A tribute to Dorothy Santamaria

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Kevin Peoples

Author of Santamaria’s Salesman

ascension
ascension, Alice Popkorn, flickr cc

My story of Dorothy links me with the two men she married – Jack Jensen and Bob Santamaria.

The Jensen Story

This is an intricate story. Dorothy married Jack Jensen in April 1944. They moved to Mildura, where Jack was the manager of a munitions factory. Upon the factory closing down in December 1944, Dorothy moved back to Melbourne. Jack was killed in a plane crash in January 1945, nine months into their marriage. Dorothy was one month pregnant. Kerry Jensen was born to a father she never met.

One of Jack’s sisters was Margaret Jensen. Margaret rushed to see Dorothy following the death of her brother and Dorothy’s husband. In comforting Dorothy, she said that Jack was in Heaven. Dorothy replied, “I don’t want him in Heaven, I want him here”.

Margaret Jensen married Bill Murray in 1938. This marriage ended in 1945, by which time three children had been born. Following the separation, Margaret Murray returned to her parents’ home in Illawarra Road Hawthorn with her three young girls, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Heather.

The break-up of the Murray marriage occurred in the same year as the death of Dorothy’s husband, Jack.

This then becomes the story of two brave and indomitable women. Both without husbands.

In 1947, Margaret made a decision to leave the Jensen family home. At the same time, Dorothy, who had been living with her parents in Caulfield, made a similar decision. The two women decided to set up house together. Margaret with her three children, Margaret, aged eight, and her two other children Elizabeth, seven, Heather, five, and Dorothy with her baby daughter, Kerry.

The two women rented a house in Blazey Street, Richmond. It was a move from middle-class Melbourne to working-class Melbourne. The two families lived together in Richmond for six years. Then in 1953, Margaret Murray and her three daughters moved to Boorool Road East Kew, and Dorothy and Kerry moved to Barkley Street St Kilda.

The deep sense of loss felt today at Dorothy’s death by Margaret, Elizabeth, and Heather, is only understood by recalling those events which brought Margaret Murray and Dorothy Jensen together sixty years ago with the four little girls, when they became a part of the one family of women struggling to exist in Richmond.

In 1970, I married one of those four little girls, Margaret, the eldest of the three Murray girls, who went to live with Dorothy in 1947.

The Santamaria Story

Now for my Santamaria link. My wife, Margaret, remembers someone from Bob’s office coming to their home in Richmond with typing for Dorothy. She worked day and night at a typewriter on the dining room table. She went on to become Bob’s lifelong secretary, and in 1983 he became her second husband.

In 1958, I attended a Council meeting of the National Catholic Rural Movement at Belloc House in Kew. In 1959, I became the organising secretary of the NCRM. Dorothy Jensen came to our meetings and took the minutes. I was twenty-two. And that was how I met Dorothy Jensen.

Dorothy was forty in 1959. Over the next two and half years, I met her frequently on my visits to Belloc House and Gertrude Street Fitzroy. What did I make of her? She seemed to me then a private person, retiring, reserved, and quietly spoken – a woman of great dignity.

Dorothy was extremely attractive and highly intelligent. I loved her voice. When I spoke with her, my normal speaking voice went down decibels to match hers. From the start, I was in awe of her, I suppose in part because of her quiet dignity, and in part because she was Bob’s secretary.

At NCRM annual conventions, Dorothy would accompany Bob and other office staff, and at the end of the evening sessions we would all gather in one of the hotels and relax with a few drinks. She would, in her understated way, relax and enjoy the company.

In 1960, I drove Dorothy to the Warrnambool Convention. Typewriter in the back seat. I was worried about how I would cope. Would there be one long silence from Fitzroy to Warrnambool? If I could have told her that, within a few years, I would marry Margaret Murray, now that would have been a talking point.

I need not have worried. Dorothy and I chattered away, and passing through Terang I showed her the street where my family lived.

Dorothy was an outstanding and discreet secretary for Bob. Noone could have been more reliable and trustworthy. When I was working through the Rural Movement files at the State Library, I came on many letters Dorothy had written for Bob to clerical and lay members of the Rural Movement. With many, she had a close working and human relationship.

When Margaret and I retired to Melbourne in 1998, we continued to meet Dorothy. Her favourite place was the Book Talk Café in Swan Street Richmond, not that far from Blazey Street. She was remarkable in her old age – always positive, never judgemental, interested in what we were doing, and never a complaint about the difficulties of aging. She and I chose Shepherd’s Pie, which she used to make for the family of girls at Blazey Street. My story of working for Santamaria and the National Catholic Rural Movement, Santamaria’s Salesman, washed over her. Whatever she thought of it, it made no difference to our relationship. She was bigger than all of us. It won’t be the same without her.

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