Celebrating Elizabeth Gilchrist AM (Class of 1962) - Inspirational Old Girl

Elizabeth Gilchrist AM (Class of 1962) has shared with us her fond memories of time at school, memories of teachers and love of tennis as well as provided a fabulous account of her adventures following school and her degree in Pharmacy which took her all over the world and saw her fulfill the role of State Commissioner of Guides Qld, active involvement in both the Somerville House and Churchie communities, appointment to the State Youth Advisory Council, Chairman of the Queensland Youth Alliance, State Award Committee of Duke of Edinburgh Award, and recipient of the Centenary Medal Award and AM. Please read her very entertaining and inspiring account below. 

Elizabeth Gilchrist representing Somerville House for Tennis in 1962

After doing Scholarship (Grade 8) at Ironside State School I attended Somerville House from 1959 to 1962 and completed Senior in 1962 and received a Commonwealth Scholarship to do a Bachelor of Pharmacy Degree graduating in 1965. I nearly didn’t make it to Somerville as when my Mother went to check on my enrolment Miss Taylor couldn’t find a booking. I was asked where else I would like to go and was adamant that I only wanted to go to Somerville House. Somehow Mum managed to fix this.


While at Somerville I learnt many things including Determination, Organisational Skills, the value of hard work, Independence, and Stickability.


Those of you about my age will remember Ada Ball. At the beginning of year 11 she decided that I wasn’t going to be in the A tennis team. I was very disappointed. The only way to win a full pocket was for the B team to win the premiership. SO as Captain of the B I encouraged the 3 other members to practice endlessly. You guessed it We won and the next year I made it to the A team I also won the Overson Cup for doubles with Robyn Leask

Apart from my love of Mathematics life for me was all about tennis. I changed into my sports uniform as soon as I arrived at school and played tennis before school, at lunchtime and many afternoons.


For Junior I did the Science stream and as was the rule had to do History which I loved with Pam Davenport, The Arts stream had to do Physiology, I continued the Science stream for Senior doing Physics, Chemistry, Zoology, Maths I, and Maths II, and English.

My other love was Mathematics with Miss McCallum.


Year 11 was certainly a very eventful year. At the end of the year I met Peter on the beach at Mooloolaba. We went out all of year 12 including to all the Churchie Dances. At the end of the year he suggested that perhaps seeing we were both going to Uni we should go out with other people. Peter went off to do engineering where there weren’t many girls and I went off to do pharmacy where there were lots of boys and I was having a good time. After 6 months he decided that wasn’t a very good idea and so for the next 7 years our romance was on and off. He certainly showed a lot of Determination and we married in 1968.


At UQ I continued my tennis career representing UQ at 4 inter-varsity competitions and acting in various volunteer roles within the club including treasurer and did lots of washing up!!! I was presented with a UQ Service Award  - a bit like a quarter blue with the service added in.


After graduating in Pharmacy I was asked to do Honours in Pharmacy but decided I much preferred Community Pharmacy. I worked for 3 months in New Zealand and did various Country roles relief managing pharmacies around Queensland.


After Peter and I were married we moved to Sydney for a year while Peter did a Masters of Engineering Science and I managed a pharmacy at Rose Bay – the start of lots of travels in our lives.


In 1971, when I was 5 months pregnant we moved to Canada for Peter to do his MBA. Here our son Scott was born and I became involved with the Biz Wives Association This was a group of women who met regularly to support each other while the boys were off studying all hours of the day and night.  During the second year of Peter’s course I took on the role of President of the group. What an amazing group of women it was and we still maintain a number of friendships from those years.


Again at 5 months pregnant we enthusiastically moved back to Brisbane where we had Jennifer and then Carolyn and Wendy.

Like so many parents I volunteered to help at the kindy and then the school. How wonderful it was to work with those young children and to join them on excursions, camps, help with activities and reading. Here was a great opportunity to meet with a whole new group of friends and help with Art Shows, Fetes, Sports Days etc.


