MARY Mathews can be described as a candle which burns in love and humility to give light to others, and this has been recognised today with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
For almost all her life, the 82-year-old Dubbo woman has served the community in nearly a dozen different ways.
From the canteen at the local school to the orphanage in Fiji, Mrs Mathews had her lifetime's worth of community work awarded for "service to the community through a range of health and welfare organisations".
Today's Queen's Birthday Honours List mentions the achievements of two hard-working Dubbo citizens and many in the region.
Mrs Mathews moved from Armidale to the city in 1946 and worked as a telephonist at the Post Master General (Australia Post) on Talbragar Street.
When she married at St Andrew's Uniting Church in 1951, she was forced to resign her position and stay at home.
The love of volunteering began when her three boys went to Dubbo North Public School and she was busy with fundraising, school events and the Parents and Citizen's Committee.
Soon after she became actively involved in organising events for St Andrew's.
From 1966 to 1989 she worked as a telephonist and on a two-way radio at the Macquarie County Council (the current office of the Daily Liberal) where she got to know a lot of people who paid their bills.
Mrs Mathews was soon to make her mark in the discrimination of pay between men and women.
"One day I was called into the engineer's office and was told I'd be a cashier," she said.
"I broke into tears and didn't go to work for two days. I loved my job and it was all I knew, I wasn't going to leave engineering."
The Electrical Trade Union protested to have her reinstated to the same position but was told she had to move.
At that time, a female award for the clerk position did not exist and the case went before the first female industrial commissioner.
The court ruled the company had the right to employ her in whatever capacity needed but she was not to be disadvantaged in her pay.
One of the most humbling experiences over the years was her role with Dubbo’s National Association for Loss and Grief (NALAG).
Since the early 1980s she educated and supported people who were grieving a loss in their lives.
Whether it was of life or a job, she said it was an honour to be in a position of trust with people who were vulnerable. She served as a member then was elected president, secretary and treasurer before being named a life member in 2010.
Helping people in tough times led her to train as a chaplain at Royal North Shore Hospital after an early retirement.
From 1992 to 1996 she was the empathetic and joyful chaplain at Dubbo Base Hospital supporting both staff and patients.
“It was a very rewarding time for me,” she said.
Mrs Mathews recalled the time she rushed as part of a team to Walgett to support the hospital staff when nurse Sandra Hoare was abducted and murdered.
She stayed there for a few months and extended her help at the inquest and trial.
Many times the kind chaplain took the families of accident victims back to her home as the local hospital did not admit them.
Years ago at 2am on a cold winter’s night, a couple knocked on her door and she quickly let them inside, gave them tracksuits to wear - as they had no warm clothes, and they slept the night. They were the distraught parents of a man who had died in an accident at Dubbo.
The Daily Liberal asked how she coped with the raw emotions as she attended confronting situations.
“If you’re serious about caring for others, you need to care for yourself,” she said. “You realise the role takes a physical and mental drain on you and recognise when you have to stop and say no.”
For her tireless efforts to enrich the lives of those around her, she was recognised as the 2005 Dubbo Citizen of the Year.
The next five years were spent on the awards committee to select winning nominees.
Mrs Mathews said she was “absolutely shocked” to receive the nomination form for the OAM.
She thought about it for a week tossing and turning on accepting the prestigious honour.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of people in the community, who support the community in voluntary ways, from sporting, schools, and hospitals, you name it. I’m just one of thousands,” she said.
With an OAM, a Jean Harris Fellowship and citizen of the year, she encouraged Dubbo residents to give volunteering a go.
“Don’t hold back and think you have nothing to offer, there are many avenues where people skills and empathy are needed,” she said.
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