Farewell to a Great Rotarian

Farewell to a Great Rotarian

Ross Humphriesby Oseah Philemon

There is not one project delivered by the Rotary Club of Lae to any organization or community in Lae or the Morobe Province that does not bear the fingerprints of Ross Humphries.

There is also no wheel chair nor any pair of clutches delivered to the needy that does not have the footprints of Ross Humphries.

He has been at the forefront of all decisions to donate, build and deliver services to those who needed help most throughout Lae and the Morobe Province or beyond the borders of Morobe.

When time came to deliver donations in kind donated by Rotary Clubs from Australia or overseas he was always at the forefront unpacking, assembling and delivering.

If it is to the Angau Memorial Hospital he would do it all by himself. That in a nutshell is the story of Ross Humphries – a man so committed to the cause of helping the underprivileged grassroots communities that one could say his life was cut out to be just that and nothing else. An icon he is and a shinning star of the Rotary movement across the entire world – not just in Papua New Guinea.

He is an Australian by birth who grew up in New Zealand, married a New Zealand girl he met while both were in their teens and spent more than half adult life in Lae. In the city riddled with potholes, the Rotary Club of Lae bid farewell to a fellow Rotarian Ross Humphries- to say thank you to him for the distinguished services he had rendered to the club over his more than 30 plus years with the club and for everything he did to promote the cause of rotary.

He has in fact been a Rotarian for 40 years both here and in New Zealand. The story of Ross Humphries is a long story. It is an interesting story about a unique man, a gentleman and a true giver of humanity. Christmas is at hand and some people might call him Santa Claus but Santa comes once every year whereas Ross Humphries visited the needy everyday over the past 30 plus years while working and living in Lae.

He was born in Delegate in New South Wales in Australia , a very small town in bushland on the NSW-Victoria border. His father was a gold miner. The family- mother, twin brothers and a sister- lived in a tin hut made from opened -up tar drums and a dirt floor.

Just like “Old Salt Bush Bill”.

When the war broke out in 1939, his father joined the Australian Army and moved his family from Delegate to Sydney. In 1946, straight after the end of the war, his father couldn’t find work in Sydney so moved to Wellington, New Zealand as the New Zealand Government had started a building boom to employ the returning soldiers.

Ross HumphriesThe family travelled it New Zealand on board a Hudder Parker Line ship named the Wanganella. During the war, the Wanganella was a converted hospital ship and now converted back to a passenger ship. This was the very first trip after being converted back.

On the eve of arriving into Wellington Harbour, the 19th January 1947, the Wanganella hit Barrett’s Reef and very nearly sunk. Ross’s father was already in  New Zealand as he had gone there some months earlier to build a house and find employment. When he arrived on the morning of the 20 th Jan to greet his wife and family, he was told of the news that the Wanganella had hit a reef and was sinking.
One can imagine what he went through for the next few hours because of all the rumours that were flying around.

Ross and the family were taken off in the very first rescue vessel. The scenes were very much like what was seen in the movie, The Titanic. All very vivid still in his memory.

Ross started school and played rugby at age seven. Went to high school where he first met his future wife Margaret (she was just 15, he was 16). He represented his school in rugby and in athletics. He was also on the school council and was the school prefect. When he left High School, he took up an apprenticeship in metal trades and finished as the top apprentice in the whole of New Zealand in 1962.
He won a twelve month study and travel Bursary and spent the next year overseas.
He returned and married Margaret in 1964. Three years later they had a son Michael and then a daughter Derryn.

They were the owners and operated a small contracting business in New Zealand but because of the continuous cold weather, they decided to sell up and shift to a warmer climate. That was when the family decided on Papua New Guinea and if they didn’t like it, they would shift down to Australia.

The Humprhies family gave themselves 12 months to decide whether they like living in Papua New Guinea or not- if not then they move down under to Australia. Thirty two years later and they were still here. Before they left NZ, Ross was involved with the St. Phillips Scout Group, Community School Committees and Friends of The Harvey Home (Handicapped Children).

He was a foundation member of the Rotary Club of Stokes Valley, a president and was given an Honorary membership when he left for PNG in 1978. On arrival in PNG, he joined the Rotary Club of Boroko and when they moved to Lae in 1980, joined the Rotary Club Of Lae.

Since being in Lae, he has been on the Management Board of the Lae International High School, Rotary Club of Lae and the PNG Cancer Relief Society. He was invited to be a member of the very first Angau Hospital Board of Management, served as the Deputy Chairman and then as the Chairman for the next ten years.
His involvement with Angau Hospital dates back to when he first arrived in Lae, 30 years ago.

With the help of Rotary, Angau Hospital and the New Zealand High Commission, he was the prime mover in the construction of a much needed duplex to house the staff from the Cancer Treatment Centre. Again with the help of Rotary in Lae, a Rotary Club in Canada, plus many business houses and individuals in Lae, he raised enough funds to build two Children’s Wards at Angau Hospital which were named as the Ross Humphries Wing.

