MARY Blackford retired from the paid workforce on Tuesday, only two days after her 85th birthday and after a lifetime of service to others.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like to be active, while I can be,” she said.
In 1984 she established Wallsend Carers, a volunteer-led group that supported elderly and disabled people living alone in the community. Mrs Blackford saw the need, received help from Hunter Volunteer Centre, and by 1990 the carers group was incorporated and expanding.
Nearly four decades after giving up paid work as a pharmacy assistant at Tighes Hill to raise a family in 1953, aged 20, Mrs Blackford resumed work as a part-time coordinator for Wallsend Carers. While she ended the coordinator work on Tuesday, Mrs Blackford will continue as a volunteer.
Her life might not have followed today’s career arc for women, but it is not unusual for those born in the Depression or World War II era who left work to raise a family, she said.
Women formed the backbone of volunteer community groups in an era when many didn’t work, she said.
“A lot of it was giving people who wanted to do something, giving them something positive to do, and there is such tremendous satisfaction in giving to others. You don’t get money, but there is great joy in showing love for others.”
Carers group volunteers provided a link between many isolated elderly and disabled people in the community in the 1980s and 1990s when government services were not available, she said.
“We used to fund our organisation with garage sales held at my home. Our carers would regularly visit people who would otherwise not have regular contact with others,” she said.
“What we brought to people was the joy of somebody knocking on the door with a smile on their face and bringing the world to that person, with the promise of coming back again.”
While women were “more willing to have a go at what we were doing and take a risk” at first, the Wallsend Carers group came to rely on male volunteers as well.
Wallsend Carers coordinator Barbara Russell, who joined the group in 1990, said Mary Blackford was “one of a kind”.
“She turned 85 on Sunday, retired on Tuesday and she’s already filled in an application as a volunteer,” Ms Russell said.
Mrs Blackford said her Catholic upbringing and the message of Christ to “love one another as I have loved you” was a motivation.
“One of our volunteers was with us for many years and she was a wonderful support for a woman. Now the volunteer is in a wheelchair and the daughter of the woman she supported for years, is now her volunteer carer,” Mrs Blackford said.
“It’s those kind of rewards that can only be found in this kind of work.”
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