Kindness is key for Judith Leeson

For more than six decades, Echunga’s Judith Leeson AM has advocated for people without a voice.

Sep 04, 2020, updated Oct 28, 2020
Photo: Flinders University Caring Futures Institute.

Photo: Flinders University Caring Futures Institute.

Speaking when others are unable, Judith has long stood up against the systems that have undermined the needs of vulnerable populations, from the elderly in aged care to people with disabilities, and unemployed job seekers.

Her biggest weapons over her years in leadership roles in early childhood and disability education and career development are kindness and respect.

“Kindness, respect and empathy have always been the key elements of my work and the mastery over theories, tools and techniques,” Judith says.

“I’ve always had a genuine regard for helping people live their lives more fully and more independently.”

At 85 years of age, Judith is an active member of the Echunga community, participating in volunteer groups and carrying with her a longstanding passion for instilling fairness and social justice.

She gave up full-time work at her and husband Brian’s Adelaide Hills career development business only two years ago.

Despite slowing down her work commitments, Judith continues to volunteer at the Echunga Community Association, Horse SA, and classical music organisation the Adelaide Hills Chamber Players.

“I love the Hills community spirit,” she says.

“Since retiring from full-time work, I’ve been able to participate in the reinvigorated Echunga Community Association with a lovely group of people.

“I’m also involved in the Adelaide Hills Chamber Players which is a newly established organisation set up to provide people in the Hills and other regional areas of SA with access to classical music in their own town and community.”

The other purpose for the group, she says, is to provide “a pathway for professional musicians to gain professional exposure and experience following graduation.”

Born during the Great Depression to parents committed to community service, Judith showed early promise as a teacher and went on to work in educational roles in early childhood and disability, including working with children with autism.

She has also directed an early intervention program for children with Down syndrome at Flinders University.

In the early ‘90s, Judith made a transition to career development – an area that would eventually lead to her being honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia.

More recently, Judith has taken a firm public stance on issues such as the treatment of elders.

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An introduction to the work of Professor Alison Kitson, vice president and executive dean at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Flinders University, sparked in Judith a desire to help shine a light on the importance of care across the lifespan.

Professor Kitson and her team are behind the Flinders University Caring Futures Institute, the first of its kind in Australia dedicated to the study of self-care and caring solutions.

Judith has delivered several presentations, joined panel discussions and written blogs tying back to the core aim of empowering people to be heard and feel respected.

Judith’s own brush with ill health recently opened her eyes to being on the receiving end of care.

Spending four weeks in intensive care at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the once independent woman became entirely dependent on others.

“Once I came out of hospital I realised what an incredible learning experience it was,” says Judith, who is now recovering at home.

“I am grateful to the experienced and highly skilled medical team who explored treatment solutions, as well as the kindness, compassion and care from all staff who supported my recovery.”

Despite the recent health ordeal, Judith won’t let much get in the way of speaking out on what matters most.

“I’ve realised that life can transition from independence to complete dependence in a short space of time,” she says.

“My voice needs to be heard, along with many others, as an advocate for people who are dependent and have little choice.”

Regional Showcase is supporting South Australia’s rural communities by telling their stories and celebrating their successes. We will compile these stories and then later in the year we will celebrate the best of South Australia’s regions at a special showcase event.

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