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Our Beginnings: the establishment of the Foundation

The Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation was established in 1986 by the late Mrs Barbara Williams to honour the memory of her two husbands, Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams.

  • Barbara Hope Williams was born in 1909 in Kenya of Rhodesian parents, though much of her education was in the United Kingdom. She considered the establishment of the Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation in 1986 as one of her most significant achievements. The Foundation became operational after her death in 1991. Its work continues because of Barbara’s vision, and her enduring love as the widow to her two husbands Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams.

    Growing up, Barbara channelled her creativity into fine art, which she later studied at the Edinburgh College of Arts. After this she moved to London, where she met Garnett Passe, a Medical Reserve Navy Officer who specialised in Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery (OHNS). Barbara was asked to create diagrams and illustrations for a medical book he was writing, titled “The Singing Voice” (1933). Garnett was smitten, but it wasn’t until just before WWII, when Barbara was travelling throughout India, painting watercolours of life over there, that Garnett plucked up the courage to find her and propose. Barbara soon returned back to London to marry Garnett on the cusp of WWII.

    During their marriage, Barbara saw how difficult it was for a young surgeon to obtain specialist medical training in OHNS. The inconsistent access to training and research is something that stuck with Barbara for the rest of her life, and was something she wanted to change. After Garnett’s premature death, Barbara knew that she wanted to do something to address this inequality, and in Garnett’s name. Her ambition was to leave a large part of her estate to medical research in the field of Otolaryngology.

    Barbara was confronted with numerous obstacles during this period, including criticisms that the scope of the funding was too narrow, or that other medical specialties should be funded. Barbara knew what she wanted and was unwavering in her belief that the Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery medical field needed significant investment.

    In 1968, Barbara married Rodney Wellington Williams and moved to New York. She continued with negotiations on her estate with lawyers in London, New York and Sydney, and, after discussions with an old friend of Garnett’s, realised the obvious place to establish her Trust was in Australia. In February 1984 Rodney Williams died, and the situation changed even more dramatically: his will left a substantial bequest to Barbara.

    Despite much conflicting advice, Barbara stuck to her goal of establishing a single Trust with the bulk of her assets. This was now to be dedicated to perpetuate the memory of her two husbands while improving the Otolaryngological medical field. The Trust Deed was signed in 1986 to establish the Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation. A suite of fellowships, scholarships and grants have since been established, changing people’s lives – young and old – in Australia, New Zealand and the world.

    Barbara made it clear on many occasions that her money must only be used in the pursuit of excellence. The Trustees have remained faithful to her wishes and have encapsulated this principle in the motto that forms part of the crest of the Foundation, namely “Semper ad Excellentiam Persequendam” – Always in Pursuit of Excellence

  • Edward Roland Garnett Passe graduated in dentistry from The University of Melbourne in 1926 before travelling to the United Kingdom to study medicine. He specialised in Otolaryngology and gained considerable eminence, notably as a pioneer in the surgical treatment of deafness. After serving with the Royal Navy in World War II, he returned to practice in London and very quickly established himself as an outstanding Otolaryngologist with an international reputation. As well as being a superb surgeon, he was an excellent sportsman and a talented sculptor. He married Barbara Slatter in 1939 and they lived in Weymouth Street, London. He died as a relatively young man in 1952, aged 48.

  • Rodney Wellington Williams was educated at the Gilman School in Baltimore and Yale University. After serving in the US Navy during World War I, he worked for a stockbroking firm. He served the firm as a floor partner in charge of trading at the New York Stock Exchange until his retirement in 1936. He was an enthusiastic and multi-talented sportsman, and had a keen interest in art and historical preservation. He married Barbara Passe (nee Slatter) in 1968 and they lived in Charleston, South Carolina. He died sixteen years later in 1984, aged 91.

Want to learn more?

Download an extended history of the Passe and Williams Foundation, as written by the first Trustees, by clicking the link below.