Marie Catherine Downes
Date and Place of Birth: 17 September 1923, Hastings
Parents: Hugh Edward Crosse and Delmira Bokenham
Married: Harold Edward Parkhurst Downes, 1948
Children: Peter Edward (1953), Alan George (1954), Celia Jane (1959)
Education: MA (Hons) 1945; BA Otago 1944
I spent my childhood on the family farm at Patoka, Hawke’s Bay. My primary education was by correspondence school from England (based on Rudolph Steiner philosophy) followed by secondary education at the Wellington Diocesan School for Girls at Nga Tawa, Marton, from which I matriculated at age ﬁfteen. I had hoped to enter Oxford but the war diverted me to Otago. After graduation I worked as an archivist in the RNZAF historical records section in Wellington, spending my spare time at Unity Theatre, where I met my husband.
We went to England in 1949. Harry joined the National Institute of Industrial Psychology and I worked for a Russian theatrical dressmaker. Early in 1952 we returned to New Zealand to take over 500 acres of my family farm and there I lived until 2003, raising a family. I joined the local Countrywomen’s Institute, the HB Branch of NZFUW based in Napier, the Napier Repertory Players and later the Embroiders’ Guild. Over the years Harry became increasingly involved in local politics and sat on various national bodies. In 1978 he died and our son Alan took over the farm.
I was then free to justify my education by taking an active part in the administration of various organizations. I had held ofﬁce in CWI at local levels and in 1978 was elected to the national executive and later became vice-president. Chairing a committee to overhaul our constitution I had a long conversation with our legal advisor, who later asked our secretary whether I’d had legal training. Who said an Arts degree has no use? I represented CWI at three conferences of the Associated Countrywomen of the World, on national councils of NZ Young Farmers and NZ Theatre Federation, on Agricultural Training Council sub-committee and a rural women’s educational committee. I served on regional and local committees of several of those organizations, often as president, because I believe that one should make whatever contribution one can to the groups to which one belongs.
I joined the FUW in the 1950’s, quite soon after the Hawkes Bay Branch was formed, I believe. Distance and other commitments limited my involvement for some years, but eventually I was ﬂee to attend every meeting, and a couple of conferences as an observer before being elected president in 2000. That made me a member of the National Council, took me to Conference 2000 and 2003 and mid term Council Meeting 2002. I was involved in the name change to Federation of Graduate Women, the development of a national policy and a system for preserving our archives. I retired from the chair in 2003.
As a member of the Patoka Countrywomen’s Institute I directed many one act plays for national competitions, helped to run concerts at Patoka, before television stifled local enterprise, and drama festivals in Hawke’s Bay. For some years I sat on the