Another John in my life (not Poor John) called recently to say Rhodanthe, his wife of 61 years, had died. This was heartbreaking news, but not unexpected. Four days after her death, Rhodanthe would have turned 97, but she’d been failing for some time.
I met Rhodanthe about 15 years ago at the local gym. Yes, the gym! A friend and I went to the gym every Tuesday and Thursday. Our visits always coincided with the Super Seniors gym class. After a couple of years, it made sense to join the class.
Rhodanthe had been part of the class for years, and the exercise (including weights) had served her well. About 10 years ago, she fell and cracked her hip. The doctor said that the gym exercise had built up the muscle around her hip and helped her to heal more quickly than expected.
From the time I first knew her, Rhodanthe always walked from her house to the gym (about 15 minutes), but the time came when macular degeneration robbed her of eyesight and I became her gym chauffeur. I often took her to other appointments.
Rhodanthe and I were on the same page when it came to driving her around. I can still hear many of those conversations.
Me: Rhodanthe would you like a lift to your appointment?
Her John: No, we’ll walk or take the bus.
Me: I didn’t ask you, John? Rhodanthe, would you like a lift?
Rhodanthe: Yes please.
In spite of her deteriorating vision and a general slowing down, Rhodanthe kept coming to the gym until about 18 months ago. All her gym buddies were a bit relieved when she reluctantly agreed to ‘retire’. She had a cavalier attitude to some of the equipment and we lived on tenterhooks, expecting her to fall at any time.
About a year ago, she fell again—at home. The prospects weren’t good. She was in hospital for some time and then in rehab. She wasn’t expected to survive back then. But with support from family, friends, doctors and community nurses, she lasted another year.
But my headline refers to a ‘legendary midwife’. So let me tell you about that aspect of Rhodanthe.
Rhodanthe, the midwife
Rhodanthe was passionate about new mothers and their babies. In fact, she spent more than 65 years catering for them. It’s calculated that she assisted 23,000 local mothers and their newborns.
She was so concerned about their welfare, that she wrote No one right way—a handbook for parents coping with the first three months of their baby’s life. This book was first published in 2004. It highlights the fact that there is no one right way to raise a baby.
An updated and revised edition of that book was released in 2012 with the new name of Baby care: nurturing your baby your way.
Rhodanthe specified that royalties from the book should support the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives. She believed Indigenous women would have improved pregnancy and birth outcomes if their care came from midwives who shared their culture and language. This led to the creation of The Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Trust. The trust provides scholarships to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders studying to become midwives. Last year, 14 students received scholarships worth $54,000.
In 2012 and at age 90, Rhodanthe was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Canberra for a lifetime of services to baby and maternal health. She was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1992.
I could go on and on about Rhodanthe, but I’ll leave you with some options to explore. Here’s a link to the news item about her honorary doctorate. Here’s a link to a short history about her life (includes a link to an interview with her).
A memorial service will be held Sunday, 17 February, at St John’s Church Hall, Reid, ACT, at 3pm. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Trust.