Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Toogood, Louisa (1903–1993)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published online in 2017

Louisa Toogood (1903–1993), charity worker, was born on 23 March 1903 in London and named Gladys Freda, daughter of Dora Taylor, actress. Of her early life, she revealed only that she had been sent to convent and boarding schools. She joined the Community of the Sacred Passion, an Anglican order of nuns, at age nineteen or twenty and worked in London and the Tanganyika Territory (Tanzania). When she made her life profession on 11 August 1930, she used the surname of Toogood. By a deed poll in 1942 she renounced the surname of Taylor. Later she adopted Louisa as her given name, although she continued also to be known as Gladys Freda.

In October 1935 Toogood left her religious community. By her own account, she then carried out church work and acted as lady warden of Elfinsward Conference and Retreat House, Haywards Heath, in the Diocese of Chichester; and in World War II served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service as a petty officer responsible for interviewing naval recruits and giving them psychological tests. Between 1944 and 1946 she superintended the catering department of the Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood. She was reported to have owned a leather goods business before migrating to Australia in 1954. Having toured the country for two years, she settled in Brisbane, where she practised a form of counselling she called mental therapy. She worshipped at St John’s Anglican Cathedral.

Believing that Jesus had called her to help Brisbane’s homeless people, in October 1970 Toogood began driving her 1954 Morris Minor around city streets early each morning, offering coffee and snacks to needy men and women who had slept rough. Volunteers from the cathedral congregation and, later, other parishes and denominations joined her. Businesses and individuals donated money and food. Before dawn every day, at her Gregory Terrace flat, helpers prepared coffee and sandwiches, which she and an assistant distributed at regular stopping points; she dispensed coffee from a makeshift shelf attached to the door of the car and the assistant handed out food.

Toogood was a formidable organiser and manager of the charity that she named the St John’s Cathedral (Ecumenical, from 1972) Coffee Brigade. She recruited a workforce of some 150 volunteers, ten rostered daily; procured a van to replace the ageing Morris; and found more suitable premises—ultimately, a dedicated building at Spring Hill. As she broadened her support among the Catholic and other Protestant denominations, she removed the words St John’s Cathedral from the title of the organisation which became the Ecumenical Coffee Brigade (for some years, Ecumenical Coffee Brigade—Sober Outreach). In 1977, to qualify for government funding, she reluctantly ceded control to an interfaith committee and assumed the role of life president of the flourishing organisation she had created.

Becoming close to the afflicted people she served, Toogood transported them to hospital when they were ill or injured, encouraged the alcoholics among them to stop drinking, visited them in gaol, rejoiced when they were rehabilitated, and grieved when they died. They loved her and called her ‘Mum.’ She recalled incidents on her rounds that she thought edifying or humorous and related them in her account of her work, Ecumenical Coffee Brigade (1988).

Toogood was short and somewhat stout. She had a good singing voice. A long-time helper and friend found her ‘dogmatic, dictatorial and quite infuriating at times’ but also ‘compassionate, challenging, discerning and a good judge of human nature’(Hamlyn-Harris 1989, 1, 9). In 1974 she was appointed MBE and more honours followed, including the medal of merit of Lions Clubs International (1979) and a Paul Harris fellowship of Rotary International (1984). She never married and in old age moved to the Sinnamon Retirement Village, Jindalee, and later to the Bethesda Caring Centre, Corinda, where she died on 24 January 1993. Following a requiem Mass at the Anglican Catholic Church of the Resurrection, Nundah, she was buried in St Matthew’s Anglican Church cemetery, Grovely.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Hamlyn-Harris, Muriel. ‘An Unforgettable Character—Louisa Toogood.’ Scribblers Papers 1911–2004. State Library of Queensland, 1989
  • National Archives of Australia. J25, 78/4143
  • Toogood, Louisa. Ecumenical Coffee Brigade. Bowen Hills, Qld: Boolarong Publications, 1988

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Toogood, Louisa (1903–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/toogood-louisa-17837/text29425, published online 2017, accessed online 30 April 2017.

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