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Fletcher, Owen Maynard (1908–1992)

by Helen Gregory

This article was published:

Owen Maynard Fletcher (1908–1992), solicitor and philanthropist, was born on 27 December 1908 at Hawthorne, Brisbane, fifth of six children of New Zealand-born Sidney Day Fletcher, solicitor, and his Queensland-born wife Lucy Jane, née Merry. Sidney Fletcher was a founder of the Brisbane legal firm Morris and Fletcher (later Morris Fletcher & Cross, and then Minter Ellison). Owen was educated at the New Farm State School and Brisbane Boys’ College (1922–25). Articled to his father, he was admitted as a solicitor in 1932. On Sidney’s retirement in 1933 he became a partner of Morris Fletcher & Cross.

From an early age Fletcher participated in church and community activities. He was superintendent of the Morningside Methodist Sunday School, and vice president (1933) of the Brisbane and Metropolitan Sunday School Superintendents’ Association. On 30 October 1935 at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married Elizabeth Wilson Galloway Robertson (1909–1990). The eldest child of Hubert John Robertson, Presbyterian minister, and his wife Elizabeth Wilson, née Galloway, Betty was born on 28 November 1909 at Ayrshire, Scotland. She migrated to Australia with her parents in 1913. She was educated at Somerville House school for girls, Brisbane, and the University of Queensland (BA Hons, 1931). She taught classics at Somerville House until her marriage. The couple purchased land and built a house at Indooroopilly.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 9 November 1942, Fletcher was commissioned in January 1943 and appointed to the Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He spent most of his service with No. 3 Wireless Unit, RAAF Station, Coomalie, Northern Territory, which intercepted Japanese radio messages. On 9 January 1946 he was demobilised as an acting flight lieutenant.

After World War II Fletcher practised primarily in conveyancing and probate law. He regarded a case which went as far as the Privy Council as the high point of his legal career. In another case, Dorothy Beale, a missionary and reluctant beneficiary of the estate of her brother, Sir Howard Beale, agreed to Fletcher’s suggestion that the inheritance could construct student accommodation at the University of Papua New Guinea. He maintained a connection with the fledgling university, donating his law library when he retired in 1968. An official solicitor for the Methodist Church and a member of the Methodist Conference, he acted as honorary solicitor for the Queensland Spastic Welfare League. During the late 1960s and early 1970s he served on the board of directors of the One People of Australia League. A fellow OPAL board member, Senator Neville Bonner, found him to be a ‘compassionate mentor; guide and friend, and legal advisor’ (Fletcher 1991, 143). Fletcher was also a director of several companies, including Besley & Pike Pty Ltd, Brittain Brickworks Pty Ltd, and Forrers Pty Ltd.

A lover of music, Fletcher received many years instruction in singing and pianoforte, and later played the organ. He served as choir master for the Indooroopilly Methodist congregation (1936–41). In 1946 he and Betty were among the original subscribers to a series of orchestral concerts initiated by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. They joined the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s subscribers’ committee in 1950. Fletcher was president (1958) of the Brisbane Handel Society, and a life member (1984) of the Organ Society of Queensland. He was also involved with the Queensland Opera Company and the (Royal) Queensland Theatre Company.

Fletcher was deputy chairperson (1971–79) and chairperson (1979–83) of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music advisory council. With the visual arts board of the Australia Council for the Arts, in 1975 he and Betty funded a mural by the Brisbane artist Roy Churcher which extended for three stories on the front façade of the conservatorium building, then located on the Queensland University of Technology campus. In 1980 he donated $25,000 to establish the Owen Fletcher Master Teacher Project, which brought distinguished teachers and performers to the conservatorium. He obtained grants from the Board of Advanced Education and the Utah Foundation for a pipe organ for the conservatorium in 1981, subsequently named the Owen Fletcher Pipe Organ. He was appointed an honorary fellow of the conservatorium in 1983 and in 1992 was posthumously awarded an honorary doctorate by Griffith University (which had amalgamated with the conservatorium the previous year).

Betty Fletcher became an inaugural member of the University of Queensland’s Alumni Association in 1968; she and Owen were both granted honorary life membership in 1988 (even though Owen was not a graduate). Together they worked for the expansion of Grace College during the 1970s, and the Fletcher Wing was named in their honour. In 1980 Fletcher established the Owen Fletcher Research Fund for the purpose of expanding and promoting research studies in law. Betty was elected first patron (1988) of the Friends of Antiquity, a group within the Alumni Association. She was also a benefactor of the Museum of Antiquity located within the department of classics and ancient history.  

In retirement Owen and Betty Fletcher travelled extensively, visiting countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America. Following Betty’s death on 29 August 1990, the Friends of Antiquity established the Betty Fletcher memorial travelling scholarship for classics graduates.

More than six feet (183 cm) tall with an upright bearing, shrewd gaze, and friendly manner, Fletcher was noted for his wisdom, generosity, and ‘true brotherly love’ (Fletcher 1991, 143). Survived by a daughter, he died on 20 August 1992 at Auchenflower, Brisbane, and was cremated. He is commemorated by the Owen Fletcher postgraduate prize awarded by the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Brisbane Courier. ‘Personal.’ 4 May 1932, 10
  • Bonner, Neville. Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘The Woman’s World.’ 31 October 1935, 21
  • Fletcher, Owen. Fifty Five Years of Our Life Together, 19351990. Normanby, Qld: Boolarong Publications, 1991
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Fletcher O M.

Citation details

Helen Gregory, 'Fletcher, Owen Maynard (1908–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fletcher-owen-maynard-16707/text28603, published online 2016, accessed online 18 October 2021.

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

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