Early life and education
Sonia Rachel Hopkins was born at 'Borambil', Redmyre Road, Strathfield, New South Wales. She was the daughter of William Edward Hopkins and Rachel May Lilla, daughter of grazier William G. Matchett, one of Australia's wealthiest men. His estate was valued at over £580,000 gross after his death in 1932, the year Sonia was born.
Career and marriage to William McMahon
Sonia Hopkins worked as an occupational therapist until 1965 when she married William (better known as Billy) McMahon, an aspiring politician in Sir Robert Menzies' government. She was 32, he 57. It was the only marriage for both. He became Prime Minister in 1971.
Later that year, Sonia McMahon made world headlines after being photographed at the White House wearing a revealing dress in the company of her husband and United States president Richard Nixon. The white full-length dress featured see-through slits down both sides. The Washington Post described the dress as one of the most talked about items of clothing ever to be worn to the White House. In later years (then Lady McMahon) she spoke to her biographer, commenting that her husband chose the dress and that it had "certainly made an impact".
Their first two children (Melinda and Julian) were born before he became prime minister. Their third child, Deborah, was born in 1972, during McMahon's term as prime minister. As a prime ministerial spouse from March 1971 to December 1972, Sonia McMahon organised for a nanny to look after the children at the family home in the Sydney suburb of Bellevue Hill, while she lived with her husband at The Lodge, Canberra, attending official duties. In an interview with her biographer, Sonia McMahon said: "It was a hard decision. I loved being with Bill and I loved being a mum. But I knew I had to make a decision, and I chose to be with my husband."
William McMahon was knighted in 1977, and she became Lady McMahon, although often still referred to as simply Sonia McMahon. She became a widow in 1988, and in the ensuing years she continued her philanthropic activities. Lady McMahon became a board member and patron of many charities, including the National Brain Foundation, the Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, the Microsearch Foundation and Australia's Sudden Infant Death Syndrome association.
Death and legacy
On 22 February 2009, Lady McMahon was seriously injured after slipping on the stairs of a luxury pleasure boat owned by her friend, Paul Ramsay. She was taken to St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney suffering broken ribs, punctured lung, and multiple other bone fractures. She was admitted to intensive care in March 2010 to undergo a procedure to clear her lungs of fluid. While in hospital, Lady McMahon had been preparing for an appearance at the Golden Slipper horse racing event at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse on 2 April.
Lady McMahon died aged 77 on 2 April 2010, in Sydney's St Vincent's Private Hospital after suffering from cancer; her three children were by her side. Tributes emerged from throughout the country from the Sydney social scene and from each side of the Australian political divide. Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott said, "She added grace and colour to our national life. We will all miss her. Our hearts go out to her family on this sad day". Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described Lady McMahon as a "distinguished representative of Australia ... this is a day of great sadness".
Media outlets noted her work in contributing to the community by attending fundraisers for charity and different organisations including being on the board of the Sydney Children's Hospital as well as for her complete loyalty to her husband. Lady McMahon's estate has been estimated to be worth $30 million in 2010, made up of real estate throughout New South Wales, which she inherited from her late husband.
- "Lady Sonia McMahon dies in Sydney hospital". smh.com.au. 3 April 2010. Retrieved 3 April 2010.
- Profile, news.google.com; accessed 15 September 2015.
- "Golden moment". The Sydney Morning Herald. 13 January 2005. Retrieved 5 March 2009.
- Obituary, dailytelegraph.com.au; accessed 15 September 2015.
- "Lady Sonia McMahon's health still poor after fall". The Daily Telegraph. 4 March 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2009.
- Obituary, smh.com.au; accessed 15 September 2015.
- Profile, smh.com.au; retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Corbis image of revealing dress