Farewell to esteemed Whanganui nurse

October 1, 2021

Ailsa Crawford Stewart’s contribution to the Whanganui community was immense. The former hospital matron, staunch women’s advocate and community stalwart died in Whanganui Hospital in August, at age 77.

Stewart spent most of her career working in various roles at Wanganui Hospital (as it was then called), beginning her training there in 1961. She trained in Plunket nursing, midwifery and psychiatric nursing and was appointed matron of the hospital’s maternity annexe in 1977 and co-ordinator of the Te Awhina psychiatric and women’s unit in 1983.

She also spent a year as midwifery adviser for the Kingdom of Tonga.

However she described the year she spent in the Solomon Islands as principal of the Helena Goldie School of Nursing at Munda as the highlight of her career. She stayed in touch with many of her former pupils afterwards.

Stewart served several terms on the Whanganui District Health Board and was an educator and assessor for nurses and caregivers through Aged Care Education and Career Force programmes in a number of aged care facilities. Of this work, she said: “By teaching caregivers, I’m using my experience in helping them to give good care to older folk in our community.”

In 2006 she received the Queen’s Service Order (QSO) for services to the Whanganui community. She received the Women’s Sufffrage Medal in 1993 and was named one of the 100 Zonta Women of Achievement.

Stewart was a member of NZNA/NZNO from the time she began her training. While serving on the DHB, she said she often spoke out on behalf of the workforce, as she said some board members had little understanding of the pressures on clinicians.

She also served on the Whanganui District Council and was a supporter of numerous community groups.

Retiring from nursing after 55 years, she became a volunteer archivist for the 125-year history of the Whanganui DHB and its predecessors. She collated photos, maps, plans, reports, articles and memorabilia from the past, and much of these are now displayed in the hospital corridors.

‘She left a huge legacy and we are deeply saddened by her passing.’

Whanganui DHB CEO Russell Simpson paid tribute to Stewart, saying she “left a huge legacy and we are deeply saddened by her passing”.

He said it was a fitting tribute that Stewart, who died in the hospital’s critical care unit, was farewelled with a guard of honour when she left the hospital for the last time.

“The Whanganui North Rotary Club honoured her earlier this year for her amazing work in our community, not only for making a difference in the lives of New Zealand women – young and old – but for her huge community input and spirit.”

Simpson said she was a life member of the National Council of Women and a member of, or volunteer for, organisations such as Alzheimer’s, the Sarjeant Gallery and the Robbie Burns Society.

“We at the Whanganui DHB are incredibly proud of her and her achievements. We’re thankful for her friendship, guidance, mentorship and years of service to our community,” Simpson said.