Vale, Josie Winther
The staff of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies mourn the passing of long-time colleague and former School Manager Josie Winther, who passed away in January 2021. Josie dedicated over 40 years to the University, starting out in the Faculty in her late teens.
Josie started off as an admin assistant in the Department of Philosophy. She moved through the ranks to become the manager of the Philosophy Department, which later became the School of Philosophy. Josie’s role grew when Philosophy merged with the School of Social and Environmental Enquiry (SSEE) to become Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry. Later, following further changes and a merger with the School of Historical Studies, Josie became the first manager of SHAPS and remained here until her retirement in 2015. As the tributes below show, she was well loved and will be missed by many. We extend our deepest sympathies to Josie’s family and loved ones.
Josie was for many years the heart and soul of the Melbourne Philosophy Department. She was never simply the Departmental Administrator. She was one of the team: planning with us, socialising with us, laughing with us. She could always be relied upon for thoughtful and insightful advice, friendship, a wry joke and often the pleasure of a quiet drink after work. We will not look upon her like again.
I first met Josie in 1976, when she started work in the Philosophy office and contributed to the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the Department. Later, in more senior administrative roles, she was wise and helpful to staff who consulted her. For some decades, Josie was often joined philosophers and others for lunch at University House, where I came to know her well, not only as a valued and pleasant colleague but as a friend. I mourn her passing, and extend my condolences to her family.
If Barry Taylor was the soul of the Melbourne Philosophy Department, Josie was certainly its heart. We are very saddened by her untimely departure. She will be sorely missed.
—Laura and Francois Schroeter
Josie knew everything, and everyone knew Josie. For many years, she was both the heart of and institutional memory for the Philosophy Department. She was our fixer. She had enormous patience, even for those bringing her silly questions. Got a problem? Ask Josie. In her life she became legend and she will be missed.
Josie was not only the best manager and colleague anyone could wish for, she was also such a wonderful person. Straight talking, kind, fair, great fun and always ready to defend who and what she believed in. I always felt supported and cared for by her. My time with Josie and the wonderful crew in the Philosophy Department, many years ago, will always remain precious to me.
My thoughts and very best wishes to you all,
Josie was a lovely person, the kind that makes an institution human.
When I first came to Melbourne, in the early 1980s, the Philosophy Department was extraordinarily fortunate in its office staff Josie Winther and her colleague and friend Kaye Medlyn. (I talked to one student early in my Melbourne years who told me their reason for choosing to major in Philosophy was that the Philosophy office and library were such friendly places.)
As time went on, and the university kept inventing ways to impose greater administrative loads on its smaller units, Josie’s abilities earned repeated promotions (promotions, at least, to greater responsibilities), and it was clear that we philosophers were beneficiaries of another side of Josie, her commitment to her family: she stayed with us, walking distance from home, when I am sure she could have garnered a far higher salary in some business’s down-town office.
But Josie (with Kaye) did more than keep the Philosophy Department going as a business: they were its central social anchors, helping turn it into a community… We were all, year after year, beneficiaries of Josie’s personal warmth, loyalty to her friends, and generosity. But it’s easier to remember little, specific, things. Like the Cup Day parties that Josie (aided by her sister) organised: good food and good laughter, and (Kaye, I guess, often writing out the list of names) the laughter about the Cup sweep and its winners.
It’s hard to imagine Melbourne without her.
—Allen Hazen (with further memories, and a shared sense of loss, from Megan Collins)
When I arrived in the Melbourne Philosophy Department in 2002, I had a lot to learn. The University, and its strange way of doing things, was all very new to me. Josie’s office, in the Old Quad, was a haven of calm and perspective whenever I was confused about what to do, or had no idea of what was going on. Josie, above all, kept me sane as she put things into perspective.
Josie knew everyone, or so it seemed. Those Melbourne Cup lunches were just one of the most visible reminders of the everyday fact that Josie was at the centre of an enormous network of friends – friends she loved, and who loved her in return. Josie’s manner was a constant reminder that we were all human beings, all deserving of respect, care and attention – and that there was so much more to life than procedures and rules. And yes, even much more to life than philosophy. She leaves a big hole in the lives of those she’s known and loved. My condolences to her family and friends.
Too soon, Jose. You’ve left a hole in the world. Goodbye, and love always,
Josie was a highly skilled, very professional administrator; and a charming woman.
Dear members of the Winther family,
Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Josie, it’s clear from my colleagues that she was deeply respected, admired, and even loved by all in Philosophy, and indeed throughout the Humanities.
I was very saddened to hear that Josie had died. While it is years since I last saw her, having retired from the University for a while now, I knew her when she was the go-to person in the Philosophy Department. Fortunately she had a handle on the Philosophy budget and accounts because it wasn’t clear anyone else did!
