Leneen Ford AC is a remarkable trailblazer whose extensive community service leadership has defined her life and career. Born in Canada, her first career was as a laboratory technician. She worked in the Haematology Department of Royal Brisbane Hospital for 2 years. After her husband died Leneen decided to study a Bachelor of Law. She needed to support her 5 children as a single parent. For 18 years, she was a Partner of Cannan and Peterson in charge of probate and estates.
In 1973, Leneen was the Founding President of the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland. In this role she was instrumental in advancing and promoting women, and combating gender discrimination within the legal profession. She was the first Australian woman to be appointed International President of Zonta, a global organization working to advance the status of women. In 1991 she was awarded as Queenslander of the Year. In 1992 she was appointed as the first female Governor of Queensland, serving until 1997. She was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1993, in recognition of her service to the law, improving the status of women and to economic and business development.
In 1998 Leneen Chaired the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions. The Inquiry encompassed the period from 1911 to 1999 examining over 150 orphanages and detention centres. More than 300 people provided information to the Commission. One recommendation of the Forde inquiry was to set up a Foundation to support those who have suffered or been neglected in Queensland Institutions. Leneen now serves as Patron of the Forde Foundation which bears her name.
Leneen was Chancellor of Griffith University for fifteen years from 2000 to 2015. She served as Chair and Non-Executive Director of not for profit and company boards of organisations too numerous to mention.
You were a medical laboratory technician in the 1950s and then studied law in the 1960s. Why did you choose to change career paths?
I married a law student in 1955 and started doing a few arts law subjects at UQ just for interest sake as we lived nearby. I continued for only a few years but when my husband died in 1966 I enrolled full time in 1967 to complete my law degree. At the time, I had 5 children under the age of 10, very little money and thought I might be better able to provide for them as a lawyer than a lab technician. I went to lectures in the mornings, when they were at school and kindergarten, mothered in the afternoon and evenings and studied at night.
You have taken an active role in Chairing the Forde Foundation for eight years and you are now its Patron. Tell us about leading an organisation that has been integral in helping to heal victims of abuse.
One of many recommendations made by the Forde enquiry was to provide small grants to help with education, health and other needs of former residents. I was very fortunate to have a great team working with me during the enquiry. I will always be grateful to the many brave people who came to give evidence. It was a difficult time for everyone.
As a previous Governor of Queensland, what is your vision for Queensland in the next 20 years?
Regarding Queensland’s future I expect our population will continue to grow. I hope climate change doesn’t have too big an impact on us and I wish the many problems in our far north remote communities will be resolved.
As Chancellor of Griffith University, how did your leadership shape the university we see today?
As Chancellor for Griffith University I think I helped the Vice Chancellors see the potential for growth, particularly at the Gold Coast, and ensured that academic women were supported in achieving senior positions. I believe it is still one of the best places to work in.
What has been your greatest challenge?
The Forde Enquiry without doubt.
What are you most proud of?
My five children who overcame a childhood without a father, very little money, a busy mother and still grew up to be kind and good reliable citizens nevertheless.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Do whatever you can to overcome any injustice you see around you. Have faith in yourself and your capabilities and persevere. You’ll never reach your potential if you don’t have a go. And, when you are down remember there’s only one way to go and that’s up!