Pas­sion runs his life

Central and North Burnett Times - - NEWS - TRACEY JOHN­STONE

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.

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