Dr Holmes’ association with the Institute began in 1938, when she worked as a junior laboratory technician while simultaneously working part-time towards a science degree at The University of Melbourne. In 1948 she travelled to England, where she gained both MSc and PhD degrees.
Her first interest at the university was epidemiology, which she studied further at the Central Public Health Laboratory at Colindale, London and later at Fairfield Hospital, Melbourne.
Dr Holmes rejoined the Institute in 1958 in the dual role of research associate to Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet and officer in charge of technical staff.
Working with Sir Macfarlane Burnet, she showed that immune cells are responsible for initiating autoimmune conditions, and that there are genetic predispositions to
n the late 1970s Dr Holmes became general manager of the Institute under director Sir Gustav Nossal. Her main responsibilities included the selection, training and supervision of laboratory technical staff and the development of Laboratory Animal Services.
She also had a major role in the design and construction of the Institute’s animal breeding facilities at the Clive and Vera Ramaciotti
Laboratories at Kew. She became an expert in animal breeding and care, including the maintenance of germ-free and pathogen-free status.
In the early and mid 1980s, she was closely involved in the design and construction of the laboratories in the Parkville building, liaising between scientific staff and the architects.
Dr Holmes officially retired in December 1986, but continued her relationship with the Institute until she passed away in November 2016.
The Institute now awards an annual Margaret Holmes Emerging Leader prize, in recognition of younger staff who have made significant contributions to the Institute, and have demonstrated the potential for leadership and continuing service.
In 2005 Dr Holmes was interviewed for the WEHI Revisited series (produced by Louise Darmody, Sound Memories), in which several Institute luminaries spoke about what drove them to pursue a career in medical research, and shared memories of life at the Institute.
The interviews can be accessed at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, and the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.