Mary Stuchbery and the Origins of Hadassah New Zealand : A Historical Profile
Mary Stuchbery, the “Hadassah Connection” in New Zealand for decades, was a successful business person and philanthropist who led annual tours to Israel, beginning in 1947, supporting Israel’s economy and promoting good will.
During the Depression, Mrs. Stuchbery, who had a desire to give women a sense of glamour during those impoverished times, learned how to draft dress patterns at a design course. Then, with a small bank loan, she created a “cut and tack” business. Women would bring her a picture or a sketch of their “dream dress,” and she would create a pattern, cut the fabric, and tack the pieces down so the women could then complete the dresses themselves, making the custom clothing affordable.
A lover of travel, Mrs. Stuchbery then began a world travel company, aiming to make world travel affordable to a wider group of people—particularly a trip to Israel. Over the years, she brought hundreds of people to the country. “She developed strong ties with hotels and tour guides and knew the length and breadth of Israel like the back of her hand,” relates her daughter, Barrister Lee Goffin. Into her late eighties, she says, her mother “would say with pride that she had been to Israel at least once a year since 1947.” Mrs. Goffin recalls that during bad times, she would "top up" the salaries of Israeli hotel managers when their hours and wages had to be cut back.
During one trip, Mrs. Stuchbery brought “a parcel of money,” carried in a cash band around her waist, to Hadassah Medical Center, with the intent of donating it to the eye department. She had read in a magazine of Hadassah’s wonderful outreach to Ethiopia, returning eyesight to so many mothers who were able to see their babies for the first time. During that trip to Hadassah, Mrs. Stuchbery met a group of Hadassah women, who asked her to start a branch of Hadassah in New Zealand. Although she explained that she was not Jewish, she was informed that Hadassah welcomes people of all religions into leadership positions.
When Mrs. Stuchbery returned home, she became the “Hadassah connection” in New Zealand. For several years, she organized forums for Hadassah physicians who were visiting from Israel so they could speak about their work at the Medical Center.
Then, one day, Valda Knight introduced herself to Mrs. Stuchbery and expressed her willingness to take over the reins of leadership. Mrs. Knight had become ill while on a visit to Israel and had been treated successfully at the Hadassah Medical Center. Mrs. Knight served as President for ten years, enabling Hadassah New Zealand to blossom into the thriving unit it is today.