Professor Brenda Wilson wanted to be a ballet dancer, but the chance to study at Flinders University, while working provided an opportunity not to be missed.
Leaving school early, Professor Wilson began her working life as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1973. Nearly ten years later she applied to study a Diploma of Applied Science (Nursing) at Flinders, when the Sturt campus first opened.
“We were allocated five hours a week of study leave from the Hospital to attend lectures – this was a great privilege as it meant I could still afford to support myself as well as get an education,” said Professor Wilson. “I thought it would be daunting but I quickly learned that if I put in the effort I could achieve my dream of getting a better education.”
With an ethos of ‘lifelong learning’, Professor Wilson undertook qualifications outside of nursing and challenged herself professionally, taking every opportunity to continue to learn and grow.
“My career in clinical nursing, and later in senior management and business roles, unfolded as my life progressed. I took opportunities to learn and applied for increasingly senior jobs with greater decision-making responsibilities. I didn’t always get them, which is also part of learning and growing.”
Later, Professor Wilson spent 13 years as CEO at Cancer Council SA, a role she found rewarding, challenging and fulfilling.
“Together, we raised a lot of money for cancer research, prevention and support,” said Professor Wilson. “We influenced governments to invest in lowering the smoking rates in SA and to ban solariums. We raised awareness about bowel cancer as well as the need to be ‘sun smart’, and through our motels we supported thousands of people from the country undergoing cancer treatment in Adelaide. With senior clinicians and bureaucrats, we also produced the first state-wide Cancer Control Plan for SA.”
In 2000 Professor Wilson won the Telstra SA Business Women’s Award for Corporate and Government Sector, South Australia. She is now a member of the Flinders University Governing Council, a Board Director at the ACH Group, ACHA and State Opera of SA Boards, as well as a Council member of the Northern Adelaide Local Area Health Network.
In 2014, Professor Wilson was appointed as the first female Lieutenant Governor of South Australia. “I feel honoured to be able to assist the Governor when required,” said Professor Wilson. “The position provides me with the unique opportunity to engage with Government and business, and to speak at events on areas I am passionate about, such as the value of education, the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and how valuing diversity, family and friends adds value to individuals and to society in general.”