Renowned female lawyer leaves significant bequest to Monash University

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Executors of Francine McNiff's Will, Brett and Ron Tait.

Monash University has received one of its largest ever gifts from the estate of highly respected lawyer and Monash alumna Francine V McNiff, who donated $3.72 million to the University.

Francine, who died in April 2015, left instructions for her own death notice which simply stated:

“I have ceased to exist – Francine.”  

Ironically, she will now live on through the establishment of two significant legacies in her name.

Monash President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AO said that Francine’s remarkable legacy would endure through the exceptional scholarship and educational opportunities funded by her bequest.

“It is a wonderful honour for Monash that such a significant figure in the field of law, Francine McNiff, would donate her estate to the University,” Professor Gardner said.

“Francine was a deeply inspiring figure for a great many in the legal profession. Her gift allows Monash to celebrate her contributions through a new Chair in Criminal Jurisprudence, as well as providing our most deserving students the opportunity to pursue their study of criminology at the postgraduate level.

The Francine McNiff Chair in Criminal Jurisprudence ($2 million) will be established within the Faculty of Law at Monash University.

Professor Bryan Horrigan, Dean, Faculty of Law, said the Chair will be of great significance to the Faculty.

“As we look to strengthen our expertise in the field of criminal jurisprudence, the Chair will be an inspiring educator, conducting leading-edge research and drawing together our researchers and educators already working in this field,” Professor Horrigan said.

The Francine V McNiff Scholarship Fund ($1.72 million) will be available to candidates from both the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Arts and will provide financial support for the duration of the recipient’s post-graduate study.

Professor Sharon Pickering, Dean, Faculty of Arts said: “Francine’s legacy will live on through this gift which will change the lives of individual students, and the communities that these students will seek to transform.”

About Francine McNiff

As a ground-breaking lawyer, Francine’s contribution to the Victorian legal profession was significant.  In 1983, aged 35, she became the first female judicial officer in Victoria having been appointed Children’s Court Stipendiary Magistrate, also making her the State’s youngest judicial officer.

Executors of her Will, Ron and Brett Tait were among those closest to a woman who never married and carefully protected her privacy with minimal social interaction.

“The law was Francine’s life. She be thrilled to know she was making a real difference to a lot of people,” Mr Ron Tait said.

Ron Tait first met Francine when they were students at Monash University in the 1960s and later worked with her, briefing her as a barrister on a number of criminal cases. His son Brett was also mentored by the woman who he remembers as “formidable”.

“It was almost an informal mentorship - she taught me the little nuances, how to deal with clients in a firm way but let them know that you are on their side,” Mr Brett Tait said.

This is the largest bequest that Monash has received from the estate of a graduate and highlights the power of alum giving and what it brings back to students and learning.

“Until I became involved in this matter, I had not had any contact with Monash since graduating in 1968.

“But since I have been dealing with this matter, it has shown me just how much it can mean to the life of a student who may not have the financial means to go on to further study. I know Francine would be proud to see what is happening with her bequest,” Mr Ron Tait said.

“I would encourage alumna to consider Monash University in their financial and estate planning.”

More information about gifts to Monash University and how people can give directly to support research and education can be found here