Then suddenly we were off again. Peter came home one day to say a company wanted him in Washington DC to reorganise a bankrupt American Coal company and they wanted him there in a week. He suggested we could be there in 2. So we rented the house, packed 2 suitcases and headed off to the US not knowing whether we would be there for 2 weeks or 2 years. We ended up staying nearly 3.


The move to the US meant we could continue our interest in travel and apart from lots of weekend trips I took the 4 children on a 21 day Trafalgar trip around Europe – visiting all the famous places we had learnt about in school.

At the end of our time in the US I drove the 4 children for 6 weeks around to states from East to West and North to South Peter stayed home in North Carolina to earn the money. Besides, we couldn’t fit him in the car or the motel room which had two double beds and a roll-away. What an adventure!!


The children all started in Scouts and Brownies in Washington DC and then when Peter moved the company to Raleigh in North Carolina, I endeavoured to get the girls into Girl Scouts there. I had been a Brownie and Guide in St Lucia as a child and felt it was great way to learn new skills and meet some new people.

Unfortunately, for Carolyn, there were 16 girls on a waiting list with no leader and SO my journey with Guiding was restarted.

I enthusiastically volunteered to be their leader and had an amazing time with the girls taking them camping, doing service, selling lots of Girl Scout Cookies to fund their camps and generally having a great time. The Unit was run out of the local school where I also volunteered to teach two grade 2 classes science twice a week Wow that was a challenge.


On returning to Brisbane, Scott went off to Churchie and Jennifer and Carolyn went to Somerville and Wendy to Toowong State School and then on to Somerville so the school and guiding volunteering got into full swing. As a matter of interest our granddaughter will be coming to Somerville House soon in year 5 – the 3rd generation.


At Churchie I was involved on the Mothers Committee eventually becoming Chairman and we all did many things including lots of catering, running tennis days and card days, Old Peoples Days, craft stalls where I made my first covered coathanger – you name it we did it with lots of fun along the way

I was also involved in all the sporting activities of the children doing the morning teas for Jennifer’s tennis team. I was the Support Groups Chairman at Somerville and very involved with Peter with the Spring Fair – more coat-hangers, chocolate cakes and hanging baskets.

The Somerville House Foundation had just started so I joined that and have been involved with it ever since doing 4 years at President.


In the early 1970s we bought some small rental properties here in Paddington Hard to believe we whinged when we had to pay $15000 instead of $11000. I managed the properties and still do all the renting accounting maintenance etc for the houses and the units we own at the coast. As well I have over the years had part time jobs as a locum in various pharmacies around Brisbane.


All the skills I had learnt doing these various things was brought to bear on the biggest challenge of my life. Early in 1996 I was elected State Commissioner of Guides Qld for a term of 5 years. This volunteer position turned into a full time 50-60 hours a week challenge.

During those 5 years I worked with many groups in Guiding to balance the budget, rewrite the constitution and policy and procedures, bring in new ways of works empowering the members to have more of a say and ensuring that the people were elected to positions rather than appointed. We had insurances and auditing audited and a Code of Conduct introduced as part of a new risk management strategy. We employed an outdoors manager for our major campsite.

I sat through endless meetings but also had some terrific times, abseiling down Kangaroo Point Cliffs and other places, Canoeing in the moonlight and attending many girl promise and award ceremonies and state and International camps here in Brisbane. I had various roles at these camps – for those of you who know me – the role of photographer was a breeze. The role of Dame Dunny of the Portaloos at one state camp was more of a challenge. Some of you may have seen the movie “Kenny” and will understand what I mean. I was in charge of portaloos for 700 girls and women. Luckily I had an 18year old tall and handsome Lord Loo to help me.

The campfires, camaraderie, friendship and fun I had were amazing.

