VALERIE and John Ryan invested wisely, lived modestly, and gave generously to the causes close to their hearts.
Now, their legacy will live on following what is thought to be the largest bequest in Hunter history.
More than $20 million will be divided equally between the Hunter Medical Research Institute and the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation thanks to the Valerie and John Ryan Bequest.
At an announcement on Monday, the couple's niece - Megan McManus - said "Aunty Val" had been a long-time supporter of both organisations prior to her death, at the age of 94, in November.
"She chose the Art Gallery and HMRI to donate this wonderful gift because she believed they would do great things for the city she loved," Ms McManus said.
Mr Ryan, who died in 2009, was a metallurgist who established a coat hanger factory in Newcastle.
Mrs Ryan had owned a ballet store and taught shorthand and typing at TAFE.
They had also made some good investments in property and stocks.
"I knew she was going to donate some money in her will, I didn't know the amount," Ms McManus said.
"The amount blew me away.
"They were very frugal people. Very humble. Very down to earth. They earned every cent. They worked so hard. But they didn't splash their money around.
"They were not ostentatious, but they did exactly what they wanted to do.
"They travelled a lot, and just enjoyed life - a simple life."
Mrs Ryan had been a passionate and long-time supporter of the arts.
But her association with Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) began when she approached them to fund some projects following her husband's death.
Mr Ryan had suffered from dementia.
"The sciences were really important to Uncle John, and Aunty Val adored the ballet, art, theatre, and culture, so I think this is a nice split between research and the arts that she knew they would both be happy with," Ms McManus said.
"They didn't spruik themselves. But now, on behalf of them, I can do it, HMRI can do it, and the Art Gallery can do it. The family knows these gifts are in safe hands and we look forward to working with the Art Gallery Foundation and HMRI to bring Aunty Val's legacy to life."
Other local and national charities would also benefit from additional bequests left in Mrs Ryan's will.
"The outcome of these bequests will be a wonderful legacy to this amazing couple," Ms McManus said.
HMRI director, Professor Tom Walley, said the Valerie and John Ryan Bequest was an "extraordinary legacy" that would make a significant difference to the health of the community.
It was the largest donation HMRI had ever received.
Professor Walley said they would use the $10 million gift to make a "transformative change" in the quality and the amount of research they could conduct here in the Hunter.
"This is such a major legacy for us that we need to think carefully about how we spend it best," Professor Walley said on Monday.
"This is not a decision we are going to rush into. And we want to confer with the family too about what they think would best recognise the legacy of Valerie and John. There are some specific areas that Valerie was keen to invest in - cancer, stroke, dementia, and leukaemia - and obviously we will do that, as well as think about other things that will have huge benefits for the whole community.
"We don't want to use this in small amounts scattered across several areas - we want to make some big investments here that will really leave a long-lasting legacy for Valerie and John."
Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation chair Suzie Galwey said the couple's bequest would have an enduring impact on the cultural life of the city they loved.
"Val found great joy in arts and culture, and visited the gallery often, particularly after her husband John passed away," Ms Galwey said.
"Valerie was a generous donor to the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation."
Mrs Ryan had contributed to a range of projects, including the commissioning of the Stuart and Sons piano and the purchase of works by the artists Joseph Lycett, William Dobell and Brett Whiteley.
"Through the Valerie and John Ryan Bequest... Val leaves a lasting legacy to the arts and cultural life of Newcastle. As custodians of this legacy, the foundation looks forward to working with the Newcastle Art Gallery to ensure this transformational gift benefits the community for generations to come."