Former mayor a trailblazer for women

ONE of the south-west’s first female mayors has been remembered as a “leader with commonsense,” after dying last week aged 77.

Former Portland shire president Betty Gee was one of the region’s first women to lead a council and served in a number of community roles in her native Heywood, including on the town’s hospital board.

Mrs Gee was one of two women to break through the civic glass ceiling in August 1985, alongside Marie Thornton, who became the Hampden Shire’s first female mayor.

Mrs Thornton told The Standard last week that Mrs Gee was a tireless community worker, both at the council table and on a variety of community boards.

She said Mrs Gee was a strong advocate for keeping rate rises under control and fair representation for farmers.

“Like many people throughout the region, I had great respect for Betty and the way she served her community,” Mrs Thornton said.

“She was a wonderful woman, very capable and applied a practical approach to everything she worked on.

“Betty is one of those people that are the backbone of their community, always modest and never afraid of hard work.”

The former shire presidents spoke to The Standard in 2010 about their trailblazing efforts, with Mrs Gee recounting her meeting with Prince Charles and Princess Diana when the royal couple visited Portland in 1985.

The Prince and Princess of Wales were in the south-west to officially declare Portland as a city. “We were given these sheets of paper with all this royal protocol, what to say, when to say it, and I gave the sheets to my husband the night before we had to meet the royal couple and he was a little perplexed by it all,” Mrs Gee told in her 2010 interview.

“I remember meeting Princess Diana and recall how strikingly, painfully beautiful she was. That was probably my best memory as shire president.”

Mrs Gee was first elected to Portland shire at municipal elections in 1981 and stood unsuccessfully as the National Party candidate in the 1984 general election against Liberal MP David Hawker.

She also served as a board member with Heywood Rural Health and the South West Alliance of Rural Health.

Regarding her role as one of the south-west’s first female mayors, Mrs Gee said she was not “an activist-feminist” but was happy to have played a role in increasing female representation in the region.

Born Elizabeth Valmai Jones in 1936, Betty Gee is survived by her children Roger, Gaynor, Darren and Malcolm, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Her husband Leslie died several years ago.

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