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OBITUARIES: RENA M. WOOD

Rena M. Wood


(First published in the The Age, Melbourne, Australia, June 16, 2007)

Can-do outlook bolstered by simple logic

RENA MERRYL WOOD
NEWSPAPER PROPRIETOR
28-8-1911 - 8-6-2007

By IAN RICHARDSON

RENA Wood, a rare woman of country Victoria - and not just because she was one of the first women in Australia to own and edit regional newspapers, from the mid-1950s - has died of no particular illness at Bethany Nursing Home in Camberwell.

She was 95.

Rena was a woman of extraordinary energy and self-belief - the latter without a hint of arrogance. Quite the contrary; it came entirely from a touching mix of naivety and boundless enthusiasm, plus an occasional dash of insensitivity.

When her first husband, John Richardson, proprietor and editor of the Tribune at Charlton in north-central Victoria, died at an early age in 1954, it simply never occurred to her that she would not be able to take over the reins.

This, despite knowing almost nothing about journalism or printing, having four children in their teens and sub-teens and being deeply involved in a range of community organisations and activities.

Not only was she not deterred, in the following few years she expanded her activities to neighbouring towns, launching the Wycheproof News and buying the Quambatook Times and the Manangatang Courier.

These were not particularly wise business decisions, but apart from the Courier, they survived until she sold her newspaper interests in 1961, soon after marrying her second husband, William "Bill" Wood, a Charlton shire councillor and retired farmer.

Wood was prominent in the Freemasons and Rotary and served a term as Rotary district governor, and these two responsibilities gave Rena a new lease of life as his "first lady", social secretary and speech writer as they travelled Australia and abroad on their official activities.

All the while, she was accumulating an impressive number of hobbies that continued to grow even after she and Bill retired in 1982 to Rosebud.

Not least of these was her decision, when she was 75, to become a woodwork student at the local TAFE. As a result, there can hardly be a member of her extended family who was not given one of her coffee tables with their distinctive tile tops.

She was widowed again a few years later and moved into a unit at Blackburn, where she continued a highly active life until she was in her 90s and needed to move into residential care.

Rena would never have agreed that she was eccentric, but who else would have once convinced her church minister to agree to a "cash back" deal with the collection plate? The scheme was simplicity itself and a model of logic: each Sunday she would put a cheque for, say, $50 in the plate, and after the service was over, she would take back all but her contribution of $5 or $10. This meant that she had a ready supply of cash and the minister would be spared having to queue at his bank with bags of annoying small change.

And who but Rena would have taken a "waste not, want not" philosophy to such Olympian heights as she did? If it couldn't be eaten or composted, it was recycled.

Allied to this was a terrifyingly cavalier approach to "use by" dates on the huge amounts of food stuffed into her cupboards. It was a source of wonderment among family and friends that she didn't die from food poisoning years ago. Still, when she quietly slipped away, it was simply of old age.

She is survived by her sons Ian (London), Jeffrey (Drysdale), daughters Ruth (Melbourne) and Alison (Auckland) and sisters Bess Carr (Surrey Hills) and Margery Hodgen (Adelaide), as well as 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

-- Ian Richardson is Rena Wood's son.


(First published in the Bendigo Weekly, Bendigo, Australia, June 22, 2007)

Tribute to a mother who brought much to Charlton

RENA Wood, a former prominent resident of Charlton and one-time provincial newspaper owner, died on Friday, June 8, in Melbourne. IAN RICHARDSON, a former Bendigo journalist who moved to England to forge a career at the BBC, pays this tribute to his mother...

Rena Wood was a twin and one of nine children born to Arthur and Ethel Cox of Melbourne.

She was married twice. She wed her first husband, John S. Richardson, when he was a printer with the Wonthaggi Sentinel.

They moved to St Arnaud in 1941 when he became editor of the Mercury. Two years later, they shifted to Charlton where John took over the Tribune.

Rena was left a widow with four children when John died aged just 44 on their 18th wedding anniversary.

