Listen: Katrina Roe on Hope Mornings chats with callers about June Dally-Watkins. Image: Facebook / JDW; Photograph by Kristina Soljo and Daniel E Mattioli
Beloved etiquette coach June Dally-Watkins is being remembered by generations of Australians as a woman of grace, faith and Godly values, after her death on Saturday night aged 92.
A model, style coach and founder of her own deportment school, Dally-Watkins trained hundreds of thousands of young people over nearly 70 years, both in Australia as well as Hong Kong, India and China.
A complex personality with a rags-to-riches story, Ms Dally-Watkins began life in a small country mining town in NSW, and was taught by her struggling single mother and her grandparents to strive for greatness.
Inspired by clothing catalogues and Woman’s Weekly magazines, a young June dreamed of modelling and mixing shoulders with the rich and famous—and went on to achieve both. She was discovered by a photographer in Tamworth at the age of 13, and ended up Australia’s most-photographed model in her day. For a short time while working in America she was famously wined and dined by the Hollywood star Gregory Peck, being invited to parties attended by the likes of Marilyn Monroe.
“I believe that all human beings should love and care for the person who lives inside them, and then that will help them to give love and care to other human beings.”
But for all the glamour and success, June believes she wouldn’t have made it as a model in today’s competitive environment; as a girl she was too short, plump and “wholesome”.
In a 2013 interview with Leigh Hatcher on Open House, June explained that the two principles at the heart of all her work were love, and care.
“I believe that all human beings should love and care for the person who lives inside them, and then that will help them to give love and care to other human beings,” she said. “People need to be loved and cared for and that’s why I just am so happy (to do) what I do.”
Out a crucible of childhood struggle, “Miss Dally”, as her students knew her, wanted to help others feel a strong sense of self worth. She wanted her students “to feel happy in life, and to be self-contented, to do well in life and not waste their time”, and to give them “self-confidence – to feel good about yourself, to be able to cope with life anywhere you are in the world.”
Struggles in Life, and Finding Faith
After she married, Ms Dally-Watkins was determined not to give up her work and hired domestic help to assist when her four children came along. She copped a lot of criticism for her decision, in a time when women were expected to stay at home. She later divorced, and often shared strong messages about the importance of independence for women. She also suffered deep rejection from her father, which was a source of silent pain in her life.
In the 1980s, Ms Dally-Watkins came to faith in Jesus through the ministries of Crossroads and Youth With a Mission while working in Hong Kong, and was baptised in the South China Sea. After finding faith, she suddenly realised it was God who had been with her guiding her path all along.
“The Lord has always played a part in my life… There was someone in my heart and soul, and somebody there who seemed to guide me.”
“The Lord has always played a part in my life,” she told Leigh Hatcher. “I used to think my grandfather was my guiding light, that he was the one that looked after me and was now looking down from heaven—and then I realised that it was all happening before my grandfather died anyway.
“There was someone in my heart and soul, and somebody there who seemed to guide me.”
In a 2007 interview with Sheridan Voysey, she said she was so changed by her newfound faith that when she came back to Sydney, “everyone was looking at me and they were saying, ‘You look different, did you fall in love?'” “I just felt like another person,” she said. “I hope people will take away the feeling I have in my heart for Jesus.”
Christianity changed her life in practical ways too, as she looked for avenues where she could put her faith into action – going on missions trips, and in 2007 running as a candidate for the Christian Democratic Party in NSW.
On the Hope Mornings show, a number of Hope 103.2 listeners phoned in to share how they were impacted by Ms Dally-Watkins’ teaching, either at her deportment classes, or in talks she gave at their school.
Theresa remembers being taught to “put your head up high, be proud of yourself, proud of who you are, and what you are”, while Mary said her experience at the June Dally Watkins modelling school in the 1960s was “life-changing”: “I always felt like an ugly duckling growing up, and after completing the course I had this amazing boost of confidence which still remains to this day,” she said.
Louise said she learnt from Ms Dally-Watkins that being feminine shouldn’t exclude you from the opportunities that are open to men.
“I was a tomboy, I had three older brothers, I did not have a strong female role model and fashion role model in my house,” she said, “and I took [her teaching] to mean that you don’t have to pretend to be a boy, or pretend to be boy-like, to make it – you can just be who you are. And if who you are is red nailpolish and red lipstick, so be it. Pretty doesn’t mean dumb, that’s what I got from it.”
Sayings of June Dally-Watkins
On Fashion: “Fashion changes every season, but style goes on forever.”
On Miracles: “When these miracles happen, I know where it is coming from. Everybody has miracles every day in their life, but they just don’t recognise them.”
On Jesus: “I just feel that he is part of my life and real. I feel the Lord. I feel Jesus.”
On Faith: “Whatever happens in my life, being a Christian and loving the Lord just gives me such comfort. I’m not alone any more.”