In memory of Pat Gunn - 18.12.1927 to 22.07.2018

Everyone at DSi and in the rest of the Down syndrome community was very sad to hear that Pat Gunn passed away on the 22 July 2018. Pat was due to accept a World Down Syndrome Day Scientific Award at the World Down Syndrome Congress in Glasgow on 27 July. The award was in recognition of the outstanding contribution she made during her life to research related to people with Down syndrome. She will be greatly missed. 

Here is some information about her life and career:

Pat Gunn was born in 1927 in the town of Roma, Queensland, Australia. She was named Vera Patricia Lowthen, but she would become known to all as Pat. During the Depression, the family moved to Brisbane and settled in Wynnum. Pat attended Brisbane State High School. During World War II, she worked as a mathematician for the Australian Defence Department. Later she became the first woman in Queensland to graduate with an Honours degree in Physics, and she then worked as a geo-physicist.

In 1948, she married Morris Gunn and had 2 sons, Lester and Andrew. In the 1950s, they moved to Melbourne where Pat used her skills with data working for the Bureau of Mineral Resources on Australia’s first uranium survey. From 1962-1968, Pat and her family spent some time in Canada and then moved back to Australia.

Pat returned to university study in 1969. She chose a course in remedial education offered by the Schonell Education Research Centre at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. Pat completed a PhD (The temperament of Down syndrome children) in the Department of Education at The University of Queensland and through her research became an international expert in the education of children with Down syndrome.

As the topic of her PhD indicates, Pat was interested in temperament and the way it develops with time. She also became interested in mother-baby interactions and the study that she began grew into the Longitudinal Study, the work of which she was justifiably most proud. This is still an integral part of the Down Syndrome Research Program (DSRP) based in the School of Education, The University of Queensland. This program of research continues today, 40 years after it began.

Pat joined the staff of the Schonell Education Research Centre and was involved in both teaching and research.  Pat’s research involved collaborations with several researchers in the Schonell Centre. They resulted in publications on various topics including sibling relationships of children with Down syndrome and the motor development of children with Down syndrome.

In 2017, her work as a researcher was recognised with a World Down Syndrome Day Scientific Award. She was to have accepted the award at the World Down Syndrome Congress held in Glasgow, Scotland on 27 July 2018. The citation for her award recognises that:

"The potential practical implications of her research were always in the forefront of her thinking and she was one of the first researchers in the field to look at development in Down syndrome through the lens of the wider family.”

In her acceptance of the Award, which Pat wrote before her death, she thanked the individuals and families who had contributed to the research and to the associations who represent the interests of people with Down syndrome.

Pat’s contribution is not restricted to her own research but continues through the influence she had and continues to have on the researchers she mentored, and, of course, through the Longitudinal Study. These researchers and the Down syndrome community and their families will miss her guidance and presence.