It never occurred to her she couldn't run the Charlton Tribune herself and combine this with her community duties and being the mother of teen and sub-teen children.

In a typical excess of enthusiasm she went on to launch the Wycheproof News and to buy the Quambatook Times and Manangatang Courier.

Rena would firmly deny that she was a feminist but she had a deep belief that anything that could be done by a man could be done just as easily by a woman.

Further, she often felt no need to waste time on being trained. This sometimes had disastrous results when she would try her hand at the more complex printing processes.

In 1960, she married a Charlton Shire councillor and retired farmer, William H. "Bill" Wood, and soon after she sold her newspaper interests. Some years later, the Charlton Tribune and the St Arnaud Mercury were combined into one newspaper, the North-Central News.

Rena's ownership of newspapers was important to her, but this could not equal the pride she had in being a driving force behind the establishment of Charlton's first baby health centre.

She always regarded it as her greatest achievement during almost 40 years in Charlton.

In 1982, Rena and Bill retired to Rosebud where they lived until Bill's death three years later.

She then moved to a unit at Blackburn in Melbourne and remained there into her early 90s, when her deteriorating health forced her to move into residential and nursing homes.

She had been retired in name only.

When she was 75, she took up woodwork. She also had a keen interest in gardening, sewing, knitting, Scrabble, stamp collecting and painting. Oils were produced - "knocked out" might be a more accurate term - by the dozen. And her output became more prolific at the approach of an art exhibition.

Rena lived through the depression and two world wars. "Waste not, want not," was her philosophy.

She had an alarmingly-cavalier attitude to "use by" dates on food, and it was a cause of incredulity that she hadn't died decades ago from food poisoning.

Rena, a resident at the Bethany Nursing Home in Camberwell, died of nothing in particular. It was simply of old age, as she approached her 96th birthday.

She was unfailingly up-beat about her life. "I've had a wonderful life", she would say, and "I'm now ready to go".

Put simply: she was an inspiration.


(First published in the Bendigo Advertiser, Bendigo, Australia, June 21, 2007)

Wonderful life of newspaper owner remembered

RENA WOOD - 1911-2007
Newspaper owner
Born: August 28, 1911
Died: June 8, 2007

RENA Wood had no fear of death, always believing she had lived a wonderful life.

She died of old age at the Bethany Nursing Home in Camberwell, aged 95.

Rena was a twin, one of nine children born in Melbourne to Arthur and Ethel Cox.

She married my John S. Richardson, my father, in 1936 when he was a printer with the Wonthaggi Sentinel.

When the Second World War broke out, he was declared unfit for military service because of childhood rheumatic fever, so he accepted the editorship of the St Arnaud Mercury.

Two years later, he and Rena moved to neighbouring Charlton where he leased, then bought, the Charlton Tribune.

Rena denied being a feminist, but she grew up with an innate belief that anything a man could do, a woman could do at least as well.

So, when John died at an early age in 1954, she had no hesitation in adding the management of the Tribune to being the mother of four children.

As if that were not enough, she then went on to launch the Wycheproof News as a rival to the Wycheproof Ensign, and to buy two established newspapers, the Quambatook Times and the Manangatang Courier.

These proved to be ill-advised ventures resulting from a typical excess of enthusiasm.

The Courier soon closed and the News and the Times barely turned a profit.

But the Charlton Tribune and its associated printing business continued to do well and to provide Rena and her family with a comfortable living.

In 1960, Rena re-married and a year later the Tribune was sold to Ian and Coral Cameron of Wedderburn while the other titles were closed down.

Her second husband was William "Bill" Wood, a local retired farmer, Charlton Shire councillor and leading Rotarian and Freemason.

Rena's considerable social and organisational skills were given full play as the wife of a prominent member of the Grand Lodge and during a term as Rotary District Governor.

She was his "first lady", his social secretary and his speech writer as they travelled together around Australia and other parts of the world.

At the same time, Rena continued to throw herself into Charlton's community life, on church and school committees and the Country's Women's Association.

