In memory: A tribute to Judith Devine Walker OAM

1935 - 2014

As a dietitian working in Queensland since 1980, the name of Judith (Judy) Walker has been synonymous with leadership in the area of community and public health nutrition.

The journey of Judy’s life work was told at this year’s annual national Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) conference in Brisbane, by well-known community and public health nutritionist, Christina (Tina) Stubbs. While we knew some aspects of Judy’s life work – Tina brought to our attention many highlights of Judy’s journey that enabled us to fully appreciate the depth of her experience, her strong qualities of leadership and ability to collaborate partnerships successfully. All of which have combined to leave a significant positive impact on community and public health nutrition in Australia.

Tina has kindly agreed to key points from her presentation being included in this tribute – thank you.

Throughout Judy’s life, food and cooking were central to her family life. From childhood, when her mother and aunties ran a café on Mount Cootha in Brisbane, and Judy also spent much time on her aunt and uncle’s farm - Judy learnt a great deal about producing and preparing food from the paddock to the plate. Other significant learnings in her early life were to do with financial management of her family’s newsagency business. All of this knowledge built a basis for Judy’s life work.

Judy was the first person in her family to go to university, where she completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Queensland, and then went on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Dietetics at the Royal Newcastle Hospital in 1957.

It was early in Judy’s career that she decided to pursue a path in public health nutrition and preventive health, which she saw could have a very significant positive impact on the health of the community. Her career in this area followed 3 phases.

Initially in the 1960-70s, Judy took up the role of nutritionist at the South Pacific Health Service in Fiji and this work included research into heart health in the Cook Islands, for the University of Dunedin.

Moving then into the ‘second’ phase of her career, 1979 – 1986, Judy took on her new role as dietitian at the National Heart Foundation (NHF) – Queensland Branch. This involved Judy taking on many activities including a cardiac risk clinic and heart health nutrition education.

Judy also began writing books. Incorporating her love of food, cooking and her passion for delivering healthy eating messages, Judy collaborated with home economist, Barbara Harman, to write a number of NHF publications including: “The Guide to Healthy Eating – volumes 1 & 2”, “Cooking for Few”, “Cooking for Plenty” and “Healthy Eating for your Heart” – publications that are still familiar to many dietitians and nutritionists today.

For Nutrition Australia, the most significant phase was the third phase of Judy’s career, from the late 1980s through to the late 1990s. At this time, Judy took up work with the Australian Nutrition Foundation (ANF), now known as Nutrition Australia. As a good friend of Jo Rogers, the founder of the organisation, Judy agreed to help establish a Division in Queensland in the late 1980s. She then proceeded to lead the Queensland Division into becoming an incorporated association in 1994. Judy took up the role of Executive Officer for the Queensland Division, and then later, in view of her success and leadership in establishing the Queensland Division as a financially sustainable body, was asked by Professor Mark Wahlqvist to take up the role of National Executive Officer. Judy was made an honorary life member of Nutrition Australia, in recognition of her enormous contribution to the organisation.

Judy’s ANF colleagues remember her strong abilities and qualities of leadership, advocacy and collaboration. She established partnerships with industry and academia, and her financial management skills came into play, with her using these strategically, to ensure financial sustainability for the Queensland Division. She achieved this by securing funding through grants and partnerships, and establishing nutrition advisory services for aged care; early childhood, and school tuckshops. Judy pioneered professional development in nutrition for early childhood educators in Queensland. The collaboration with universities saw the commencement of a long and ongoing history of student placements and volunteer opportunities for students studying nutrition and dietetics.

It was Judy’s strategic planning and financial management that saw the Queensland Division forge ahead of other state divisions – and it set the basis for sustainability that continues today.

While at Nutrition Australia, Judy continued her writing, including the publication “Food Secrets” and she took on the role of editor for the national newsletter, Pabulum.

After retiring in the early 2000s, Judy pursued her interest in agriculture – giving guest lectures on the nutritional importance of fresh produce at the request of Minister for Agriculture; maintaining her edible garden at home; and as an active member of the Slow Food Movement.

In 1996, Judy was awarded the Order of Australia Medal, for her services to community health through nutrition education.

It is the partnerships and funding streams that Judy helped establish for Nutrition Australia both in Queensland and nationally, that have enabled Nutrition Australia to continue to be recognised as a peak body for community nutrition education in Australia today.

.  . . and yet with all of these achievements, at the 2014 DAA conference, Judy was heard to ask the question, “I don’t know why they are making all this fuss over me.”

Nutrition Australia owes much to the very special and enduring contribution of Judy Walker.

Aloysa Hourigan
Nutrition Program Manager
The Australian Nutrition Foundation (QLD DIV) Inc.

With acknowledgement and special thanks to Christina Stubbs and Helen Vidgen, for their inspiring thoughts about the life of Judy Walker.

 

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