''It's the sixth anniversary of the opening of Mackenzie Walk and a fitting time to remember two of Blacktown's earliest doctors, especially since Dr Frances passed away in April.''
Blacktown Mayor Len Robinson was reflecting the remarkable life of Francesca Mackenzie and last week's anniversary of the opening of a walk named in honour of her and her late husband, John.
The future Dr Frances (as she became known to her patients) Mackenzie was born on August 6, 1914.
She weighed barely two pounds at birth and doctors did not expect her to live long — let alone 98 years.
Her daughter Tina King remembered her mother as a fighter to the end.
''She had many obstacles to her health, such as an ectopic pregnancy, breast cancer, strokes, atherosclerosis, kidney disease and a broken hip,'' Mrs King said.
''Her grandfather, who had fought with Garibaldi for the unification of Italy, and grandmother came out on the same boat from Tuscany in Italy to New Zealand in 1875.
''There they married and raised a large Italian family, among them Francesca’s mother.
''Her father, the son of Northern Irish Scots who settled in Dunedin, married her mother in 1912 in Wellington and they migrated to Sydney where Francesca Mackisack was born.''
Francesca lived through two world wars. and was proud of her uncle who fought at Gallipoli.
One of her earliest memories was watching the Anzac troops returning from Gallipoli and the western front, marching in Wellington, New Zealand.
Mrs King said Francesca inherited a love of music and learning from her father and warmth, compassion and love of life from her mother.
''She was especially drawn to her Italian heritage and in later years loved to study the language, literature and culture of Italy.
''After primary school she went to North Sydney Girls High School where she became school captain in 1931 and dux the year after.
Determined to be a doctor from age 14, she studied medicine at Sydney University, graduating in 1938 as one of only 24 women.
In 1939 she became a junior resident at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
She married fellow medical student John Mackenzie in June 1941, then worked at Rachel Forster, Royal North Shore and Sydney Hospitals where she was recruited to help set up the Red Cross Blood Service.
She was the first woman to be allowed into the abattoirs in order to collect ox blood to test the centrifuge so blood could be sent to the troops in New Guinea.
Their first son Hugh was born in 1945, and when John returned from war service in New Guinea, they took over a general medical practice in Flushcombe Road, Blacktown — now the site of the Max Webber Library.
For 21 years they worked (and lived) on the corner of Flushcombe and Alpha Street, then moved the practice 300 metres up the road.
The Blacktown community included many post-war migrants, and Dr Frances recalled many times where patients gave them fresh vegetables, or even live poultry.
While their three children (Andrew was born in 1949 and Christina in 1951) were young, Francesca worked part-time, but joined the practice full-time in the early 1950s.
''Back then doctors usually lived with their families on the practice premises, worked six to seven days a week and regularly did house calls - they could be called out at all hours of the day and night, particularly before Blacktown Hospital opened in 1965,'' Mrs King said.
''That didn’t leave much time for leisure – often later on a Saturday afternoon they would relax with family and friends at the Prospect Hotel beer garden, where the ladies enjoyed a shandy and the kids played on the swings.
''Each January they would try to spend two weeks at Collaroy.''
Mrs King said her mother had a calm nature.
''Nothing phased her – when she went on a trip to Japan with her father after her mother died in 1956, there were very rough seas and everyone apart from Francesca and her father was seasick, including the ship’s doctor, so when a crew member fell and gashed his leg, Francesca was clinging to the deck with one hand and sewing him up with the other.''
In 1965, Dr Frances told her husband she had bought five acres of land in a new subdivision in Chapel Lane Baulkham Hills and in July 1966 the family moved there.
She lived in Baulkham Hills longer than in any other area, for more than 36 years until December 2002.
When the Doctors Mackenzie retired in 1987, after 40 years, their patients held a farewell for them at Blacktown Workers Club.
Blacktown Council hosted a civic reception in recognition of their community service and, in 2007, named a walkway in their honour leading from Westpoint to Flushcombe Road (near their first home/surgery).
In retirement Francesca loved to garden, listen to music, study Italian, spend time with her grandchildren and travel overseas.
After John died in 2001 after 60 years marriage, she moved to a new home in North Richmond, next to her daughter Tina.
''She quickly embraced (and was embraced by) her new community, enrolling in numerous University of the Third Age courses,'' Mrs King said.
''She was still holding advanced Italian meetings in her home only weeks before her death.
''Francesca was a remarkable woman who led a full and interesting life. She left behind three children and their partners, nine grandchildren and many friends.''