Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Buxton, Dame Rita Mary (1896–1982)

by Peter Sherlock

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Dame Rita Mary Buxton (1896-1982), community worker, was born on 21 November 1896 at South Yarra, Melbourne, only child of Charles James Neunhoeffer (Neunhoffer), civil servant and later company director, and his wife Emma Alice, née O’Connor, both natives of Bendigo. Rita was educated at Sacré Coeur convent school, Glen Iris, and grew up in a privileged world that she never left, involving regular visits to Europe and North America and summers on the family’s property at Mount Martha. Her father was a proprietor of Canada Cycle & Motor Co. (Victoria) Pty Ltd, motorcar importers; Rita later claimed that he gave her a 6-horse-power De Dion and allowed her to drive it at age 12. Other early adventures included becoming one of the first women to fly in an aeroplane over Melbourne.

On 22 November 1922 at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Malvern, she married Leonard Raymond Buxton (1896-1977). An uncle of Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Leonard had worked for his family’s real-estate agency but, on marrying, he chose to enter his father-in-law’s business. He and Rita lived with the Neunhoffers in a mansion, Toronto, at 48 Hampden Road, Armadale. Leonard later became governing director of the company.

In 1927 Rita Buxton joined the Toorak auxiliary of St Vincent’s Hospital, Fitzroy, an institution that was to provide her with a philanthropic outlet for her considerable energies and resources. By 1936 she was president of the central executive of the hospital’s auxiliaries. She organised voluntary help for St Vincent’s in World War II, and herself worked in the laundry. In 1947 she became the first woman (apart from the mother rectress) on the hospital’s advisory council, and in 1958 she was a founding member of the council of St Vincent’s School of Medical Research. As well as fund-raising, she donated large sums of money for studentships and research fellowships. She was often seen arriving at the hospital at 8 a.m.

For her service to St Vincent’s, Buxton was appointed OBE in 1944, CBE in 1955 and DBE in 1969. Dame Rita was also a council member of the Victorian division of the Australian Red Cross Society for over twenty years. She was well known in Melbourne society, not least as an avid bridge player, golfer and racehorse owner. One of her horses, High Syce, won the Caulfield Cup in 1929 and another, St Razzle, was runner-up in 1949. The Victoria Golf Club instituted a cup in her name, awarded to the winner of an annual match-play tournament, in recognition of her contribution to the club as president (1937-49) of the associates. She was also a member of the Alexandra Club.

Following the death of her husband, Buxton retired from the bulk of her hospital work, although she remained a life councillor of St Vincent’s and nominal president of the auxiliaries. Survived by her three daughters, she died on 22 August 1982 at the hospital and was buried in Mornington cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at $2,062,321. By the time of her death the importance to hospitals of voluntary fund-raisers and workers had declined dramatically.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Egan, Ways of a Hospital (1993)
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Nov 1934, p 13, 14 June 1969, p 15
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 June 1969, p 2
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 1 Oct 1982, p 11
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 9 Sept 1982, p 4.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Sherlock, 'Buxton, Dame Rita Mary (1896–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buxton-dame-rita-mary-12276/text22039, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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