She was also an enthusiastic player of golf and bowls.

In 1982, she and Bill retired to Rosebud.

She looked back on nearly 40 years in Charlton with pride.

Her time as newspaper owner was a special achievement, but if asked what she was most proud of, the answer was her leading role in establishing the Charlton Baby Health Centre.

Rena was widowed a second time when Bill died three years after they moved to Rosebud.

She re-located to Blackburn, where she lived until she was in her 90s and failing health forced her to move into residential and nursing homes.

Rena's boundless energy was a cause of constant amazement to family and friends.

In her mid-70s, she took up woodwork as a TAFE student.

She also became a prolific artist and also enjoyed knitting, sewing, quilting, gardening, stamp collecting, cooking and Scrabble.

Rena was brought up in an age of "waste not, want not" and consequently was "green" long before it became an admirable way of life.

If she couldn't eat, compost or repair something, it was recycled.

It was often joked that if recycling were an Olympic event, she would have been a gold medallist.

Rena is survived by sons Ian and Jeffrey, daughters Ruth and Alison and sisters Bess Carr and Margery Hodgen, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

-- Supplied by Rena's son, Ian Richardson


(First published in the North-Central News, St Arnaud, Australia, June 14, 2007)

Rena Merryl Wood - 1911-2007

Rena Wood, a former resident of St Arnaud and Charlton and one-time owner of the Charlton Tribune, died on Friday, June 8, in Melbourne.

Ian Richardson, now living in London, pays this tribute to his mother...

Rena Wood was one of nine children born to Arthur and Ethel Cox of Melbourne. Her family owned news agencies in Hawthorn and Spotswood, and her father was also for many years a commercial traveller in the wholesale paper trade.

She was married twice. She wed her first husband, John S. Richardson, when he was a printer with the Wonthaggi Sentinel. They moved to St Arnaud during the Second World War when he became editor of the Mercury. Two years later, they shifted to Charlton where John took over the Tribune.

Rena was left a widow with four children when John died on their 18th wedding anniversary. Some years later she married Charlton shire councillor and retired farmer, William H. "Bill" Wood, who also predeceased her.

Rena, a resident at the Bethany Nursing Home in Camberwell, died of nothing in particular. It was simply of old age, as she approached her 96th birthday.

During her long life, Rena was a book-keeper, housekeeper, wife and mother, newspaper proprietor and investor. She was also, among many other things, an enthusiastic artist, a prolific maker of handicrafts, a very serious recycler, a keen stamp and coin collector, a passable golfer, and an enthusiastic and skilled indoor bowler.

It must be said that she was a feminist and eccentric, though she would have vigorously denied that she was either of those.

Rena repeatedly laid claim - irritating some of her siblings in the process - to being "the oldest member of the family" by virtue of having been born just three hours ahead of her twin sister, Eelin. She would also tell anyone who cared to listen that she had a birth weight of just three pounds (1.4 kilos). It is unlikely that is so - a baby that small would not have survived back in 1911 -- but there was no denying her right to be amazed that someone as slight as herself could have lived so long and so energetically.

Rena grew up with an innate belief that there was really nothing she couldn't do. This was not born of arrogance, but a touching mix of enthusiasm and naivety. This attitude to life had the capacity to generate admiration, amusement and fury in roughly equal parts.

When John, my father, died in 1954 aged just 44, it simply never occurred to Rena that she couldn't run the Charlton Tribune herself and combine this with her community duties and being the mother of teen and sub-teen children. Not just that, she went on to launch the Wycheproof News and to buy the Quambatook Times and Manangatang Courier.

The latter three newspapers proved to be ill-advised business ventures brought about by a typical excess of enthusiasm, but the Tribune and its associated printing business continued to provide her and the family with a comfortable living until her marriage to Bill Wood in 1960 and the subsequent sale of the Tribune to Ian and Coral Cameron early the next year.

