Saint Peter’s Parishioner in Profile: Leita Johnstone

LeitaLeita Bailey was born in Taree on the Manning River.  Her father Clarence came originally from Ourimbah on the Central Coast and after returning from the First War, settled on the Manning, first at Cedar Party and then at Lansdowne where he met and married Leita’s Mum Hilda who was part of the Carmady family from Upper Lansdowne. Leita’s Dad was a timber worker, firstly firing the mill boiler and later as a sawyer.

Her early years were in this idyllic setting, first attending primary school at Lansdowne and then High School in Taree. Initially Leita caught the Kendall train to Taree but when this service was abandoned during the War, she needed to travel with the Cream Truck to Taree where she ‘boarded’, returning home at weekends.

Leita’s adolescence and teenage years were far from idyllic, her education interrupted by serious illness, an illness that saw her intermittently at Lewisham Catholic Hospital where her legs were subjected to several operations,  even amputation at one time a consideration. Leita was the first civilian to be treated intravenously with penicillin and had callipers fitted to her legs. I guess the ‘up-side’ was that she was in Sydney for both VE and VP celebrations following German and Japanese surrenders.

Leita returned home to Lansdowne in 1945 to be cared for by a loving family and community. She attended St Joseph’s Covent where she completed a Business Studies course and was employed over the next several years, initially by the Saw-Mill at Lansdowne and then in Taree at Lower Manning Dairy Co-operative and Brown’s Tyre Serve. Importantly, it was during this time she met the curate at Taree, the young (and some would say handsome) Tom Johnstone who had been appointed to the curacy in 1953. They were married in the Church of the Epiphany at Lansdowne in 1955 in a wedding dress that has since seen both her daughter and granddaughter married in that same dress.

Initially Tom was appointed to the fledging Charlestown Parish and then to the Cathedral Parish for three years. During his time at the Cathedral Tom took part in the first televised service.

Bishop Housden next appointed Tom to found the Home Mission Chaplaincy, an appointment lasting ten years with Tom overseeing the establishment of St Alban’s Boys Home at Abernethy (near Cessnock) and St Christopher’s Home for Little Children at Taree. This chaplaincy evolved into today’s Samaritans, the welfare arm of the Diocese. Whilst at the Cathedral, Leita and Tom’s daughter Ruth was born, Helen arriving 3½ years later whilst in the Home Mission Chaplaincy.

In 1969 Tom was appointed Rural Dean of the Manning at Taree, an incumbency that lasted 12½ years, allowing both Ruth and Helen to attend the same high school as their mother. Both daughters matriculated and completed undergraduate degrees, Ruth also completing a Theological Diploma; Ruth became a High School teacher and Helen has worked most of her adult life for the Department of Defence in Canberra.

In 1981 Tom was appointed ‘Rector’ at Gresford, an appointment he held until his retirement when the couple moved to Metford. It was during her time at Gresford that Leita began her infamous bus tours, raising in excess of $135,000 for firstly Gresford Parish, then St Peters and the Samaritans, the first being a trek to the Stockman Hall of Fame at Longreach in 1989, the most recent to Mitchell Shire in Victoria in 2013.

Sadly Tom died after an extended illness just after Christmas in 2001, Leita choosing to remain in and serve our Church of Saint Peter with her unending generosity, complemented by her unique   commentary on parish affairs.

Leita has served God, the Diocese and this Parish in a manner unrivalled; whoever saw the role of the Rector’s wife as being passive certainly didn’t meet Leita… a life of service!