The AEU lost one of its most active and passionate members with the passing of Maggie Power on 17 June this year.
Long-standing AMES councillor and sub-branch president Maggie Power, who died in June, dedicated her life to improving the lives of others. In their tribute, her AMES colleagues described her as “an accomplished and principled professional” who was “sassy, funny, diligent and clever”.
“There are no words to describe my admiration for Maggie as a fellow unionist and as a friend,” says Elaine Gillespie, AEU vice president for TAFE and Adult Provision. “She constantly stood up for others who did not feel they were able to.”
One notable example was her advocacy on behalf of sessional teachers at AMES who were attending the workplace to conduct student interviews but were not paid if students did not show up. “Maggie was outraged,” says Elaine. “But in her quiet, pleasant manner, she organised these workers and met with management to ensure they were paid and given meaningful work if students did not turn up.”
“She represented her members with great passion and dedication, and she spoke about her students with love and warmth.”
The memory that stands out most for Elaine, however, was Maggie’s report to TAP council about her time working on Nauru: “What she had witnessed and the changes she was able to make for some of the refugees held there – and, in particular, one small child.
“I do not think there was a person in that room who was not in tears by the end. I know this experience had a major impact on Maggie and, even when she was really sick, she travelled, sometimes interstate, to follow up and support refugee families,” says Elaine.
“Maggie had a huge heart and would campaign for the underdog over and over again. She was patient, determined, and would continue to pursue an issue until it was resolved. She never needed to raise her voice. Her ability to gather facts and tell it as it was earned her great respect from managers and peers alike.”
AEU’s Meaghan Flack worked closely with Maggie after becoming an organiser for the AMES sector in late 2016. She remembers her as a woman with a “remarkable mix of traits”.
“Maggie really was one of life’s magnificent people,” says Meaghan. “She worked tirelessly for her students and colleagues, and she even volunteered to teach children on Nauru when she had the chance. She was kind and graceful and quietly spoken, but she was also a proud, passionate and bold unionist.
“She represented her members with great passion and dedication, and she spoke about her students with love and warmth. When I organised a trip to the CUB picket line, Maggie was the first to sign up to come along. It was a freezing cold morning, but Maggie was excited to be there supporting her comrades. She brought a bag of apples and she baked biscuits to give to the men on strike.”
When Meaghan left the AEU to take up a role at State Schools Relief, it was Maggie who organised a gift and read out thank-you messages she had gathered from fellow AMES members to the AEU branch council. “Her contribution to these statements was ‘Bless your union heart, Meaghan’. I’ll never forget that.”
“I admire her dedication, her unwavering support for those who needed help. Her voice was gentle and yet so powerful.”
Maggie’s colleague Daphne Budisavljevic says Maggie would call for an AEU meeting on the spot when there were issues that needed to be discussed. “She would announce in a loud and clear voice: ‘Union meeting now! Everybody gather round. Staff room!’
“When I worked at RLI in Flagstaff, she would go into all the offices telling
us it was time to do some stretches. She would then guide us in a series of exercises to ensure we were following OH&S principles,” says Daphne.
“For as long as I worked at AMES, I knew Maggie would be on top of things. She was our rep for so long, and I really and truly respected her point of view. It was rare not to see her at AEU meetings. I admire her dedication, her unwavering support for those who needed help. Her voice was gentle and yet so powerful.”
Maggie was born in 1954 in Melbourne – a city she loved and where she has largely stayed, living close by to her eight siblings and her daughter Justine. Her early vocational inspiration came from the migrants she worked with as a conductress on the trams.
During her many years working as an English teacher, she wrote ten books and over sixty scripts mainly focused on themes to help CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) communities acculturate. She also wrote scripts, including the full-length play The Woman Who Fell Up, which was performed by the Sydney Theatre Company, and was working on short stories up until her death.
Maggie’s daughter Justine says her mother recently told her she was writing a play set in a brothel to the soundtrack of Macy Gray’s music. “I really wish she had have finished that. It sounded so wonderful.”
She will be greatly missed by her family, friends, colleagues and all here at the AEU.