One Man’s Vision
The organisation we see today can be traced back to the vision and aspirations of one man, Echuca general practitioner Dr James (Jim) Alexander.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jim was frequently called to attend local women at the birth of their children, some of whom were born with disabilities. During the postnatal period of the women’s care, Jim became increasingly aware that these families faced special challenges because of their babies’ disabilities. These specific challenges often resulted in the families feeling isolated, confused and stressed.
Moved by these difficult circumstances, Jim made it his mission to establish a care and respite facilities for families of children with disabilities in the Echuca-Moama district. It was an undertaking he couldn’t complete alone however, so he took it to the community to ask for help. His first stop – two local businessmen – Jack Squire and Max McKee. According to Jack, once ‘Jim got something into his head there was no stopping him.’
Despite securing the assistance of both Jack and Max, Jim was soon to realise that the scope of the job at hand was bigger than he first thought. This was a project that was going to require Government funding. And although Jim was known to be impatient with red tape or, as Jack would put it, ‘Jim was not very tolerant of the bureaucracy’, he applied for funding through the Mental Deficiency Training Services Department and the Chairman of the Mental Hygiene (later known as the Mental Health Authority), Dr Cunningham Dax.
Scheduled appointments with Dr Dax were notoriously hard to come by – his skills were in high demand and his time was limited, but Jim wasn’t going to let a small thing like an appointment get in his way. So, in a wily move, he turned up at Dr Dax’s Melbourne office unannounced and informed the receptionist that he was delivering the Doctor’s lunch. Once inside, he told his story and it wasn’t long before funding for the Echuca facility was allocated.
With Government funding approved, Jim presented his case to a packed community meeting on November 14, 1967 and received overwhelming support. Within seven months of this meeting a building was purchased in Dickson Street, Echuca, and four local children became the first ever clients of the new care facility known as Tehan House.
With the success of Tehan House, Jim set his sights on the pressing need for a district school that could cater to the needs of children with an intellectual disability. He established a group of energetic and committed volunteers and, in 1974, Tehan House relocated to a larger space at 228-230 High Street, and began enrolling kids in educational classes.
In a tribute to Dr Alexander’s selfless dedication to children with a disability and determination to improve the living conditions of families with children with a disability, a respite accommodation home on High Street, Echuca, became officially known as ‘James Alexander House’ in December 1979.
Dr James Alexander died on December 22, 1981, aged just 55 years.
His life, begun in the tiny village of Fawley in southern England in February 1926, had taken him to the Royal Air Force as a trainee navigator when he was 17 and on to Queen’s University in Belfast, where his interest in medicine was sparked. His compassion led his devotion to looking after people throughout their lives, from birth to the grave.
His kindness and hard work left him little time for himself – he was almost always out in the community, volunteering his energy and expertise. In addition to the work he did as a GP, and his commitment to people with a disability, he was also responsible for helping to start Alcoholics Anonymous in Echuca.
Dr James Alexander, or Dr Alex, as he was affectionately known, was a passionate advocate for the underprivileged, and could always be relied upon to give up his valuable family time to help those less fortunate that himself.
His vision lives on today through Vivid.
This story is an excerpt from Our Vivid History, a collection of stories celebrating over 50 years of our organisation. If you would like to pre-order a copy of the book, please click below.