As State Commissioner I travelled widely around the State. We would pack up the van with stock from the Guide shop, take it to a town where we would unpack and setup the shop for the afternoon, then do training at night, repack the van and move on to the next town. One year we visited every town that had Girl Guides introducing our Code of Conduct. Over the 5 year I saw an amazing revitalization of the country towns. We travelled north to Cairns and West to Mt.Isa, Longreach and Charleville and all between.


Meanwhile when I was home Thursdays were spent on the tennis court with my “Board of Management” – a wonderful, grounded and special group of girls – some of whom also attended Somerville House. Their kindness, support and knowledge over the years have been immeasurable Thank you girls.


After my term finished, I moved back to the grass roots of Guiding and became a leader at Sherwood. Along with a friend from primary school days who had previously been a leader we built the unit to 24 girls and had a ball. In Guiding we are all given a totem name decided on by the girls.

Would you believe that the girl whose name is Elizabeth and with whom I share my birthday had the same totem name “Killara” which means “always there”. To avoid confusion the girls called her K2 - the second highest peak!! We had overnight stays in the hut – even rigging the tents up inside, camped at Kindilan, cooked, sewed, did service, had discos, earnt badges and generally had fun.

I am now involved with two groups in Girl Guiding. Both raise money for the ongoing work of Girls Guides The Olave Baden Powell Society raises money for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) while Friends of the Asia Pacific Region raises money for Girl Guiding in Asia


With these groups I have travelled widely from England and Cyprus to Japan Malaysia USA and the Maldives. In fact it has been a large part of our journeys to 95 countries. Somehow amongst all this we have managed to fit in a lot of travel including a train journey from Moscow to Beijing, a trip from Moscow to St Petersburg and through Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and down the Norway coast and  across to Antarctica by boat from Ushuaia, a ship trip up the West Coast of Africa, and one down the Kamchatka Peninsular, up the Irrawaddy, Yangtse and from Calcutta to Varanasi


Also at this time I was appointed by the Minister to the State Youth Advisory Council – a group of 15 young people from around the state with 16 state government and community members who acted as mentors. For 4 years we met twice a year. This group was the voice of youth to the Premier on issues affecting the young people in the state – what a wonderful experience – especially watching these young people mature and grow. They were responsible for writing the Queensland Youth Charter – a document which is referenced across all Government Departments in Qld.


 I was Chairman of the Queensland Youth Alliance which is an alliance of State-wide Youth Development Organisations and includes Surf Lifesaving, PCYC, Guides Scouts, Girls and Boys Brigade, Red Cross, Emergency Service Cadets, Duke of Edinburgh and Defence Force Cadets.

QYA was formed to share information across the organisations and to represent to government over 100,000 young people across Qld.

I have been involved with the State Award Committee of Duke of Edinburgh Award for over 10 years and just recently have been reappointed by the Government for a further 2 years as Chair.


I could not have done all this without the support of Peter and the family along with friends How lucky I am to have had them there.

My volunteering has been recognised in amazing ways I have received 4 awards from Girl Guides  – the last The Bar to the Emu for “ongoing excellent service to Guiding” and was fortunate enough to carry the baton for the Commonwealth Games along Coronation Drive. I was awarded the Centenary Medal Award and received an AM in 2005 “for service to youth through the Guiding Movement and organisations that develop and promote the interests of young people”


I have now moved onto another phase of my life

Our 4 children have married and have given us 8 amazing grandchildren who bring joy to our lives and again opportunities to “help out” My volunteering these days involves checking out the grandchildren’s activities and “Babysitting” as needed I seem to catch planes to Sydney very regularly


My time at Somerville House taught me the value of friendship, education determination and gave me the skills to feel I could achieve anything I wanted


A finishing Quote

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Elizabeth Gilchrist (photo taken in 2018)


Remember to check out our other Inspirational Old Girls stories (Click here).  If you have an account you would like to share with us, please contact us at connect@somervillehouseoga.com.au

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