Rena had a deeply embedded belief that anything that could be done by a man could be done just as easily by a woman. Further, she often felt no need to waste time on being trained. Sometimes this was okay; sometimes it wasn't.

Once, after she had taken over the running of the Tribune, she decided to "help out" late one night by preparing two pages of the upcoming issue. That was back in the days of hot metal printing when pages had to be assembled back to front, so that the printed page came out in the correct mirror image. Unfortunately, Rena had not realised this and when the printers turned up the next morning and discovered her mistake, she swept aside their angry complaints as sour grapes and nit-picking.

Although Rena could be a colourful and entertaining writer about her own life, she never really got to grips with journalism. She had a reporter's curiosity, but not the instincts to shape a story with the most interesting aspect in the introduction. Rather, her reports often resembled committee minutes and would sometimes take the skills of an old-style Kremlinologist to decode the significance of what was buried deep in them.

Allied to this was an amusing and sometimes infuriating habit of never responding to a direct question with a direct answer. In a letter to me in London some years ago, she mentioned in passing that that her twin sister was "recovering well from the accident". I phoned her immediately. "What accident?" I asked. "Well," was her tetchy response, "how was I to know she was standing behind the car when I put it into reverse?"

Rena was a very social, public spirited being and took a keen interest in church, school and other town organisations, including the Country Women's Association. Her achievement in owning several newspapers was important to her, but not as important as the pride she had in being a driving force behind the establishment of Charlton's first Baby Health Centre. If she were asked to name her greatest achievement during almost 40 years in Charlton, initiating the Baby Health Centre was it.

Rena's boundless energy and social, writing and organisational skills came into full play during husband Bill Wood's term as Rotary District Governor. Instantly, she became his "first lady", social secretary and speech writer as they toured Australia and countries abroad.

It must be said that Rena had more than her fair share of religious and social prejudices, but racism was not one of them. It was not a conscious thing. It just never occurred to her that she should look down on foreigners. More than that, she found them, their cultures and their lives endlessly fascinating and over the years she accumulated many long-term foreign friends.

In 1982, Rena and Bill retired to Rosebud where they lived until Bill's death three years later. She then moved to a unit at Blackburn in Melbourne and remained there into her early 90s, when her deteriorating physical abilities and short-term memory problems forced her to move into residential and nursing homes.

She had been retired in name only. Rena had more interests than is reasonable to recall. In her mid-70s, she joined a TAFE woodwork class and many members of her extended family have her distinctive coffee tables to prove it. There was also her keen interest in gardening, sewing, knitting and collecting, to name but a few of her hobbies.

Then there was her painting. She saw painting both as an outlet for her enormous energy and as a money earner. She had a natural skill with water colours, but she never regarded this as real art. Oil paintings were her thing. Oils were produced - "knocked out" might be a more accurate term -- by the dozen. And her output became more and more prolific at the approach of an art exhibition. In truth, though, most had little artistic merit because of the speed with which they were produced. But no matter. If they didn't sell, she cheerfully gave them to her family and friends, still with the price clearly visible on the back.

Her cooking must also be mentioned. At the mere hint of a social gathering, Rena was at the oven producing dozens of delicious sausage rolls from her special recipe. She also had a magical way with fruit cakes. The many admirers of her sausage rolls and fruit cakes would often seek the recipes. Rena would happily provide these, but it is said - and the story may be apocryphal - that she would always leave out one or two of the more subtle ingredients to ensure that the resulting rolls and cakes were never quite as good as hers.

Rena was born into an austere family that lived through two world wars. "Waste not, want not," was her philosophy. Nothing was thrown away, least of all food - even if this meant her enduring the occasional tummy upset or causing alarm among visiting friends and family. She was proud of the fact that her weekly rubbish output would not even fill one supermarket bag. Everything else - and I mean everything - would be composted or placed in the re-cycling bins. If re-cycling had been an Olympic event, Rena would have been a gold medallist.

