By Engelbert SchmidL
VOLUNTEERS are those big-hearted people who give their time and sweat to get things done. Without them, our lives would be much the poorer.
Last Thursday night, Footscray Rotary Club paid tribute to a deserving group of people whose contributions have enriched the lives of many in the Western suburbs.
Footscray born and bred Leon Ray Bates received the prestigious John H. Kerr Star News Group award for outstanding community service.
He said he was honoured to receive the award, especially as he had known Mr Kerr who he said had nominated him for a place on the Footscray Society for the Aged board of management.
“There are plenty of volunteers and most are unheard of, they’re people who do it because they want to do it, not for any reward,” Mr Bates said.
Mr Bates, 76, was nominated by eldest son, Stephen Bates.
In his nomination letter to Footscray Rotary Club, Stephen Bates outlined the more than 50 years’ service his father had given to the people of Footscray in a variety of capacities.
He said his father’s volunteer work was done with “no thought of self-reward other than knowing he has helped someone in a position not as fortunate as his may have been at the time”.
He started work at Footscray post office as a telegram delivery boy in 1946.
Over the next 50 years, Mr Bates’ stature as a man of integrity grew in the community, working at the Commonwealth Bank, Alf Greenwood Real Estate and finally as Footscray branch manager at the Bendigo Bank.
Working for Alf Greenwood Real Estate, Mr Bates helped many migrants to the area buy their first home.
Stephen Bates said people regularly stopped to chat with his father in the streets of Footscray, often thanking him for helping find a new home and settling in the suburb.
Much of his community work focused on activities with the Barkly Street Uniting (Methodist) Church, in particular the church cricket club, where he was treasurer from 1946 to 1980.
He also remains an active member of the West Footscray Rotary Club, becoming a charter member in 1978, and serving as president, treasurer and sergeant-at-arms over the years.
His busy professional life was balanced by community service and a rich family life with his wife, Shirley, and their four children.
Friends, Keith and Shirley Murley, now living in Blairgowrie, were not surprised by the recognition of Mr Bates’ service. They said they’ve known a man who for more than 50 years always found that little bit extra to help someone out.
“He was always a very responsible man and a very good, close friend. He has a very strong sense of family and integrity,” Mr Murley said.
The last year had been a tough one for Mr Bates, who lost his wife in September. Friends and family said that Mr Bates’ dedication to his ailing wife was just one more example of his exceptional character.
Mrs Murley said that Mr Bates was a shining example of the hidden heroes who did the work that was not always noticed.
“Australia runs on volunteers, without them many community organisations would grind to a halt,” she said.
Mr Murley said that as well as being a man of outstanding character, Mr Bates was more than handy with bat and ball, a fact acknowledged when he was selected in the Barkly Street Uniting Church Cricket Club team of the century.
Others recognised with John H. Kerr awards for community service work were: Roslyn Evans, for outstanding elderly nursing care; Alan King, for coordinating community safety programs; Dawn Burgess, for foster care services; Clem Davis, for work with district Scout associations; and Jack Law, for services to cricket and sport in the Western suburbs.
The award evening also saw almost $39,000 in funding disbursed to numerous community groups in Footscray and surrounding areas by the Community Service and House of Friendship Fund.
By Engelbert SchmidL