Lady Eileen McLeay was Lady Mayoress of the City of Adelaide (married to the Lord Mayor) between 1946 and 1950. 

Early Life and Career

Eileen was born in Geelong, Victoria. Her parents died when she was a teenager, her father Harry died in 1912 and her mother Alice Maud in 1913. They are interred in the Church of England section of the Eastern cemetery, Geelong.

On the 8/6/1921 at the age of twenty four Eileen married John McLeay, aged twenty seven at Saint Augustine’s Church, Unley, South Australia.

John McLeay was born in Port Clinton, South Australia, the son of farmers. He came to Adelaide to finish his education, attending Unley High School and Muirden College. He enlisted soon after the outbreak of the First World War and served as a stretcher bearer in the Field Ambulance Corps in France. In 1918 he was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry under fire. His brother Lance also received the Military Medal in 1917. After the war he returned to Adelaide and joined his elder brother George in business.  They had two sons and a daughter. Their son John Elden McLeay was born on the 30/3/1922. Barbara was born 25/6/1924 and Peter 10/11/1927.                                                                                       

Her husband was elected to the Adelaide suburban Unley Council in 1924 and from 1936-1937 served as Mayor. He was elected to State Parliament in 1938 representing the Electoral District of Unley until 1941.

During the Second World War Mrs McLeay was an enthusiastic worker for the Red Cross and Comforts Fund.

Their son John jnr. was educated at Scotch College and in 1941 volunteered for the Second Australian Imperial Force and served as a gunner from 1942-1943 in New Guinea. He was a member of the Unley City Council from 1949-1970 and Mayor from 1961-1963.


Her husband, John Snr. was elected Lord Mayor in 1946, serving until 1950. As Lady Mayoress, Eileen supported her husband in his civic duties. 

The first reception they hosted at the Town Hall was for the High Commissioner of India, Sir Raghunath Paranjpye, held in the Lady Mayoress room. Some of the guests were the Chief Justice, Sir Mellis Napier and Lady Napier, Members of the Adelaide City Council and their wives, the Premier Mr Playford and his wife, Senator and Mrs George McLeay. She travelled the state widely with her husband on official business and on occasions had her daughter Barbara stand-in for her.

Mr and Mrs McLeay had a long association with the Goodwood orphanage and Legacy Club, of which her husband was President. On the 2/11/1946 eight hundred orphans were happily gathered at a huge Christmas party in the Town Hall after the annual Father Christmas pageant. With paper hats on their heads, the children ate cake at seven long tables and were entertained with singing and dancing.

Her husband entered the Australian House of Representatives as the representative for the seat of Boothby from 1949-1966. He was elected Speaker of the House in 1956 and served in that role for a record ten and a half years before his retirement from politics in 1966. After retiring from politics he served as Chairman of McLeay Brothers Limited.  Their son John Elden McLeay took over the seat of Boothby after his father retired.

Personal Note

Her husband was created a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George in 1962 for services to the community. Lady Eileen Henderson McLeay predeceased her husband and died 8/9/1971 aged 74 years. Sir John McLeay died 22/6/1982 and a State funeral was held in his honour. In a mark of respect flags were flown at half-mast on all Commonwealth buildings in South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. They are interred at Centennial Park cemetery.

By Steven Page, HerStory Project

The HerStory project came about to recognise and celebrate the lives and the achievements of Women’s work in South Australia and was initiated in 2015 on the 175th anniversary of the City of Adelaide, by Genevieve Theseira-Haese, Lady Mayoress of Adelaide. The stories collected offer a unique perspective of Adelaide and South Australia that form a different history to what is often heard. This community built initiative is supported by the City of Adelaide and the History Trust of South Australia.

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