EVEN Margaret Henry’s many opponents must concede her virtues.
Ms Henry, 81, who died on Wednesday night from pancreatic cancer, was above all a passionate Novocastrian. Authentic in character, staunch in her beliefs and consistent in her philosophy, she seldom missed an opportunity to fight for what she believed was best for the city and community she loved.
And though her detractors loved to portray her as negative and reflexively oppositional when it came to planning and development issues, her arguments were not infrequently proven to be right. For example, some may still remember how, in the aftermath of the 1989 earthquake when heritage buildings were being demolished across the city, Margaret Henry boldly accused some property owners and others of using the disaster as a smokescreen to rid themselves of unwanted buildings. Her intervention almost certainly saved the North Wing of the old Royal Newcastle Hospital.
When she left the ALP she suffered all the usual denigration such decisions attract, but Ms Henry never seemed especially perturbed by criticism, however fierce. As a member of the Greens she certainly attracted her share, partly because the party’s position is so often against the interests of some businesses, and partly because there seldom seemed any issue she was unprepared to comment on in public.
Vocal, and prolific in her commentary, she was never mealy-mouthed and she seldom resorted to euphemisms or ambiguous statements to deflect disagreement. On the contrary, she could be blunt to a fault.
As a councillor of the city of Newcastle Margaret Henry seemed to relish political cut and thrust, but few could ever have been left in doubt that she genuinely wanted the best for the city.
Younger Novocastrians will remember her best for her passionate opposition to the removal of the heavy rail line. Her surveys, petitions and lobbying in that cause were all undertaken with her characteristic relentless energy.
That remarkable energy drove her to take on roles on the National Trust, the NSW Council on Ageing, the council of the University of Newcastle and the Women’s Electoral Lobby.
Margaret Henry’s instinct was always to stand up for the underdog, and many of her battles were fought unsung at the grassroots of her community.
Her detractors often deplored her seeming ubiquity, but a passion for involvement and a determination to improve her community were her central and defining characteristics.
Feisty, courageous, opinionated and relentless, Ms Henry was a valuable ally and a formidable foe.
Newcastle’s public life will be poorer without her and without her good-hearted energy and idealistic drive.