State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 31 April 1983



The Lady Casey F.R.S.A.

The Lady Casey became a Patron of the Friends of the La Trobe Library in early 1970, retaining this honour until her death on 20 January 1983. She was a person of remarkable achievement in many fields, including literature, the arts and aviation. The tribute to her which follows is written by the poet Rosemary Dobson.
“Few people in the world have the opportunity to see a city grow under their eyes … Some of us in Australia have seen this happen almost without realising it.” So Maie Casey wrote in her Introduction to Early Melbourne Architecture. which recorded in annotated photographs some of the early buildings of Melbourne.
Maie Casey was a committed Melburnian. In her own book, An Australian Story, she describes the city as she had known it, and the houses she had lived in in childhood. Certainly her view was a privileged one. Later she and Lord Casey owned the exquisite house built by Eugene von Guerard in East Melbourne, and her last years were spent in the house she loved in Berwick. But, if privileged, her knowledge of Melbourne was nevertheless intelligent and aware. She looked at it, as she looked at everything, with a discerning and isolating eye, and with an immediate recognition of quality.
She was at home in many cities of the world, and a friend to great institutions in them. But Melbourne, I think, delighted her, and she valued her connections with its universities. What was much to be admired was her rapid and easy movement between the general and the parochial. I recall her saying in a telephone conversation a few months before she died: “I'm trying to get something going for the Library here.” Following the notice of her death in the Melbourne Age some lines were inserted by the Berwick Free Library paying tribute to “a generous benefactor, sincere friend and loyal supporter of the Library's voluntary service to the community.”
An Australian Story is an enduring work, and part of its charm is in Maie Casey's own decorative chapter-headings. She had studied in the studio of George Bell, and the friendships once made with other artists continued throughout her life. For example, she early recognised the talents of Peter Purves-Smith, and has given paintings by him to the National Collection. Her mind seemed always receptive to new ideas in the arts. It was fascinating to visit an exhibition with her and to see how, and discover why, she appraised and selected. One watched the exercise of a keenly intelligent mind. She built up a splendid collection of paintings, both Australian and international, and helped many artists by this practical expression of her enthusiasm. Latterly she saw her role as a custodian.
Maie Casey would like to have been an artist, I think, although other elements in her nature were fulfulled in writing and flying. She spoke of her pleasure in being made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts a few years ago. She was a member of the International Committee appointed to judge a work of scupture to honour the Unknown Political Prisoner, and she was happy in her association with the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
I have emphasised Maie Casey's involvement with the arts because in this she expressed her own inclinations. For the rest, she was disciplined or lively, according to her quick sense of what each situation required. In person she was both modest and elegant.
One could write more — much more. However, it would please her, I feel, if I close with these thoughts. Richard and Maie Casey together provided a partnership of public service in high places and served their country with distinction. She appreciated the opportunities of internationalism which his appointments brought them both, but she was very firmly an Australian. It seemed absolutely right that her life and gifts should be celebrated in a Memorial Service on January 26, Australia Day.