March 1922 - March 2020
It is with great sadness that WAAC members learned this week of the death of lifelong activist and advocate, Vicki Potempa.
WAAC members from many generations will remember Vicki at many, many protests and events, to which she travelled by public transport from her home near Maitland.
Vicki was recalled by her daughter, Linda, as a “VERY strong stubborn opinionated independent woman [who had] touched so many lives” in her 98 years.
Vicki had “a great heart that only wanted what she saw as fair and just,” Linda said.
She remembers her mother as: “A great cook. A seamstress. A woman of wisdom. A woman committed to equal rights for all but fought especially hard for those women from her generation and yours. A lady that gave up her time to see prisoners when their own family would not see them. A translator for those who thought no one else would help them. A mum, A Nanna, not just to her blood but anyone who met her and accepted her. She was everyone’s Nanna.”
Throughout her life, Vicki was dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of women – especially concerning reproductive rights, and for all people experiencing hardship.
As well as abortion rights, Vicki was active as a committee member of the Humanist Society of NSW, as a member of the Australian Republican Party and Women's Electoral Lobby, and as a prison visitor and member of the Australian Prisoners Union.
Vicki, who emigrated to Australia from Egypt in 1949, wrote about her life in her autobiography Off My Shoulders*, which was published in 2007, and recounted her extraordinary life story as an immigrant and a woman in staid and conservative Australian society of mid last century.
This included her struggles to obtain an abortion when she decided her family was large enough. At that time, abortion was illegal and difficult to obtain, and illegal abortion was expensive and dangerous. Vicki had to go through the mental health system to obtain her abortion and face official opposition.
This brought her fighting spirit to the fore, and in the years which followed she became active in WAAC, travelling to events by train from her home in Muswellbrook area. In 2000, WAAC recognized Vicki’s ongoing contribution to the campaign to have Abortion laws repealed, and she was thrilled to have lived long enough to see the 2019 legal changes which decrimnalised abortion in NSW.
Vicki was also active throughout her life, and into old age, in many other areas of fighting for social justice and change, including fighting for the rights of prisoners to better treatment, and campaigning for prisoners to have the right to vote. She was a regular prison visitor, who often travelled long distances to meet with prisoners without family support. In 2006 she appeared before a Parliamentary Committee in Canberra (Inquiry into the provisions of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005) into the question of Electoral Integrity, as a spokesperson for the Australian Prisoners Union.
Vicki was a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby.
Vicki was also a long time and active Humanist, who was on the committee of the NSW Humanist Association for over four decades.
In 2001, Vicki was recognized as an Outstanding Humanist Achiever.
In 2003, Vicki received an Edna Ryan Award for Community Activism.
In 2005, Vicki appeared in the Vagina Monologues.
In 2015, at the age of 92, Vicki created a new group – Grandmas In Revolt, which used beautiful embroidered nursing home ‘bibs’ as a way to focus on the connection between grandparents and grandchildren as a method of preventing young people from becoming embroiled in the death cults of war and violence.
In 2017, Vicki’s name was added to the Republican Party of Australia Honour Roll of Life Members and Legators.
Vicki remained active in local seniors’ groups and events until she entered Opal Maitland Nursing Home, where she celebrated her 98th Birthday earlier this month.
Vicki’s family have arranged a service at Lake Macquarie on Friday 27th March 2020 at 12.00 noon. Please note, the service will be non-smoking in accordance with Vicki’s wishes.
* Please see a review of Vicki’s book here (page 11): WEL-Informed
Vicki at an abortion rights rally in Sydney in 2009
Vicki (above) with long time WAAC activist, Margaret Kirkby, at a History Week exhibition for WAAC in 2005, and below with other supporters at the same event.
Vicki travelled down from Maitland to join other WAAC supporters for our 40th Anniversary event in 2012.
The cover of Vicki's book (left) and at right detail from an embroidered panel Vicki made to support abortion rights - and lambast church and state for impeding access!