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Grace Margaret (Gretta) Lewis (1892–1968)

by Roger André

This article was published:

Grace Margaret (Gretta) Lewis (1892-1968), community worker, was born on 2 February 1892 at Hamilton, Victoria, third child of Victorian-born parents Thomas Halliburton Laidlaw, a stock and station agent who became a pastoralist, and his wife Margaret, née Thomson. Gretta was educated at Alexandra College, Hamilton (1905-07), and Toorak College, Melbourne (1908-10); as a young woman she loved sport, especially riding, motoring, shooting and rowing. At Scots Church, Melbourne, on 12 April 1921 she married with Presbyterian forms Lancelot Ashley Lewis (d.1938), a company director; he was a son of John Lewis and had served (1914-17) in the Australian Imperial Force. In 1924 the couple moved from Adelaide's fashionable East Terrace to Benacre, the Lewis family's Italianate mansion at Glen Osmond.

Handsome rather than pretty, and always smartly tailored, Mrs Lewis possessed prodigious energy and a flair for organization. It was said of her that she rarely refused an office. She was vice-president (1932-33) and a council-member (until 1944) of the District and Bush Nursing Society. An ardent flower-lover who won the Lady Hore-Ruthven cup in 1932, 1935 and 1937, she was principal planner of the 1936 Floral Pageant: it was a spectacular component of South Australia's centenary celebrations and the precursor to Adelaide's annual National Flower Day, inaugurated (1938) at her suggestion.

In November 1939 Premier (Sir) Thomas Playford appointed Mrs Lewis to chair the executive-committee of the Women's Defence Services in South Australia, which had responsibility for the Women's Voluntary National Register. Her most constructive war effort, however, was in administering the Girl Guides' Thrift Campaign which raised some £72,000 between 1939 and 1946 to support a range of projects. A vice-president (1925-52) and life member (1942) of the Girl Guides' Association of South Australia, she was appointed O.B.E. in 1942.

After World War II had ended, Mrs Lewis addressed herself to the world problem of tuberculosis control. Vice-president (from 1943) of the South Australian Tuberculosis Association, she visited North America in 1947 to investigate methods for the rehabilitation of patients. She represented the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in Australia at conferences held at Boston, Massachusetts, and in London (1952), in Istanbul (1959), and again in Britain and the United States of America (1963). In 1956 the South Australian branch of the National Safety Council of Australia awarded her a certificate of merit for designing an improved reflector for bicycles, but her efforts to patent the device proved unsuccessful. Late in life she took up painting and exhibited (1963) at the City of Hamilton Art Gallery, Victoria. In 1966 she made a final tour of the U.S.A. to lecture on gardening with native flora. After returning, she worked on the preservation of Charles Sturt's house at Grange. Survived by her daughter and two sons, she died on 23 May 1968 at Benacre and was cremated; her estate was sworn for probate at $93,753. Gretta's elder son Thomas Lancelot was premier (1974-76) of New South Wales; her younger son Alexander Ashley was a member (1972-89) of the Western Australian parliament.

Select Bibliography

  • Annual Record of Patent Office Proceedings, Canb, 1956, 1958
  • Adventuring, 30, no 10, July 1968, p 2
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 June 1939, 3 Oct 1947, 3 May 1955, 24 Mar, 7 Sept 1966, 25 May 1968
  • governor's despatches to the Secretary of State, 25 Feb 1942 (Government House, Adelaide)
  • Lewis papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Roger André, 'Lewis, Grace Margaret (Gretta) (1892–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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