Originally written by Spectator-Observer Partnership
DISTRICT philanthropist, Helen Handbury OAM, has died aged 75.
Mrs Handbury, who lived in Hamilton with husband, Geoff, was the daughter of Dame Elisabeth and the late Sir Keith Murdoch.
The couple moved to Hamilton in 2001, after retiring from their Balmoral property at Kanagulk, where they had farmed since 1974.
Tributes have come from far and wide and flags of the Southern Grampians Shire are being flown at half mast in her honour.
Helen Handbury’s sense of community and her unassuming modesty touched all who knew her and her knowledge and understanding of both local and wider issues was impressive.
Her husband, Geoff, said earlier this year that it had been the true sense of community they had found after moving to the Western District, which had sparked their desire to give something back.
They were each awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1999 for their philanthropic work and in February this year, both Hamilton Rotary clubs honoured them as Paul Harris Fellows for their service and inspiration to the community.
Their citation for the Paul Harris Fellowships, stated that it was their dream of hope and success for the future which underpinned their generosity, and in turn allowed the beneficiaries to develop those aspirations.
Among major organisations which had benefited in the Southern Grampians region were Western District Health Service, the Hamilton Art Gallery, RMIT Hamilton and its annual Handbury Fellowships, Hamilton Brass and the Baimbridge College band, the former Currawong House, Coleraine’s Peter Francis Points Arboretum, the Johnny Mullagh Cricket Museum in Harrow – which the couple formally opened in April this year – and many other organisations throughout the wider district.
Helen Handbury was a quiet, self-effacing woman, who never sought accolades for herself and was happy just to be part of her community. She knew what was needed and set about doing what she could to help.
She was also acutely aware of the wider world of business and politics and served for many years as a director of Advertiser Newspapers, and of CARE Australia.
She leaves her husband, Geoff, her children, Matt, Paul Paddy and Judy and their families. A service to celebrate her life will be held at Murrary Hall, Hamilton, at 2pm tomorrow.
“All who knew Mrs Handbury were enriched by the experience of knowing such a friendly, vibrant woman. She was a magnificent person who was kind, generous and possessed a particularly sharp wit and active mind.
“The work which Helen and Geoff have done, not only in Southern Grampians Shire, but throughout the entire region, will leave a lasting memorial to her. Over the years, her philanthropy, and particularly well targeted assistance, to many individuals and organisations, will stand as a tribute to her.”
“The stories of Helen and Geoff’s financial generosity are legendary and the source of great envy from the rest of the state, but they still fail to convey the true contribution this wonderful team has made,” he said.
“They voted with their feet in moving to Hamilton and somehow conveyed to us all that they wanted Hamilton to thrive, and in their own way, they would see it happen.
“The ‘little’ bit of leadership was enough to carry us all to the optimism that we share today. In no small way we have Helen’s wisdom to be grateful for, with Geoff’s skills as a communicator and enthusiast having paved the way.”
“As a person, Helen was just a wonderful lady, one out of the box, down to earth, charming and generous in terms of giving her time,” he said.
“She was on the development council which oversees our fund raising and a member of the Aged Care Trust. She went out with other volunteers collecting on hospital Sunday and helped organised things such as tables for the WDHS race day.
“She gave great personal support, a source of energy and support for innovative ideas and a friend to the health service. Our thoughts are now with Geoff and family.”
“Her belief in the importance of education was clear,” she said. “Helen could see what a difference a university in the Southern Grampians could make, and because of that foresight, she made it possible for RMIT Hamilton to be here.”
Ms Scholfield said Helen Handbury’s inspiration would remain.
“She understood the importance of community and made it possible in so many ways for this community to take giant steps forward. Helen left an immense legacy for us to build on.”