Retirement stories: Helping the community

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A former Project Manager at RMIT whose achievements include developing programs to tackle youth unemployment, Ian Harrison has been involved in community service for much of his life. Today, the President of Melbourne Legacy helps honour a promise made on the battlefields of World War 1.

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My wife Derithe and I have been involved with the charity Legacy for a number of years. As a child, Derithe was what is known as a ‘Junior Legatee’ as her father passed away after returning from service and Legacy helped her family through difficult times.

Legacy grew out of a promise a digger made to his dying mate on the battlefields of WW1 that he would "look after his missus and kids". Legacy as an organisation commenced in Melbourne in 1923 and continues to honour that promise today.

When our family was young we involved the children in assisting Legacy by selling badges at railway stations during Legacy Week. In 1979, Derithe assisted the Northern Branch Legatees by helping widows, and in 2001 both Derithe and I were invited to become Legatees. We took the opportunity to serve the organisation so we could repay the kindness shown to Derithe by Legacy, particularly during her teenage years.

Our primary focus is on the unmet needs of the partners and children of incapacitated veterans, rather than the veterans themselves. We provide counselling, pensions advocacy, welfare support, financial assistance and social support. We are also committed to nurturing children's education by contributing towards school fees, books, uniforms and recreational activities.

It’s very rewarding to assist families that have lost a loved one or a mother or father that has given their health as a result of their service to this great nation of ours. The greatest satisfaction arises when we place an application for a War Widow’s Pension for a new widow and the application is successful. Other times are when we support widows at their club meetings and special functions like Remembrance Day.

I was installed as the President of Melbourne Legacy in March 2014 and have just been appointed for a second term which will conclude in March 2016. There are 49 Legacy Clubs scattered throughout Australia and one in London. With the commemoration of 100 years of ANZAC, there is a significant increase in the number of commemorative activities where I need to represent Legacy.

In April we held the ANZAC Commemoration Ceremony for Students at the Shrine. More than 7,000 students from primary and secondary schools across Victoria participated and they were addressed by the Governor of Victoria. Another significant day will be the Back to Caulfield Day held at the Caulfield Racecourse on August 15. This event includes the Lone Pine service which is held annually at Caulfield and it is anticipated that at least two WW1 widows will lay a wreath.

I refer to the role that Derithe and I have with Melbourne Legacy as ‘Team Harrison’. Derithe is extremely supportive of my position and accompanies me wherever I go, unless the invitation dictates otherwise.