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John Stone OAM with his wife of 59 years, Una. Image: Contributed

Dedicated to the disadvantaged

Geoff Helisma |

John Stone says he was surprised when told he had been awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his “service to the Grafton community”, but thought there “are probably a lot of people who’ve done more than I have”.

“I was quite chuffed, really,” he says.

Over decades, Mr Stone, 79, was a director, then chair (1977-1989), of Grafton Base Hospital’s board, served as president of the Grafton Lions Club (member 1970-2002) and helped establish the Yamba Lions branch in 1983.

He is a life member of the New South Wales Rifle Association Grafton Rifle Club (1991-2017), where he served as secretary, captain and handicapper.

He also played a role in the valley’s governance: he was the chief health and building surveyor, then director of environmental services at the former Ulmarra shire council.

However, it is most likely his work with North Coast Community Housing (NCCH) that motivated an unknown person to nominate Mr Stone for the award – he was chair from 2005 to 2017.

His compassion for those who are struggling is a strong motivation, as is his desire to return to the wider community what it has given to him.

“We [NCCH] very much care for the tenants,” he says. “They’re not just people living in a box.

“We’re dealing with people who are not very well off at that point in their lives; the object of the exercise is to improve their station in life.

“When someone first arrives at their house, they get a basket of goodies to settle in; we also provide bursaries to assist kids at school – cash grants or purchasing what they need: books and computers for example.”

Mr Stone and his wife, Una, have been married for 59 years.

When they moved to the valley in 1970, they were looking for somewhere that would “provide a good education [for their four daughters] and a town we could call our home town”.

“We came to Grafton and it opened its arms to [us] …  I had a desire to repay some of the benefits the community had given us and was motivated to assist others in the community,” he says.

He says that NCCH “might not have a very big footprint in the Clarence Valley, but it is improving”.

Across the north coast, from Grafton to the Queensland border, he says NCCH has “significantly” improved its affordable housing stock.

“When I joined NCCH we provided social and affordable housing to some 400 families between Tweed Heads and Grafton,” he says.

“When I retired, that number had grown to almost 1,000 families.

“We are currently moving into obtaining land and building our own properties.

“It’s progressing along; over the next few years it will advance more significantly: I won’t be part of that as it continues, but I was there when the ground work was done.”

He says an important part of creating an effective affordable housing organisation is its culture.

“We have been able to put together a team of compassionate staff who care about their work and what they’re doing.

“And I’ve been very lucky to have a [supportive] wife and family: what I lacked [time-wise], Una picked up the slack.

“Behind every decent man there is a good wife.

“I extend my thanks and gratitude to the organisations that accepted me, namely Lions, Grafton Rifle Club, Grafton Base Hospital, Ulmarra Shire Council and North Coast Community Housing and gave me the opportunity to become a useful member of the community.

“As to the future, I am standing aside from active participation in my previous connections and intend devoting my time to my 12 grandchildren and three great grand children, to travel and the Grafton Men’s Shed.”