Betty Churcher - A Celebration of Life

28 April 2015

She grew to be a handsome woman said Betty Churcher’s brother Ian. We were sitting companionably watching the photographs scrolling on the screens after the memorial service in Gandel Hall at the National Gallery of Australia for the lady we affectionately called Betty Blockbuster. Ian had not seen a couple of the old family photos and waited for few run-throughs to get a good look at who was in them. We talked of her early life, his advice about the NGA directorship when he assured her she must apply and how he advised her to stop dying her hair to let that glorious steel grey hair take pride of place. The handsome title I have to agree with.

The memorial was all class, carefully planned and a fitting tribute to this much loved and admired director, exceptional communicator and author. A wife , mum, grandmother and sister it was the launch of her first ‘Notebooks’ by then Governor General Quentin Bryce that took us inside the personal and until then private art journals of Betty Churcher. Reproduced in the memorial service program is her drawing of Hendrickje in Rembrandt’s ‘Woman bathing in a stream’ with Betty Churcher’s  annotations capturing what she describes as “girlish glee”; it is captivating and beautiful. There will be another in the series, a book she was determined to finish and one we will all treasure, now that we know of the effort she put into it.

Speakers offered a variety of insights into the Betty Churcher they knew; Alan Dodge and John  Olsen, her son Peter Churcher and via video Neil Macgregor from the British Museum. Current director Gerard Vaughan spoke for the absent Paul Keating and Kerry Stokes and Dame Quentin Bryce told of her friend the Brisbane girl who made good, with a heavy heart and a very personal sense of loss that is hard to overcome.

My favourite Betty Churcher picture is with Barbara Blackman and is included in this photographic collection of those who came to celebrate the life of Betty Churcher. I love the sense of girlish glee these two wonderful women exude....

Vale Betty Churcher.