His involvement in the PNG Cancer Relief Society goes back more than twenty years. He has been their president for more than ten years and just recently has handed over the president’s role to Terry Furphy of the IPI Group of Companies.
With his connections in Australia, Ross was able to help purchase a much needed Energy Source for the old Cobalt machine used in the treatment of Cancer. He organised and transported the radio active source from Nadzab to Lae and helped with the installation. The Source was flown up to PNG free of charge by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in Australia.

He wrote to the then Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer to see if AusAID would fund a feasibility study on Cancer and treatment in PNG. They did this and their findings and recommendations were adopted by the PNG Department of  Health. Their report was called “The Hidden Burden”.

Ross was involved with the White Water Rafting Accident on the Watut River where three Israeli’s were drowned. He helped in the recovery and was personally thanked by the Israeli Ambassador when he came up to PNG.

He has also been thanked by an Under Secretary of Defence for his role in the recovery after an American Team were involved in a Helicopter accident into the sea just north of Lae.

During his years in Rotary in PNG, he has been the Deputy District Governor responsible for Rotary in PNG and the Solomon Islands. He signed the initiation papers to start the building of the Kokoda Hospital, he supplied all the steel for both the Hospital and the War Museum. Ross worked on site during the course of the construction and was there to sign on behalf of Rotary International, the official transfer papers handing over the Rotary built Hospital to the Oro Provincial Government. The then Prime Minister from Australia, Paul Keating was there to do the official handing over.

Ross HumphriesThroughout his life with Rotary in Lae Ross Humphries has opened many health centres and school libraries in both the Oro and Morobe Provinces. When flood waters washed away a large part of the Butibum Settlement, he built a health centre from a shipping container and delivered it to the new Tent City at Taraka. The community used this health centre for many years afterwards.

In 2001 when the luxury ship the QE2 arrived in Lae, Ross met some Rotarians onboard and took them for a tour around Lae and naturally showed them Angau Hospital. Three months after they had returned to the United Kingdom, he receive a fax from one of the group wanting to know if she could raise some funds for Angau.

Ross agreed and Mrs. Audrey Gough raised around English pounds 25,000. Ross said that he could double that amount through Rotary Special Grants which turned her amount to over Pounds 50,000. When this was converted to PNG Kina it was worth K256,000. A quarter of a million! New equipment was purchased and then donated to the Accident and Emergency Department at Angau Hospital.

Ross and his recently departed wife Margaret have fostered PNG Children, paid for their education and taken them down to Australia for holidays. They have managed to send young heart patients down to Australia for life saving heart operations. He has also taken young Cancer patients to Camp Quality in Australia to attend Camp Quality Australia, attend their week- long camp with other young people that also suffer from that dreaded disease, Cancer.

Ross believes in the Rotary motto “Service Above Self”. As you will see, Ross’s commitment in helping others and humanity at large has covered a period of over 45 years. Although the majority of his community service has been to the Papua New Guinean community (where he has lived for 31 years), he has left an indelible mark on humanity with his compassion and energy in helping others who cannot help themselves.

Although he was involved in aiding major disaster relief (Rabaul Volcano,Aitape Tsunami and Earthquake victims), his on-going commitment to work tirelessly at ground level with providing essential health or educational support to people in areas that need it most is where his heart is at.

Ross has always lent a hand where it needed to be lent and has diligently fundraised and generated awareness for causes which seem to be forgotten by others. He has joined (and been asked to join) numerous boards so he can give more back to the community.

His compassion to serve his fellow man drives him to extend himself beyond the expected. Anyone can say they belong to a club or an organisation but it is the effort, determination and vision to see a better world for the disadvantaged which fuels his passion.

He is associated with Rotary, Cancer Relief and other community organizations in an effort to leverage their positions within the community to highlight causes which are often voiceless on their own. He has been an active member of Rotary (a voluntary organisation) close to 40 years which makes him one of the longest serving Rotarians in Papua New Guinea.

Not that long service should be any criteria for any kind of recognition, but during this period of time he has held the highest position in Rotary in PNG and President on three (3) separate occasions and has been honoured by Rotary International as a Paul Harris Fellow; twice (which is quite rare in Rotary), for services to the community and world understanding. The Paul Harris Fellow is an award which is given in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among people of the world. It is without a doubt the pinnacle of Rotary’s awards and is only ever awarded to very special people who make substantial contributions.

His commitment to contributing to his community has led to his involvement with Angau Hospital in Lae, Papua New Guinea 20 years ago and he was part of the very first management board for Angau Hospital, building wards and much needed hospital buildings and equipment. Through Rotary and the hospital he has been involved with the PNG Cancer Relief Society and is one of their longest serving members. He has been the National President of the Society for the past 10 years.

In recognition of his commitment to helping others he has received various acknowledgments from the governments of Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand and personally thanked by the Government of Israel (for his individual help with victims of a tragic white water rafting disaster) and the United States Department of Defense (for on-going assistance to American Service men and women). The late Bill Skate CMG MP, as well, has honoured Ross personally with a Silver Bird of Paradise in recognition of his community work in Papua New Guinea.

The service that he has given to the community of Papua New Guinea is totally voluntary.

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