Vale, dear Josie! Many, many thanks for everything.
I remember Josie as the generous, kind, humane and often hilarious school manager who worked to bring us all together as a new school. I remember Josie as a wonderful manager of people – who understood the expertise that she and her team of professional staff brought to the running of a school or Department, but who also respected the expertise of academic colleagues. I remember in particular the support she gave to those of us in smaller disciplines; and I also remember her creating space for even the most ‘eccentric’ among us to contribute to the good of the whole. I remember meetings in her office in the Old Quad where the sometimes ‘idiosyncratic’ and/or ‘challenging’ behaviour of colleagues (and their interpretation of budgets) would be registered by Josie’s raised eyebrow – and sometimes guffaws of laughter. I remember Denise and Josie at lunch at Uni House and the sometimes robust comments shouted between tables – often with the lovely Marg Sullivan, nursing her own ‘wine spritzer’… More recently, I remember bumping into Josie on Lygon Street and her warm embrace and interest in family and friends – and the occasional rude shout across the street between my partner and her about the recent exploits of the Carlton Football Club! Both Tony and I shall really miss seeing Josie and her family in Carlton. In the best way possible, she was part of ‘the crew’.
Josie was the best of bosses, she supported all of her staff in becoming the best that they could be, but more than that she made the office the place that you wanted to be. Whenever I saw Josie I felt happy and I know that I was not the only one.
She will never be replaced.
—Dennis aka Denise
For the whole of my time in the Philosophy Department, Josie contributed enormously to the quality of life there — administratively, collegially, and socially.
I didn’t know you before we in history joined up with the other bits, but it was so good to have you as the lynchpin when we did. The care you took to smooth the way was wonderful and you did it with such humour and wit.
Remembering Josie brings back memories of her smile, her kindness, and her quiet and unassuming professionalism. She will be missed by me, and to that extent I can only imagine how she will be missed by you all.
“For the key to Philosophy, consult Josie”. This brief notice, attached to Philosophy’s locked crockery cupboard in the Old Quad kitchen shared for a while by Classics, Philosophy and others, made even better sense quite removed from its context. Josie was invariably fun to be with, but she was also such a touchstone for making sense not merely of the department but also, one felt, its subject (at least to a non-philosopher like me). It was always a joy to see her on her occasional visits to Uni House after she retired, and so sad not to be able to look forward to seeing her again.
I remember Josie well for her extraordinary efficiency, ‘can-do’ attitude and kindness even under pressure. She had her eye not only on the budget, the management of the school of diverse (and sometimes difficult) individuals, but also on the big picture inflected with great humour. Travel well Josie!!
Proud and, when necessary, courageously tough, Josie had bucket-loads of kindness. She was attuned and responsive to people’s needs and vulnerabilities, because, rather than despite, being a shrewd judge of character. I remember her warmth and humour, especially at lunch with friends. Her loyalty was inspiring. She was as straight as they come.
Such a beautiful personality full of joy, hilarious commentary and remarkable knowledge.
I met Josie many years ago, not knowing that one day I would attempt to fill her shoes as the SHAPS School Manager. She was hilarious, had an amazing sense of humour and knew about every decision ever made in the school and the background story as to why the decision was made. As a junior staff member I could always relax when Josie was around, she had an uncanny way of putting everyone at ease no matter what discussion items were at hand. She included everyone, had great business acumen and was genuinely fun to be around. After she retired, I met with Josie for lunch each week to discuss the enormity of the job; this turned out to be a semi-psychological session where everything and anything was deliberated. I really enjoyed listening to her and taking on her advice.
Rest in Peace Josie; you were one in a million and will be missed by many.
Josie’s warmth and kindness and knowledge were crucial to my settling in at Melbourne after I transferred from La Trobe – what a treasure she was.
I have fond memories of Maria introducing me to ‘little sister’ Josie and the Luzza family many, many years ago. In later years, Josie’s ongoing friendship and support in the Philosophy Department has been invaluable. My deepest condolences to John, Maria and Josie’s family.
Dear Maria, Ellie and chaps,
Heartfelt condolences for your loss. Everyone who knew Josie has lost someone dear to their hearts in Josie. Josie left her mark on the world and those whom she knew, entertained, joked with, laughed with, cried with and helped will miss her. I will miss you, Josie.
—Elvira Schnabel Edmonds
My sincerest condolences on the passing of Josie. She was a wonderful source of support to me when I first arrived in Australia nearly 10 years ago, and did so much to help me manage a new job in a new country. It was always nice to work with her and she will be remembered fondly, and with appreciation, by so many.
