simplistic and ultimately ineffective approach.
Instead, and with the help of Andrea Cook of Red Road Consulting, she took the difficult option of treating everyone as having a legitimate voice. Together, the representatives of the `parkie’ and sex worker residents, along with other residents, worked out a partnership approach that sought to decrease anti-social behaviour while improving social inclusion. Today, Talbot Reserve is not without problems, but it is a much more used and loved public place. That was typical Mandy.
Mandy left full-time work in November 2005 to pursue a more relaxed lifestyle on 5 acres of bush — part of the Plenty Gorge Park at Yarrambat. This included writing her thesis, being a custodian of the flora and fauna on her (temporary) land, further research and writing, constant activism on local issues and singing in the local Hurstbridge community choir – the Chocolate Lilies – for which she always arrived late.
Mandy was co convenor of the Nillumbik Women’s Network, a local advocacy group which aims to further the interests of women through local action and working against violence to women. One much loved project was the documentation and publishing of the stories and achievements of hundreds of local women.
Mandy was awarded the Selena Sutherland International Women’s Day award on 13th March 2013.
Mandy was honest about her struggles with cancer, but always maintained she was not a victim and was not “fighting it”. At the onset of her third bout she said: “Well, I’m definitely dying this time, but the good news is, I’m not depressed about it”. Like Dorothy’s companions in Oz, she sometimes doubted her possession of a sharp mind, a big heart, and the courage of a lion. But she did possess that remarkable trifecta, and that is what made her an effective advocate for people’s rights to justice, consideration, housing and public space.
Mandy is survived by Gerry (Kevin) Morris, her loving and loved husband of 42 years, siblings Jeremy and Georgina, children Morgan, Magnus and Tilly, grandchildren Zoe, Atlas, Imogen and Phoenix, in-laws Brian and Renate Howe, best friends, including Gay Bilson, Tracey Naughton, Viv McCutcheon and Susie Forbes, and her beloved multi-doodle, Miffy.
Mandy was a strong-willed and determined person. She was still planning projects and research even as her body collapsed. She will be missed by the many friends, colleagues and organisations to whom she was a constant inspiration.
I have my own recollections of Mandy.
My first encounter with Mandy Press was in the late 1980s, working together (with the late Kevin Taylor) to develop a new plan of for Eltham Town Centre. She was a gorgeous, red-haired, dynamo with a strong “alternative” streak and flowing, silky clothes. She became my client again at the City of Port Phillip, as Kelvin Walsh and I co-designed with her a manual of community engagement processes. I had never met such a passionate and collaborative manager! I know that the Kennett years almost broke her heart. She told me it nearly killed her to have to ask her librarians to tender for their jobs. And she felt that one cause of her cancer might have been her anguish at having to do things — as a manager — that she did not believe in.
I reconnected with Mandy and spent a number of memorable evenings with her – and Gerry – in Melbourne, hearing about her creative exploits and marveling at her ability to “soldier on”.
Mandy’s approach to her illness was to keep it from getting in the way of her life – or her friends’ and family’s relationships with her.
So she danced the last steps of her remarkable life to the fullest – savouring the last drop of her life.
And we all delighted in dancing with her.
A memorial gathering for Mandy will be held at the Eltham Community Centre, 801 Main Road, Eltham at 2 pm, Sunday 13th October.
All her friends and colleagues are welcome.
Let’s give our “darling girl”, our beautiful Mandy, the send-off she deserves!