Long-time St. John Ambulance volunteer Valmai Dempsey is the 2022 Senior Australian of the Year.
The ACT woman has been recognized for her efforts in response to the Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 71-year-old has dedicated more than 50 years to St. John Ambulance after starting as a volunteer cadet in elementary school.
She led a team of 40 volunteers supporting communities affected by bushfires in 2020 before heading out to make sure her peers were “well” when COVID-19 hit.
“Aunty Val” is one of ACT’s longest serving volunteers.
“I believe reaching out to someone or taking opportunities to be kind makes all the difference and coming back to you a thousand times over,” she said at the Australian of the Year Awards in Canberra on Tuesday night.
Three decades ago, Ms Dempsey started Project Survival, teaching people with addiction issues to help others overdose.
Ms Dempsey has set her sights on road safety and wants first aid training to become compulsory for lighter drivers, as is the case in parts of Europe.
“Our family was forever changed by a car accident over three decades ago where people came to help but didn’t know what to do,” she said.
“As a nation, we can rethink our approach to those critical minutes between life and death in a road accident.”
National Australia Day Council chair Danielle Roche praised Ms Dempsey as embodying the Australian spirit of volunteerism
“She has volunteered her time in the service of St John Ambulance for over half a century, helping countless Australians,” Ms Roche said.
Other nominees for Senior Australian of the Year included the chair of the New South Wales-based Islamic Women’s Welfare Association, Abla Tohamy Kadous.
Northern Territory Disability Services advocate Robyne Burridge and Australia’s first Aboriginal police officer Colin Dillon, who joined the Queensland Police in 1965, were also nominated.
South Australian educator, advisor and author Mark Le Messurier was also nominated alongside Tasmanian agricultural scientist and founder of Food Plants International, Bruce French.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren president Janice Standen was also a finalist, along with University of Victoria vice-chancellor Gaye Hamilton.
Australian Associated Press