Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Mar-Apl 2012 Contents We rightly acknowledge and
reward people who take
calculated risks, challenge
dominant views and strive
to make the world a better
place. This is why Dr Penny Flett, CEO
of Brightwater Care in Western Australia,
is probably the aged and community care
sector's most recognised and awarded leader.
But Dr Flett has always been a quiet
achiever. She rarely gets to national aged
care conferences and doesn't trumpet her
organisation's achievements -- though there
are many. As a journalist, if you want to
know her view, you have to seek her out.
Born in England but raised in 'the
colonies', she was the first woman in
peacetime to hold a male rank and the
first female doctor to serve in the Royal
Australian Air Force (RAAF).
Since becoming CEO of the Homes of
Peace in 1996 (as it was then known), she
has led the organisation through a profound
transformation of structure and mission.
She was the Aged Care Standards and
Accreditation Agency's inaugural chair and
won Telstra Australian Businesswoman
of the Year in 1998. She received the
Centenary Medal in 2003, the ACSA
individual award for excellence in 2008, and
was the 2009 WA Australian of the Year.
Doctor, health administrator, service
innovator, business leader, advocate,
mentor, wife and mother: Dr Flett falls into
that rarefied and controversial category of
the 'superwoman'. But like many motivated
and high achieving people, her origins and
history help to make sense of an impressive
OLD WORLD BEGINNINGS
The eldest child of a British family in the
colonial civil service in West Africa and
North Borneo (Sabah), she was sent to
boarding school in England at age 11 with
her brother, aged nine.
The family came to Australia in
1965 and, fresh from boarding school,
the young Penny "managed to get into
Adelaide Uni' as a medical student".
"They were tough times," Dr Flett says.
"I was happy and there by choice, but it
was still a time of massive culture shock.
And I was a pretty impecunious student,
so I had no money. I had to sell my books
each year to buy the next set."
Her marriage to a fellow medical
student in their fifth year brought modest
but welcome economies. "We had a very
small room at the back of a house for
hardly any rent and we used one set of
books between us. Our Friday night meal
was a fried egg sandwich."
She graduated in 1971 and did her
resident year in Adelaide. Her husband
was awarded a cadetship with the RAAF
and had four years to pay it off. "The
first posting was in Victoria, to Geelong,
but then we were sent to Butterworth in
Malaysia, near Penang."
What boarding school and immigration
hadn't taught her about resilience and
resourcefulness, the RAAF did.
"At Butterworth, I worked with the
medical and nursing staff to look after all
the members and their families. I found
myself running a lot of antenatal clinics,
and services for women.
"The nearest comprehensive medical
support was Singapore, so we sometimes
had to undertake 'medivacs' for very sick
babies or children. It was a steep learning
curve. We learned how to make decisions."
The couple returned to Victoria a lot wiser
and well practiced in dealing with the
unexpected. While her husband began
pathology training, Dr Flett decided
to take up postgraduate training in
geriatrics, which she juggled with the new
experience of motherhood.
She put the inspirational teachings of
her geriatrician mentors, Dr John Hurley,
Dr Boyne Russell and Dr Bernard Worsam,
into practice when she became medical
superintendent at the Grace McKellar
Centre in Geelong in the seventies.
"There were no geriatricians in Geelong;
we ran a full geriatric service -- rehabilitation,
Every sector needs tireless and passionate leaders who aren't
afraid to push the envelope, get in and 'just do it', and achieve
the things they believe in. In aged care, one of those people is
Brightwater Care's Dr Penny Flett.
The quiet art of accomplishment
Dr Penny Flett, CEO Brightwater Care Group
52 | MARCH -- APRIL 2012 | AAA
Stories, history, observations and reflections...in
conversation with leading thinkers across the
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