Honorary Doctor of Letters
Citation delivered by Mr John Steele, Executive Dean of the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Ita Clare Buttrose as a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) on 24 July 2015.
Vice-Chancellor, I present Ita Buttrose.
American writer Pearl Buck once wrote that ‘our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.’ Here, she echoed the well-known sentiment that a society should be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. Through her dedicated public service, patronage and advocacy, Ita Buttrose has shone a spotlight on the welfare of some of our most vulnerable citizens and worked hard to remind us all that they need, and indeed deserve, a higher standard of care from their community.
Born in Sydney, Ita was educated at Dover Heights Home Science High School. On leaving school at 15 years old, she served as a cadet journalist at Australian Consolidated Press, starting as a copy girl for the Australian Women’s Weekly. She rose to prominence as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph in the 1950s, followed by time in the United Kingdom working as a journalist for Woman’s Own magazine. Returning to Australia in 1966 to resume her position as women’s editor of the Daily Telegraph, Ita was later to become the foundation editor for Cleo magazine, which launched in 1972.
Cleo broke new ground in the magazine industry; featuring male centrefolds and frank discussion of sexuality, and became a great success. Ita was rewarded with editorship of both Cleo and the Australian Women’s Weekly. In 1979, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to journalism.
In 1981, Ita left Australian Consolidated Press to work for News Limited as editor of the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, making her the first female editor of a major metropolitan newspaper in Australia. In the 1990s, Ita started her own company which published the magazine Ita, and later Bark! She has authored 11 books over the course of her career, covering topics such as social etiquette, parenting, and femininity in the workplace.
Ita was the first woman Director on the Boards of News Limited and the Australian Consolidated Press and has since held many other directorships. A founding member and former President of Chief Executive Women, an organisation that has empowered and equipped women leaders for the past 30 years, Ita’s breadth of leadership experience is phenomenal. She was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2003 for her services ‘to society in business leadership’ and was lauded by a former Australian Governor General for her path breaking career which continually broke down barriers for women.
Notwithstanding her pioneering literary, business and media career, what draws the University of Wollongong to Ita has been her significant contribution to AIDS/HIV, mental health and ageing in Australia, and her advocacy for the respectful treatment of our seniors.
Ita was the chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAIDS) from 1984 until 1988, and appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1988 for her ‘service to the community, particularly in the fields of medical education and health care’.
Ita has served as a Patron of World Vision Australia, the University of Third Age, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation of Australia and Amarant, the National Menopause Foundation, among her many other public service and charitable activities. She chaired the National Breast Cancer Centre’s Advisory Network from 2003-2006 and served as a Director of the Prostate Cancer Foundation from 2002-2003. Ita is the current National Ambassador of Alzheimer’s Australia, having served as National President from 2011-2014, Patron of the Macular Disease Foundation, and Emeritus Director of Arthritis Australia.
In 2013, Ita was named Australian of the Year and continues to make a sustained and significant contribution to Australian society both in advancing gender equality and championing issues related to health and ageing. Her patronage of mental health issues has resonance for the University’s research in this area, as we seek to discover what is needed to ensure a rich and fulfilling quality of life in our later years and to change the way that the community regards ageing.
Vice-Chancellor, for her distinguished service to Australian society and for her commitment to advocating for the vulnerable in our communities, it is my privilege to present Ita Buttrose for a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.