Bronwyn Nancy Simeon, daughter of Nancy and Alan, was born in Newcastle, NSW on the 21 December 1948. She spent the first 6 years of her life in Newcastle as an only child before she became big sister to Kristine. When she was 9 the family moved to Lismore, in northern NSW. In Lismore Bronwyn’s imagination flourished and the early signs of her great talent began to appear. She staged performances for the neighbourhood children which she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. Melanie, her second sister was born when Bronwyn was 10 years old and attending Lismore Heights primary school. She often told of her excitement when she heard her dad walking along the school verandah and coming into her classroom to tell her of Melanie’s arrival. She even made up a song to mark the occasion and to Melanie’s excruciating embarrassment, but never to hers, continued to sing that song at each of her birthdays from that point, including her 40th in front of a roomful of visitors.
Bronwyn went to Lismore’s Richmond River High School and excelled academically, developing a warm and lasting relationship with many of her teachers. She developed a great love of drama, literature, art and history (but not maths) that was to become an integral part of her life. At the end of high school Bronwyn scored an outstanding pass in the Leaving Certificate that would have taken her to any university she chose. But instead she chose journalism, not a university course at the time. Her fifth grade teacher had told her she should be a writer, so she had already decided she would. She had also decided that she would become a famous writer, author of the Great Australian Novel.
After high school Bronwyn approached the local newspaper, the Northern Star, and became a cadet reporter. It was a tough and dreary grind, particularly for a female cadet who got all the menial tasks, such as reporting on cow diseases and stock sales. But she had patience as well as ambition, and was content to put on hold her flair for vivid description and a surplus of adjectives and to develop instead the reporter’s discipline and succinctness.
In 1967 the family moved to Tamworth. Bron Simeon, cadet reporter, joined the local television station, NEN9. A high point was her interview with Normie Rowe in his hotel room in Tamworth, the enchanted 18 year old sitting on the bed while he calmly shaved with a towel around his waist.
When Bronwyn was 19 she moved to Sydney and joined Channel 10, where she made many lifetime friendships. She also started on the road to recognition with her own 15 minute TV documentary, Sunday Magazine.
As Bronwyn grew up her longing to travel and experience the world increased. In 1970 she set off with two close friends on a European adventure. They lived in London and travelled in Europe for 3 years. During this time Bronwyn developed two permanent personal relationships. One was with her travelling companion, bosom friend and confidante, Marie Louise Burton, (inevitably abbreviated to ML). The second was with a tall, bearded Irish physicist from the flat upstairs in Ealing, her husband to be, Frank Donaghy (pictured).
Bronwyn returned from her adventures in 1973 with Frank hot on her heels. They were married in November 1974. Their relationship was the foundation of her success and happiness. Ahead of all her dreams of fame and her love of writing was her love and devotion to her family. Marriage to Frank brought her the greatest dream of all, her very own family, not to mention a host of new Irish relatives.
In 1977 Bronwyn gave up her job on Esso’s staff magazine in Sydney to become a mother. She never worked as an employee again. First came Aidan in 1977, then Anna in 1979 and finally Liam in 1983. She brought to parenthood the same energy, enthusiasm and realism that she had done to her writing career, temporarily on hold, and developed a whole new set of skills and another wonderful set of friendships as the children progressed through breast-feeding, nappies, playgroup, preschool and school. Bronwyn continued to find what she referred to as “kindred spirits,” ordinary people with extraodrinary devotion to their children and to the adventure of life itself, friends for whom she cared deeply among the school parents, her neighbours and members of her church. Gradually Bronwyn became Mrs Donaghy, Mrs Donny, Mrs Don and Aunty Bron to the children’s friends, who loved her too. She also became Aunty Bron to her nieces and nephews, Kristine’s Lauren and Mitchell, and Melanie’s Holly and Bethany.
In the eighties, between cutting lunches, doing school projects and running a family, Bronwyn set out on the long and difficult road to re-establish herself as a writer. She gradually became a regular contributor to an array of magazines and publications, most notably the Sydney Morning Herald and Parents Magazine. Under the popular pseudonym, Frances Storm, she wrote a regular light-hearted column on the trials of being a mother for local publication Sydney’s Child. In 1994 she became Bronwyn Donaghy, author, with her first book, Two and a Half Wishes, a children’s story. Shortly afterwards came a turning point in her career, the best selling book based on a real life tragedy, Anna’s Story, about teenage ecstacy victim Anna Wood. This was followed by commissioned works on adolescent health issues, Leaving Early and Unzipped, published with the support of the NSW Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health at the New Children’s Hospital, Westmead, NSW. Her entertaining and common sense approach earned her an invitation to sit on the Advisory Board of this group, a professional writer among health professionals. She remained on the board until her death. In this period she also published an immensely entertaining chronicle of parenting adventures, Keeping Mum, a compendium of her Sydney’s Child columns.
Once again her lifelong ambition to write an adult novel was upstaged by her other passions, speaking and the well-being of tomorrow’s adults. She became Bronwyn Donaghy, motivational speaker, at schools, parent gatherings and conferences all over Australia. Her talks combined pithy and witty observations of parenting with her own intuitive practicality and humour, and her research into drugs, depression and sexuality among teenagers. Her technical knowledge was based equally on her unusual ability to talk on their own level to both medical specialists and typical teenagers, including her own. With her innate talents in drama, humour and story telling, Bronwyn could capture her audience’s full attention for up to two hours at a time. Bookings had to be made over 6 months in advance because of the popularity of her sessions. Bronwyn’s family and close friends are still often approached by strangers who realised that they had heard her speak or read her books, to tell them how she touched their lives.
At the beginning of 1999, Bronwyn’s close friend Marie Lou, pictured, known and loved by all their children as Lulu, died of cancer after a five year battle.
Less than six months later Bronwyn was found to have a blood disorder, later diagnosed as aplastic anaemia, a failure of the bone marrow to reproduce red blood cells and platelets from the parent cells. She continued to work with unabated zeal, finally setting out to fulfill her main remaining dream, the Great Australian Novel. In December 2001 the manuscript was finally completed. Small Acts of Kindness was Bronwyn’s crowning achievement, something that brought her more joy than even she could explain. As soon as it was finished, like the grim reaper waiting patiently in the wings, her condition deteriorated and she began hospital treatment.
For nearly seven months in 2002 Bronwyn was transfusion dependent. Although she was able to continue working between hospital visits and bouts of pain and illness, her condition did not respond to treatment and many engagements had to be cancelled. She was preparing for a bone marrow transplant when her defences to internal bleeding finally gave up.
Bronwyn Donaghy died on the 23 July, 2002, just two weeks after an acclaimed keynote address at the AHISA conference in Brisbane. See Her Last Year. Small Acts of Kindness was published by HarperCollins in August 2003.