HUNTER woman Sheila Woodcock rarely discussed money during her long life, in which she lived simply and enjoyed close friendships, travelling, horticulture, acting and chocolate.
Her second cousin and enduring guardian Kent Woodcock said her family and friends knew she was comfortable, but weren't aware even after her May 2018 death at 87 just how comfortable - until today.
Kent has invited representatives from 15 community organisations to gather at the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service facility at Broadmeadow this morning to reveal that her will includes around $14 million to be split between them.
He said each organisation was told before today how much they were receiving, but weren't aware of the total size of her gift.
"The charities were gobsmacked but when they realise it's 14 other charities... it's awe-inspiring," he said.
The $14 million follows decades of ongoing generosity and donations.
"Her philanthropy in helping charities was amazing," Kent said.
"Basically all her estate is going to charities.
"I don't think anybody [in Newcastle] has ever done something like this and I don't think we'll ever see it again.
"This is to be a celebration.
"It's not sadness at her passing, it's 'Look what she's done, look what she's doing'."
Sheila Woodcock's bequests comprises:
- $1.375 million for Scots Kirk Presbyterian Church Hamilton to fund church redevelopment
- $1.375 million for The Salvation Army to address homelessness by purchasing property for accommodation
- $1.375 million for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service to fund a high fidelity winch simulator and live hoist training tower, to reduce damage to aircraft or equipment during training
- $1.375 million for Diabetes NSW and ACT to fund the Sheila Woodcock Development Scholarship, for three graduates to attend the International Diabetes Federation Congress every two years
- $1.375 million for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research to help drive cellular genomics research in Australia led by Associate Professor Joseph Powell
- $1.375 million for Guide Dogs Australia to fund its training program and prepare dogs for more than 25 Australians
- $1.375 million for the Royal Flying Doctor Service to purchase a new King Air B350 engine, three sets of essential role equipment and contribute to holistic primary healthcare
- $1.375 million for RSPCA NSW to build a brand new purpose built RSPCA NSW Veterinary Hospital for Newcastle to replace the rented Tighes Hill premises
- $450,000 for Vision Australia for its children and young adults program
- $450,000 for the Australian Red Cross for its humanitarian work
- $450,000 for Breast Cancer Trials to fund dedicated research and the Sheila Woodcock Travel Grant to allow a young researcher to attend the Breast Cancer Trials' Annual Scientific Meeting
- $340,000 for the Cancer Council to allow researchers to investigate a new risk-based screening program for breast cancer and fund education programs and support for people affected by cancer
- $340,000 for World Vision to seed a new endowment fund
- $340,000 for The Smith Family to fund the Learning for Life program, the ARTcastle program and the Sheila Woodcock Memorial Scholarship
- $340,000 for the Heart Foundation for research to improve heart health and provide two health professional scholarships valued at $50,000 each per annum, spread over three years
"They cover health, humanity and discovery," he said.
"It was in her will and all planned.
"She did not share her will with anybody - I only found out in the last six months.
"She was a very private, independent and strong woman."
Salvation Army area officer for the Hunter and NSW Central Coast Major Mark Everitt said the gift was "overwhelming".
"It's one of those spine tingling moments," he said.
"We're grateful that Sheila has been so generous not just in her passing but through her life. She has demonstrated a great sense of generosity and compassion that is quite extraordinary.
"She is a blessing to our community."
Major Everitt said Sheila had told Salvation Army staff about her "hopes for the most vulnerable members of our society".
He said the organisation planned to use the money to purchase property in the Belmont area for emergency and transitional housing, which will accommodate between six and 10 people.
"It will not just to put a roof over heads but help them to be equipped, to get a rental history, to upskill for employment, whatever they need for the next part of their life.
"We're hoping to install a lot of support around them."
Kent said he would visit Sheila at Maroba Aged Care in Waratah in the last year of her life and bring her mail, which often consisted of thank you letters from community organisations, shareholder statements and invitations to board meetings.
"We knew she was comfortable, she did not have a regular career, but we weren't invited to pry or ask," he said of her wealth.
"It was not something she wanted people to know, she kept it very private."
But he said he noticed the organisations were thanking her for large sums- from $5000 to $20,000 - and asked why she had never received any recognition.
"She said it was around her safety, if people knew she was living by herself - she felt unsure," he said.
"But she said the most important thing was that the charities know."
He said she had supported many of the organisations for a long time, including World Vision for nearly 40 years.
She gave more than $347,000 over more than 30 years to Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
Some relationships had been formed after meeting people working at the grassroots of the organisations, "then over time she would get to know the head honchos".
"A lot of her charity giving came down to getting to know somebody," he said.
"If she liked the person and thought their organisation was a good one, she would support them.
"If she liked the cut of your cloth and respected who you were she would never forget you.
"She had the most amazing memory and would never forget anybody, particularly if she were good to her."
He said the charities became her friends.
"She might not see them all the time but she regarded them as part of her," he said.
"She regarded them as 'my' charities.
"She felt she had stakes in their success and that was really nice.
"Every time she saw someone from the RSPCA or a seeing eye dog she'd think she'd touched their life somehow, without having to grandstand and say 'Look at me'.
"She felt as if by contributing to them that she was part of them."
Kent said he asked Sheila shortly before she passed away what she would like to happen after her death.
"She said 'We'll have to have a glass of champagne' and that she would like all the charities and her friends to come together.
"She said 'I'd like to share with them my final gift to the community'.
"So I'm just following her request."
Sheila Winifred Woodcock was born the only child of Winifred Anne and Frederick or Fred Woodcock on January 3, 1931.
Fred and his brother Geoff followed in their father Christopher's footsteps and worked in the timber merchant business Christopher had helped establish, Earp, Woodcock and Beveridge or EWB.
Fred was managing director and Geoff the yard manager.
Kent's father, also named Christopher, was Geoff's son and Sheila's cousin.
Kent said EWB bought the Sorby's chain of hardware stores, plus bought and expanded the Gould Brothers hardware store in Singleton into a chain of stores.
He said Sheila was never involved in management, but was a major shareholder of both EWB - which was sold in the late 1980s to BBC Hardware, which became Bunnings - and Gould Brothers.
"She had contact with and was privvy to the way the family business was being run," he said. "She was very much respected.
"The head financial controller at EWB looked after Sheila's interests for many years and in the past ten years Pitcher Partners have looked after her.
"Her wealth was created from her inheritance and the way she managed her investments."
Kent said Sheila had wanted to be a pharmacist and "would have been awesome, knowing her business acumen and strength of character".
"But it came down to her being a single lady - her father had difficulty letting her go to Sydney to study."
Instead she joined the Newcastle Dramatic Arts Club in 1948, performing in Madame Butterfly, Once Upon A Mattress, Carmen and the lead in Elixir of Love. She was also assistant treasurer.
Kent was Sheila's enduring guardian for the last 18 months of her life, after taking over the role from his aunt Helen who had become ill.
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