Vale Isobel (Pixie) Annat MBE OAM

Vale Isobel Pixie Annat MBE OAM

Pixie Annat made an impression in so many ways during the 92 years of her life.

Everyone who knew her will remember her warmth, her interest in people and her enthusiasm for life itself.

People who worked with her over her remarkable career as a nursing and hospital leader recall her determination to bring change and improve conditions for nurses, and therefore to advance patient care in Australia.

Her family and friends will miss a loyal, kind and strong woman whose life was dedicated to caring for others. They will remember her devotion to her family and special love for her twin sister, Ellie Murr, who passed away in June 2020.

What I personally admired about Pixie was how she used her intellect and resolve to make things better for other people, not to enrich herself or make her life more comfortable.

She believed that a full life was about serving other people. And service was the golden thread in the fabric of Pixie’s life. She weaved her gift for service into her many roles which included CEO of St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane for 14 years, Australian nursing leader, and a brilliant campaigner for charities, including advocating for homeless women and the elderly.

Pixie was a great raconteur, and she had the wit and sharp memory you need to carry off good storytelling. She could regale you for hours with her stories, and so was a wonderful subject for a biography. Every story she told you had a point, some were very funny, others demonstrated the bravery and tenacity of people she admired.

She told me many stories of a tough life growing up on a pineapple farm in Palmwoods, on the Sunshine Coast during the Depression and World War II, how she had travelled and camped around England in an old London taxi with twin Ellie after the War, and how she mounted (and finally won) multiple battles with politicians and hospital bosses to promote the nursing profession.

During a working life where women, and particularly nurses, were undervalued and poorly paid, she stared down many an adversary who underestimated her resolve.

She trained as a nurse at the Royal Brisbane Hospital in Brisbane in the 1950s, and as a leader of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation she devoted herself to a decades-long campaign to improve training and pay for nurses. She helped bring about reform to nurse training, where education moved from hospitals to tertiary institutions, and with her colleagues fought long and hard for better working conditions for nurses.

She was proud of her work with the Centaur Memorial Fund for Nurses which provided scholarships for postgraduate study in the early days of university nursing education. Nursing leaders who benefited from these scholarships included women who later led nursing schools at several Australian universities.

Pixie received a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1977 and a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1992 for her services to nursing. In 2021 she was presented with a Queensland Great Award by the Queensland Government.

Under her leadership, St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital launched one of the first neurosurgery units in the country, the first nuclear medicine department at a private hospital, established a cardiac unit and became the first private hospital in Queensland to provide open heart surgery.

After her retirement as CEO of St Andrew’s in 1992, Pixie continued to make a huge impact on many people, immersing herself in voluntary boards, including St Luke’s Nursing Service – which later became Anglicare.

Her other voluntary endeavours included serving on the board of the Lady Musgrave Trust to provide accommodation for homeless women. She was a volunteer for many years at the Royal Brisbane Hospital Museum of Nursing History and at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital. She served well into her late 80s as a volunteer, and it was only when the COVID-19 pandemic began that she had to completely give up travelling to these hospitals for her volunteer work.

Pixie also had a strong interest in history and military service – her grandfather died in the Boer War defending a British garrison, her father and uncles served at Gallipoli and on the Western front, and her brother was a wireless gunner in the Royal Australian Air Force who survived being shot down in Belgium during World War II.

She herself served in the Citizens Military Forces for almost a decade in the 1950s and 1960s, progressing to the rank of major. She visited Gallipoli all alone with a Turkish guide and travelled to South Africa for the unveiling of a memorial in honour of her grandfather, 101 years after his death. She became a great friend to South Africans who “had fought for the other side” – and that big-heartedness was typical of Pixie.

People will also tell you that Pixie was no living saint – none of us want to be remembered for being perfect. She had a strong personality and stood her ground, and nurses who trained with her remember she always made it clear if she thought patient care was being compromised. But she was well loved and respected.

Pixie worshipped for most of her adult life at the St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Lutwyche, Brisbane and served as a member of Synod and the Parish council for many years. In the last few years of her life, she attended the St Matthias Anglican Church in Zillmere near to her retirement home in Taigum.

During research for my biography on Pixie nearly a decade ago, I interviewed many of her friends and colleagues. The long-serving rector at the St Andrew’s Church at the time was Reverend Sandra Kjellgren and this is what she told me about Pixie:

“She is a woman of capacity, intelligence and amazing leadership ability, yet she is so humble. She will come to the church and give two hours administrative help in the office or help with anything that needs doing.

“That is the spirituality of Pixie. She has been the most brilliant Parish councillor who doesn’t know the word ‘defeat’. Even if something looks insurmountable, Pixie’s attitude is ‘give it a go’.

“I lost my parents and other close family members within a three-year period…I was struggling to grieve and do anything.

“And Pixie personally gave me the most amazing support by sharing how she dealt with the demise of her parents. I am a priest, and she ministered to me in a way I would minister to others. It came out of her deep spirituality and her nursing background. You can’t know Pixie and not love her, I don’t think.”

Rest in Peace, Pixie.

Pixie is survived by her nieces, Lee and Vicki Annat, nephews, Neale Annat and Peter Murr, and by her great nieces, Christine and Jessica Murr.

Obituary by Colleen Ryan Clur, author of Pixie Annat, Champion of Nurses, UQ Press, 2015. Photo by Ray Cash.