Vale Win Stephen

It is with a real mixture of sadness and love that NEAF says farewell to one of our greatest supporters and friends in Lady (Win) Stephen.

Born (in Adelaide) into a strongly medical family as the daughter of James Bonnin, a general practitioner, and sibling of five brothers (four of whom became doctors) and a sister (a Senior Sister in the army attaining the rank of Captain) it is perhaps surprising that her first job was that of an air hostess flying mainly from Adelaide to Perth in small, low-flying (and bumpy) aircraft.  Although Win relished the idea of travel, she suffered badly from air sickness resulting in her changing careers and graduating from Adelaide University in 1946 in Social Work.

Having moved to Sydney shortly after graduation, Win met and later married Alastair Stephen, a solicitor and on the Board  (later to be the Chairman) of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Shortly after meeting Alastair she took the opportunity of informing him that RPAH was one of the largest hospitals in the Southern Hemisphere without a qualified Social Worker on its staff – an omission that was rectified soon after!

While her very happy marriage to Alastair marked the end of Win’s brief social work career, she was more than compensated by the pleasure she had in raising four children: Sophie (the daughter of Alastair and Diana, his deceased first wife), Alexandra, Mary and Christopher. After the children reached school age, Win was able to serve on the Board of the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women for many years and remained a great advocate for the education and independence of women. 

With both Win and Alastair being keen travellers, it is not surprising that one of the highlights of their trips was a month spent in Greece, packed into a minibus along with a guide and two of their children, visiting many of the important sites of the Classical period.

After Alastair’s death in 1982 Win continued to travel, including a visit to the Australian excavations at Torone in northern Greece directed by Professor Alexander Cambitoglou. It was there that I had the great fortune to meet her for the first time, perhaps playing some role in her subsequent involvement with NEAF. 

Win and Alastair travelling in Greece, 1967

Win remained fascinated by the ancient world, and went on a series of trips to the Levant with NEAF.  Along with her daughter Mary, she participated in more than thirty (!) short courses (mainly through NEAF) in Archaeology and History.  However, in typical fashion, she wanted to give something back to those institutions that had given her so much pleasure. Thus, aged in her late 70s, she ‘got a new job’ two days a week, volunteering in the Nicholson Museum.  She began by stuffing envelopes, and moved on to reconstructing shattered pots, learning how to support the glued pieces in sand.  She loved these days, and she loved the archaeologists, she loved NEAF and she loved the Nicholson Museum.  For her, the archaeologists were dear friends and she felt privileged to be able to work among them. Even more privileged were all of us who knew her—either as a friend, travelling companion, or volunteer in the NEAF office or basement of the Nicholson Museum—for with her enthusiasm (age being no barrier), gentility, and selflessness Win remains a real inspiration to so many.

Win remained fit and healthy into her 100th year (in 2016) and beyond, but with failing eyesight.  She lived independently (with some help) and died in July 2019 after a fall.


Near Eastern Archaeological Foundation
Level 4, CCANESA Madsen F09, University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia
+61 2 9351 4151