Passion runs his life
WHEN it comes to choosing a philanthropic project, Reg Richardson AM looks to his emotional quotient to gauge the right one to support.
It’s that instinct for what will and won’t work that has led the 80-year-old to establish outstanding organisations, from indigenous health and melanoma research to the arts.
Putting his hand in his pocket is his inclination. It’s been his approach since his early business days.
He was reared in what he describes as modest circumstances, growing up in Sydney’s Darlinghurst with his grandmother.
“I have seen social issues as a pretty personal thing,” he said. “If you are competent enough to do something about it, I believe you should, and do in my case.”
His business background revolved around service industries where “you deliver a service, whatever it happens to be, efficiently, on time and at the lowest cost possible”.
Since retiring Reg has turned to finding financial answers to vexing projects, coaxing millions of dollars from wealthy Australians.
“I am good at asking people for money, particularly if they are wealthy,” he said. “As you go through life you do happen to know people who surprisingly have made a fair bit of money and unsurprisingly are quite willing to give some away.”
Take Greg and Kay Poche.
Greg is Reg’s oldest and closest friend. He sold StarTrack Express for $750 million.
“I asked him what he was going to do with all that,” Reg said.
“He said he was going to give a lot of it away. He also replied, ‘I have seen what you have done over the years, so I am going to get you to do it’.”
Greg had several strokes that inhibited his walking and talking, so finding suitable projects was handed to Reg.
An introduction by a mate to Professor John Stretch, who was seeking funding for melanoma research, led Reg to ask Greg for $10 million.
“He just said ‘yep’ like that so I thought, I can get more out of him,” Reg said.
Three months later he went to Greg with a proposal for a $30 million centre to house melanoma specialists.
“Greg provided the dough, I provided the energy to get it all going because that’s who I am and John provided the medical advice,” Reg said.
Ten years and $40 million later, the Mater Hospital owns the institute that is exclusively for melanoma research and treatment.
Not one to sit on his laurels, Reg went back to Greg and suggested a “crack at indigenous health”.
“I said if we were Aboriginal, we’d be dead,” he said.
Greg agreed it was compelling.
Five major city universities got $10 million each to establish the Poche Indigenous Health Network.
Its focus is on closing the gap in life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders through healthy teeth, hearts and children.
Reg’s attachment to the arts started when he was 28. An artist friend, who ultimately became an art critic for a Sydney newspaper, opened Reg’s eyes to this world.
“I started to buy my own works including eight of my friend’s,” Reg said.
His collection hasn’t stopped growing.
One was Aboriginal photographer Tracey Moffatt and Reg now has the most of any person in the world.
Keeping up means keeping fit. The trim Reg walks every day as fast he can – on the flat. The hills around his home are too hard, he admits.
“I am passionate about whatever I do,” he said.
GETS IT DONE: Philanthropist Reg Richardson at home with his art.