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Marion Louise Disney (1915–1995)

by Joy Noble

This article was published:

Marion Louise Disney (1916–1995), community worker, was born on 27 October 1915 in Kingston, Jamaica, eldest of three children of Horace Alexander Lake, a Jamaican-born lawyer, and his American wife Adelaide, née Requa. Following schooling in Jamaica, Marion went to Oxford (BA, 1938), where she joined the Society of Oxford Home Students (later St Anne’s College) and studied philosophy, politics, and economics. After a brief time back in Jamaica as a journalist she returned to England. On 6 May 1939 at the register office, Watford, Hertford, she married Patrick Canning Wemyss Disney, a schoolteacher and fellow Oxford graduate. They took their vows again with Anglican rites on 17 September at St John’s Church, Heronsgate.

During World War II Patrick served in the Reserve of Air Force Officers. He performed administrative duties at RAF stations and headquarters in England, North Africa, Malta, and Italy. Rising to the rank of acting wing commander, he was mentioned in despatches four times and appointed OBE (1945). Marion was a personal assistant to a director in the Air Ministry, before the birth of the first of her four children in 1941. The Disneys moved to Australia in 1952 following Patrick’s appointment as headmaster of Scotch College, Adelaide. Marion became known for her friendliness and support of the students, especially those who were boarders.

After her husband died suddenly in 1961, Disney, with teenage children to support, found employment as the first full-time director (1962–80) of Adelaide’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), which had been established on a trial basis in 1958. Based on British models and the first of its kind in Australia, the bureau provided free advice on legal, financial, health, housing, and family concerns. By 1969 it was handling three thousand enquiries per year. In 1972 Disney helped establish a national peak body, the Australian Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, of which she was later president (1975–77).

Disney developed a Directory of Social Resources, a vital community resource, later taken over by the State government. In the late 1970s she helped establish an information centre in Port Adelaide and assisted the South Australian Women’s Information Switchboard; in both cases she emphasised the importance of culturally appropriate services. She was an executive committee member (1963–78) and life member of the South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS) and helped found its very successful charity card shop. For over twenty years from 1965 she served on the council (later the executive committee) of the South Australian Association for Mental Health, of which her husband had earlier been a member. After retiring from the CAB, she worked part time coordinating the Association for Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill.

Appointed MBE in 1980 for service to the community, Disney was also a recipient of the Queen’s silver jubilee medal (1977), the Adelaide Rotary service award (1978), and the SACOSS community services award (1982). She served on the Committee of Enquiry into Dental Services in South Australia (1980) and subsequently on the Dental Board. In retirement she was a Red Cross volunteer and in 1994 she was appointed to the State advisory committee for the International Year of the Family.

According to Barbara Garrett, a long-term president of SACOSS, Disney ‘achieved an enormous amount without fuss, inspiring all those with whom she worked’ (Noble 1995, 12). She had a warm and gracious personality and was capable and well organised, successfully managing her busy life as a sole parent with a career. Survived by her three sons and daughter, she died on 26 July 1995 at Toorak Gardens, Adelaide, and was cremated. Hands On SA, an organisation providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, established an annual award in her name. Two of her sons became Rhodes Scholars.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Disney, Hugh. Disneys of Stabannon: A Review of an Anglo-Irish Family from the Time of Cromwell. Basingstoke: Hugh Disney, 1995
  • Noble, Joy. ‘Innovator of Public Advocacy.’ Australian (Sydney), 9 August 1995, 12
  • Page, Michael F. The SACOSS Story. Adelaide: South Australian Council of Social Service, 2002

Citation details

Joy Noble, 'Disney, Marion Louise (1915–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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