Norma West - featured in Leading with Grace and Strength
Sharyn O'Neill
rok-westie25 Norma West - featured in Leading with Grace and Strength Sharyn O'Neill SO25-0610-10 Sharyn O'Neill

Rockhampton's first lady of nursing laid to rest with honour

KNOWN as Matron to some, Miss West to most and simply Norma to her friends and family, she was without doubt Central Queensland's first lady of nursing, leaving a legacy that will ultimately touch tens of thousands of people.

About 180 people gathered at St Luke's Anglican Church in Wandal yesterday to farewell Norma Muriel West OBE.

Miss West was once asked what were the highlights in her life to which she replied, lunch with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in Longreach in 1970, graduating from five different areas of study, receiving an OBE in 1983, being involved in the transfer of nurse education to CQUniversity and TAFE and being honoured as a Companion of CQUniversity, the highest honour the university can bestow.

Though on top of that list was the graduation ceremonies of the nurses she was in charge of.

"The success of the student nurses was also my success.”

She was yesterday remembered with utmost respect, as a gracious and dignified lady, a devout Christian and 'scary'.

Norma West's professional life is well-documented.

In her own words, she was passionate "to the point of obsession” about patient care and the importance the role nurses played in decision making and care.

She was the youngest nurse ever to be appointed Matron in a Queensland hospital and retired as the longest-serving head of nursing in Rockhampton Hospital's history.

During her time there she was a driving force behind the move from hospital-based training to degree qualifications.

Former nurse Norma West (circa 1954)
A young Norma West (circa 1954) at the start of her career.

In 1983, Miss West was awarded an Order of the British Empire for her services to nursing in Queensland.

But yesterday, her sister Barbara and great-niece, Alana gave an insight into her private life.

They described a woman who was a real family person who loved babies, growing things and her garden.

Her home was very special to her and often "a home away from home for a lot of people”.

Miss West loved beauty, colour and tai chi, had a special china dish just for tomato sauce and was very strict, but with soft, healing hands and "she had a way of always making you feel better”.

Berenice Payne and Norma West.
Berenice Payne and Norma West of Rockhampton Zonta Club. Contributed.

But it was her strictness and unrelenting attention to detail that earned her a formidable reputation.

The sound of her heels coming down the corridor was a sound young nurses were highly attuned to.

She was not one to be crossed, by young nurses or by heads of universities.

In paying tribute to her yesterday, CQUniversity vice-chancellor Scott Bowman said the first word he first thought of when asked to think of one to describe her was "scary - until I got to know her”.

"The first time I met Norma...I was a new vice-chancellor and she left me in no doubt that I'd better look after the nursing department at the university,” Professor Bowman said.

"And I have to say it's the one department I've never dared make any cuts to.”

Former Rockhampton Hospital Matron, Norma West seated at the Heritage Village's Hospital Museum matrons desk which was in use at the Rockhampton Hospital between 1930 and 1940 pictured here with
Norma West at the Heritage Village's Hospital Museum matrons desk, in use at the Rockhampton Hospital between 1930 and 1940. Chris Ison ROK130813cnurses2

But whether it was young nurses, heads of universities, her friends at Zonta or her family, Norma West was loved and respected beyond measure.

Vale Norma West OBE 1933 - 2018.

  • Order of the British Empire for Services to Nursing in Queensland
  • Founding member and president of Rockhampton Oncology committee
  • Fellow Royal College of Nursing Aust.
  • CQU governing council 1984-89
  • President Australian Country Hospital Heritage Assn
  • Zonta Living Treasure
  • Longest serving head of nursing in Rockhampton Hospital's history
  • Youngest nurse apponted Matron in a Queensland Hospital
  • Companion of CQUniversity