Noel Howard: a life dedicated to IRT
- Former Executive Director the late Noel Howard OAM was IRT’s first and longest serving CEO
- His passion for IRT helped push the organisation forward
- Noel’s family saw first-hand the need for care for older people
- Noel considered it a pleasure and privilege to look after older people
As we reflect on IRT’s 50th year, The Good Life sat down with IRT General Member Bronwyn Howard, the wife of former Executive Director (CEO) the late Noel Howard OAM, and their daughter Cheryl Lappin, former IRT Director, to talk about IRT’s early years and how their family and IRT grew together.
Noel Howard was born into a family that instilled respect for older people, which he naturally embraced. “Then by a twist of fate, this in turn became his life’s work,” Cheryl says.
Jump to 1968, when Noel was Illawarra Masters and Wardens Association President and the association was investigating ways to provide local, innovative and ongoing care for its ageing Wollongong members.
“Corrimal medical practitioner Dr Max Diment MBE had a similar vision and so invited him to attend a meeting that laid the groundwork for establishing IRT,” Cheryl says.
An interim committee was formed and Noel was appointed fundraising committee leader, a voluntary role. Later he was to become a member of the Foundation Board of Directors.
Bronwyn recalls that when the Trust was formed, Dr Diment offered Noel the job of essentially setting up the Illawarra Retirement Trust as Development Manager. “I said I didn’t want him to do it. He had a full-time job at W Waters and Sons [electrical and white goods retailer] and I felt it would be too demanding on him and too demanding on the family – we had two young girls Deborah and Cheryl. However, Dr Diment convinced him and me, and I relented.” Subsequently, he took the job, but there was no income for six to eight months.
A natural leader
Noel grew up in Bellambi and left school at the age of 14 to start his first job as a recorder at the steelworks. He later went on to a career in retail, which according to Cheryl, suited his approachable nature.
“It was during this time he became more involved in a number of community groups and his confidence, authenticity and larger-than-life presence resulted in a number of leadership roles,” she says.
“These roles no doubt enhanced his sense of community and the community in turn were able to recognise the sincerity, commitment and determination he had in his heart to get the Illawarra Retirement Trust funded and built so it could begin to take care of those too ill or frail to fully take care of themselves.
“He was an excellent public speaker and always seemed to be the Master of Ceremonies at the many functions he was asked to attend. Dad had a way about him, he could bring people together and inspire them to support the role of IRT.”
He became IRT’s first Executive Director and longest serving CEO until his retirement in 1997. Howard Court at IRT Pioneer Place was named in his honour.
Noel also became a well-known identity in the Illawarra as an Alderman at Wollongong City Council for 12 years and was named Illawarra businessman of the year in 1993.
“Everyone in Wollongong seemed to know Dad,” Cheryl recalls with a smile.
A very proud moment for Noel was in January 1995 when he received the Medal of the Order of Australia – for service to the care of aged people particularly as the Executive Director of Illawarra Retirement Trust.
It took a combined effort to get residents at IRT’s first community – Diment Towers – settled. “Five to six residents were moved into the hostel section waiting for their units to be finished in the tower,” Bronwyn says. “The kitchen was only half built but these people had to be provided with meals. There was no equipment, no food, no nothing, so Mrs Diment and I, with what we had in our own cupboards and had bought ourselves, provided the first meals.”
Incredibly, that went on for a month until everything was set up.
When IRT’s offices moved to Towradgi Park, that community became the Howard family’s second home, with Bronwyn running a small kiosk and Cheryl spending nearly every afternoon after school with the girls on the switchboard or talking to residents in the nursing home.
The family also experienced first-hand the dire need for care for older people with Noel on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He often received visits or calls from people who were desperately looking for someone locally who could help them care for their elderly mum or dad.
Home sweet home
Bronwyn explained how her husband created a real sense of home and family for IRT’s residents. “When the office moved to Towradgi, he was always late home, he’d say ‘well I’ve got to kiss all the ladies goodnight and shake the gentlemen’s hands before I leave’. ”
Cheryl says her Dad considered it a pleasure and privilege to look after older people.