PEACE ACTIVIST, FEMINIST, ENVIRONMENTALIST
RUTH Elizabeth Lechte, peace activist, feminist and environmentalist, has died aged 80 in Coolum, Queensland, after a stroke.
Lechte was born in Melbourne and attended Methodist Ladies College in Kew.
She taught science at Korowa Girls School before training as a social worker and youth worker at Westhill College, Selly Oak, Birmingham, England.
In 1962, she and Anne Walker went to Fiji, at the invitation of a group of local women, to be the first staff of the Fiji YWCA.
With Amelia Rokotuivuna of Fiji, they worked throughout the 1960s with women leaders to establish multiracial kindergartens and more than 50 youth and women's clubs. Activities included vocational training, public affairs, music and drama, crafts and art, and multiracial sports clubs in netball, softball, cricket and tennis.
The Fiji YWCA was instrumental in supporting and organising the Pacific region nuclear-free movement after nuclear tests started in Mururoa, French Polynesia, in 1968. The Fiji YWCA, along with students from the newly formed Pacific Theological College and the University of the South Pacific, organised one of the first marches in Suva against the tests.
The YWCA was also deeply involved in activities leading to Fiji's independence. In 1970, Lechte, Rokotuivuna and Walker were honoured with the Fiji Independence Medal.
When Rokotuivuna took over as general secretary of the Fiji YWCA in 1974, Lechte became Pacific Area secretary of the World YWCA. She advised women's groups, independence movements and youth initiatives across the region, working with women in several Pacific countries.
Lechte then worked with the World YWCA in the international portfolio of environment and appropriate technology. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, and Nadi, Fiji, she contributed to women's small business and service initiatives in more than 80 countries. She served on the board of the Environment Liaison Centre, Nairobi, Kenya, and with the World YWCA and the International Women's Tribune Centre, organised displays on women's technologies and science during the NGO forums at the UN World Conferences on Women in Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995.
After Lechte's retirement from the World YWCA, she worked on an environment education program for the Fiji Environment Department, was a trustee for Fiji Women's Crisis Centre and the Fiji Traditional Healers Association (Wainimate), and supported young women and environment programs. She also assisted United Nations programs for women through UNIFEM in their Women and Politics training in Fiji, Vanuatu and East Timor, and co-ordinated a Pacific islands regional women in science and technology study. Lechte was awarded an Order of Fiji in 1995, and an Order of Vanuatu in 2009 for "duties of great responsibility to the people of Vanuatu".
In June 2002, Lechte and partner Diane Goodwillie moved to Coolum Beach, Queensland. They teamed up with the Coolum District Coast Care Group to volunteer for practical projects to protect the Sunshine Coast dunes, rocky foreshore, rivers, mountains and wetlands and to educate the public about biodiversity and the environment. They were founding volunteers at the Coolum Community Native Nursery and volunteered for national parks service in the Epping scientific park, Lady Musgrave Island and Heron Island. They also supported the formation of young women's programs, including the YWCA in Timor Leste.
Lechte is remembered by friends and colleagues worldwide as a forthright spokeswoman for the causes in which she believed and in support of the people she loved.
She was a friend and mentor to young people and was devoted to her family and the children and grandchildren of her friends.
Among her many interests was a passionate love of gardening, classical music, birds, cricket and her beloved Essendon Bombers.
Lechte is survived by Diane Goodwillie, her partner of 34 years, her niece Robyn and family Duncan, Nick, Tom and Alex Goode, nephew Rodney Lechte and her cousin Lisa Corben and family.