Page 1: Biography
McKenzie, Monica Beatrice
Teacher, dietitian, public servant
This biography, written by Margaret McDougall, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Monica Beatrice McKenzie was born on 23 October 1905 at Wellington, the daughter of Ida Grace Kenny and her husband, Alexander McKenzie, a schoolmaster. Educated at Karori School and Wellington Girls’ College, she enjoyed science subjects and was a talented pianist. She graduated in 1927 from the University of Otago with a bachelor of home science and in the same year began teaching at Wanganui Girls’ College.
In the mid 1930s McKenzie decided to become a dietitian. Training was unavailable in New Zealand, so she travelled to England to study at the Royal Northern Hospital, London. In November 1938 she was appointed assistant dietitian under the diet sister at Wellington Hospital; the following year she became chief dietitian and administrator of the dietary department. From this time McKenzie played a leading role in establishing the profession of dietetics in New Zealand. Between 1939 and 1941 she helped set up the machinery to regulate the training and examining of dietitians. The work, which included developing a training syllabus, was done in collaboration with Elizabeth Gregory, a lecturer in (later dean of) the School of Home Science, Otago University; Muriel Bell, who in 1940 became state nutritionist with the Department of Health and director of nutrition research at the University of Otago Medical School; and Mary Lambie, director of the Division of Nursing. When the first state examinations were held in 1942, only Wellington Hospital offered a satisfactory training programme run by adequately trained staff.
Early in the Second World War McKenzie’s help was sought to improve the nutritional quality of food offered to soldiers in camp. Her advice was valued by Brigadier Fred Bowerbank, director general of medical services (army and navy). McKenzie was later called on to discuss suitable diets for the tropics, and to advise on ration scales for troopships and for the forces in Egypt.
In 1947 she was appointed inspecting dietitian with the Health Department. As well as defining standards for food service in hospital dietary departments and kitchens, she travelled extensively to guide, advise and support dietitians in their work.
In 1954 McKenzie was awarded a World Health Organisation fellowship enabling her to study the administration, food service planning and design of hospital dietary departments in Europe, Britain, Canada and the United States. Her observations were subsequently recorded in two published articles. While away she became convinced that stainless steel was the most appropriate material for food service equipment and brought back sample pans in her luggage. Her advice helped achieve the standardisation of food service equipment in hospitals, which led to improved performance and reduced costs.
By the time she retired in 1963, McKenzie had visited all public and psychiatric hospitals to ensure that patients received nutritious food; she had also written manuals and helped plan hospital kitchens. During her term she had been largely responsible for transforming dietetic services in New Zealand. The task had not always been easy, but with tact, patience and determination she had overcome the obstacles and implemented improved standards.
In her concern to promote the professional standing of dietitians, McKenzie had earlier been instrumental in establishing the New Zealand Dietetic Association. At its inaugural conference in 1943 she was elected president and held the position until 1945. While at the Health Department she was an ex officio member of the executive of the association and over the years contributed articles to its journal. In 1971 she was made an honorary life member of the association.
McKenzie also participated in the process to gain registration for dietitians. She was a member of the committee set up in 1948 to establish a preliminary register of people eligible to practise dietetics, and during the passage of the Dietitians Bill through Parliament she advised the minister of health, Jack Watts. After the Dietitians Act 1950 was passed, she became a member of the Dietitians Board, which had responsibility for training and registration.
Monica McKenzie did not marry. She lived in the family home in Karori and in her retirement replanted the garden and continued her associations with various professional organisations. She also enjoyed helping her niece and nephew with their young families. She died at Winara House, Waikanae, on 5 December 1988.
A dignified, modest woman with a quiet sense of humour, Monica McKenzie was widely acknowledged for her ability to gain loyalty and affection from colleagues and associates. In initiating or influencing all aspects of her profession, she made a profound contribution to dietetic services in New Zealand.