Rena was a keen contributor to the history of Charlton and her family, but she was never backward looking and instinctively behaved as though life would go on forever. During one of my visits to her in Blackburn, she proudly showed me a row of tree seedlings along the kitchen window ledge. She had, she announced, taken up a new interest: growing bonsai. She was then in her late 80s, and it seemed tactless to point out that bonsai could take 20 years to mature.

Rena was a lifelong Protestant Christian who rarely missed church on Sunday or began a meal without saying grace. Religion was a thread throughout her life, but her beliefs were essentially private. She was not a proselytizer, and like my father, John, she believed in being a Christian by example.

One of her greatest joys in her later life came from her many grandchildren and great grandchildren. She could not always remember their names. But her face would always light up in their presence, and they were left in no doubt they were in the company of a warm and encouraging friend.

As Rena progressed into her 90s and found it more difficult to cope on her own, she was unfailingly upbeat about her life, regretting few things. When her short-term memory began to fail, she would occasionally express disappointment, but would firmly add that she'd enjoyed "a wonderful life" and was now "ready to go". An inspiration to all of us.

Rena M. Wood (formerly Richardson, née Cox). Born August 28, 1911. Died June 8, 2007. Survived by sons Ian (London), Jeffrey (Clifton Springs), daughters Ruth (Melbourne) and Alison (Auckland) and sisters Bess Carr (Surrey Hills) and Margery Hodgen (Adelaide). Also 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.


(First published in the Herald-Sun, Melbourne, Australia, August 14, 2007)

Rena Wood

Pressing issues mastered

NEWSPAPER PROPRIETOR
Born: August 28 1911
Died: June 8, 2007

RENA Wood, with no experience in management, journalism or printing, became the owner of a small town newspaper more or less by default.

She was 42 and a mother of four in north central Victoria.

Her husband, John Richardson, who had bought the Charlton Tribune 10 years earlier, died in 1954.

Rena had been trained as a bookkeeper, but she had an awesome determination and a deeply-rooted belief that there was nothing she couldn't take on.

She wasn't arrogant but was driven by a boundless enthusiasm wrapped in naivety.

This sometimes got her into trouble.

She bought the Quambatook Times and the Manangatang Courier without a serious thought about how they would be staffed.

She also began the Wychproof News, run from Charlton in competition to the Wycheproof Ensign.

Readers and advertisers resented the intrusion of Rena, an outsider.

Still, with the exception of the Courier, which was closed quickly, they survived modestly while the Charlton Tribune flourished.

In 1960, Rena married local retired farmer Bill Wood and sold her newspaper interests.

Bill was a prominent Charlton shire councillor, Rotarian and Freemason.

With typical energy Rena threw herself into the tasks of Bill's speech writer and social secretary.

She was in her element when he was Rotary District Governor.

In 1982, she and Bill retired to Rosebud. He died three years later.

Rena moved to Blackburn where she remained into her 90s until she needed residential care.

She developed all sorts of hobbies such as gluing together tea trays from thousands of used matchsticks.

In her mid-70s she took up woodwork as a TAFE student and produced many fine coffee tables, among other things.

As an artist she was talented with water colours, although she never regarded water colours as real art.

She preferred oils and produced dozens of paintings.

Some were excellent, but most suffered from the speed with which they were completed.

If they didn't sell, she cheerfully gave them away to friends and family.

Long before being a greenie was fashionable, Rena was a recycler without peer.

She threw nothing out if it could be eaten, composted or recycled.

Shopping bags were separated into whites and coloureds. Used envelopes were sorted into the licked and the self-sealed.

Rena's faith as a protestant was a lifelong constant.

She rarely missed church on Sunday and all meals would begin with grace.

Though sometimes she took issue with ministers about the content of their sermons, she never tried to impose her views on others.

She was a Christian by example.

Rena, 95, died at a Camberwell nursing home of natural causes.

Survivors include four children, 11 grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and two sisters.


Available on YouTube: Filmed eulogies by Rena Wood's younger daughter, Alison Chamberlain, and younger son, Jeffrey Richardson.

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