Josie was my manager for my first two years in SHAPS and I consider myself privileged to have worked with her. I remember her most for her respect for her staff, her competence and her irreverent good humour.
Dear Josie, all of us who had the pleasure and privilege of working with you as our School Manager fondly remember your dedicated service as well as your witty sense of humour, fashionable hats, and good cheer. Thanks for everything and rest in peace
I am so sorry to hear of Josie’s death. I was a philosophy student at the University of Melbourne in the 1970s. I well remember the contribution Josie made to the Philosophy Department. I can still picture her in the office next to the Gibson Library in the Old Arts Building. She helped keep that department with all its delightful eccentricities working so well, as she obviously did for many years after that as that world experienced so many changes. Josie will be missed by all who knew her.
Josie was a very good boss to me during a difficult transition period and we had some good times working together.
I was shocked and saddened to hear that Josie has passed away. It only seems like yesterday that she left the School.
My sincere condolences to her family.
My sincere condolences on the loss of Josie, a wonderful person.
—Mike and Jen Arnold
What devastating and shattering news. The world is a less better place.
I had a special place in my heart for Josie. I remember her as one of the most gracious, kind and compassionate people I ever met.
She embodied what Lincoln called, “The angels of our better nature.”
Josie will be warmly remembered by staff of the University Library for her determination to make the sometimes fractious relationship between department, school and the Baillieu Library as smooth as possible.
Her good judgement, friendliness and humour were a joy and will be long remembered.
We are each in some degree of sadness and sorrow at the news of the departure from our world – such as it is presently – of the much endeared Josie. We offer a small remembrance.
When Sophia sought asylum status – a homecoming actually – fleeing from the imperious designs of a certain Dean, shortly after Max Charlesworth (founder-editor) retired from Deakin, in the Melbourne Department of Philosophy, Josie facilitated a safe haven, department funding (advising the Heads, Bazz Taylor, then Brian Scarlett), and gave further advice on obtaining funding from the Faculty of Arts, all of which she managed on the spreadsheets rolled out from the printer with inscrutable meticulousness. Over the years from her room next to the department/later school admin office, Josie saw to a smooth sailing of the wings of the Sophia ship and its rise in national and international reputation. There were a few moments when questions were raised about the viability and extent of support the department could feasibly continue to provide, especially after the mergers and trimming down of the department’s infrastructural support at the Faculty level. Josie, however, in her inimitable way continued to provide support, secured rooms in the Old Quad (shared with teaching staff of Asian Philosophy and the Australian Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy), and either by — then symbolic or ritual — accoutrements; the AAP and ASACP came to rescue with supplemental funding which ensured the continuity – until as such time as the international publishing houses got the whiff, first Ashgate and then Springer, and came along with sizeable and generous ‘stimulus packages’. The rest is history, and the blessing of Josie upon Sophia lives on.
—Purushottama Bilimoria and Sophia staff.
Josie greeted me with some suspicion when I turned up as a sessional lecturer in the philosophy of art: I’d been to some function or other and was wearing a suit and tie. Not Philosophy Department gear at all. Brian Scarlett was head of the department and mentioned to me at lunch that Josie was married to a detective – next time I saw her about timetables etc. I let drop that my Great Uncle Garrett had gone to Paris at his own expense to learn about fingerprints. These were ‘French rubbish’ to the disgusted pom who headed the New Zealand Police in the 1890s. That did the trick.
I mentioned I needed a library card, Josie dug up a lecture timetable and a ledger in which I was named a Fellow: I went to ‘Bullshit Castle’ (Scarlett), got a photo taken, and a plastic card, and was in.
When Sophia needed a room, Josie arranged for one. Peter Wong, Guy and Sophia shared it – as I recall – with some other people. It worked out well eventually. When Sherah Bloor – Secretary of the Continental Philosophy Society – arrived, Josie managed to find her a kind of cupboard with a window. Purisottima, ever active, persuaded the University of Melbourne, through Josie, to get some sort of subvention for Sophia. She was endlessly helpful: things happened as if by white magic. I doubt that Josie thought Philosophy of Art real philosophy – or that philosophy of religion was. But: once she had decided to be helpful, she was consistently.
I went to her mother’s funeral, and her father’s: but for COVID, I’d be at hers. I commend her to God’s Mercy, May She Rest in Peace. Or get a job in Heaven, keeping the place going, as she did the Philosophy Department.
A wise counsellor, an attentive and caring leader of her staff, a good friend.
A source of light and warmth for so many in and around Philosophy at Melbourne for so long.
You were right at the heart of us Josie.
SHAPS staff, fellows, students, alumni: if you have memories of Josie that you would like to contribute to this tribute, please email us.