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Foundation farewells CE of seven years

Foundation farewells CE of seven years

The Foundation is officially between Chief Executives at this moment, with a celebration held at the Commonwealth Club last Wednesday evening to mark the departure of Dr Lesley Fitzpatrick. Lesley held the role for the past seven years, and the reins will be formally taken up on 21 July by ARLP Fellow and former head of the National Farmers' Federation, Matt Linnegar.

Lesley spoke on Wednesday of the joys and challenges she has experienced in her time leading the Foundation, and noted that it is the longest-held position she has had in her working life.

Surrounded by friends and supporters from myriad rural and related industries, Lesley reflected on the people who helped her achieve progress and gains for the Foundation's work, and the pleasure she takes in observing the achievements of the hundreds of alumni of Foundation programs.

Here is an excerpt of the speech she gave, reflecting on seven years at the helm.

Let me begin by saying how privileged I feel to have had the opportunity to serve this organisation as well as its constituency: rural Australia.

It's also been a chance to learn much and to use my energy to make a difference in rural Australia—something that has always been important to me.

The Foundation's effectiveness in being able to meet this challenge has grown significantly and it is a very different organisation today to the one I came to work with in 2007.

The experience has given me a much better understanding of leadership and more perspective about rural Australia and its challenges. It has also confirmed for me that the Foundation, since its inception, has played a very constructive role in protecting and strengthening rural Australia and its rural leaders.

I’d like to thank the Board for giving me this opportunity and for its encouragement and confidence in me during my time as chief executive of the Foundation. I couldn’t have achieved much of what is now on the record without its support.

I wish to thank the staff also–I salute their dedication; the knowledge and skill they bring to their roles; their professionalism; and their capacity to have fun. It has been an engaging and rewarding ride!

And last, but not least, I wish to thank my other colleagues – sponsors and key individuals within those organisations and others. My job would have been much more difficult if it were not for the invaluable practical support and advice you have provided of many over the last 7 years.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of representing the Foundation at Bob Rossi’s funeral. Bob was a fellow of the Foundation. We often heard from him as he kept in touch and was known among the staff as a bit of character, notable for his passion for rockabilly dancing, fishing, and joke-telling.

We, and many of our funding bodies, spend much time and effort agonising over how to evaluative the impact our graduates make in rural Australia. Going to Bob’s funeral brought it home for me.

I travelled up to Gordonvale, a sugar cane farming community of about 5000 people. Driving the last 2 kms to the chapel where the funeral was to be held, I noted all the cars parked along the road side—it was near the race track so I assumed that the was a race meeting on. Then I was walking through a guard of honour stretching 200 metres from the chapel and seeing the outside broadcast set-up with a big screen sound system, and rows of plastic chairs. 

All of this still did not prepare me for the respect and regard expressed during the funeral which was attended by over 1200 people. Those present saluted Bob’s leadership, his commitment to his community, his industry (where he held a representative role for over 34 years) and his family. During the eulogy, Bob’s participation in the ARLP was mentioned as a key to his leadership and a self-acknowledged source of many of the skills and approaches he brought to his various roles.

As I was travelling home, I thought that, if even a small percent of the Foundation’s fellows are being the kind of leader Bob was and living the type of life he led, as a leader in his community, his industry and his family, then the Foundation and all who are associated with it are making a difference.

Thank you all for sharing the journey with me.

Below, you can access a statement made by Independent MP and ARLP Fellow Cathy McGowan, acknowledging Lesley's efforts to those in the House of Representatives on Monday, 23 June.

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