Gavel / Medal-winning performance from the Rolfes

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Richard and Debbie Rolfe… a two-person tour de force when it comes to philanthropy in sport and charity in the ACT. Photo by Maddie McGuigan

THE image of a Special Olympics swimmer with a beaming smile receiving a medal atop the dais from the Sydney Olympic Games is an unforgettable memory.

Or Melissa Breen breaking the long-standing, national 100 metres record on the track, or the Capitals’ dominance in the WNBL, or the emergence and success of the Canberra Cavalry in the Australian Baseball League, the Brumbies and the Raiders… the list goes on.

The one thing they have in common is they have all been the beneficiaries of support, in one way or another, from Canberra couple, Richard and Debbie Rolfe.

Over the past 25 years they have become a two-person tour de force when it comes to philanthropy in sport and charity in the ACT.

Such is the range of organisations they have supported it is probably easier to list charities and sports that they haven’t been involved with. Three significant community organisations that they have supported are the Canberra Hospital Foundation, the Early Morning Centre and Home in Queanbeyan.

Fittingly, they have been appointed Members of the Order of Australia in last month’s Queen’s Birthday Honours on top of their previous nomination for the Local Hero awards in the Australia Day Honours.

The impression I get is they would happily do it without any recognition.

It started 25 years ago when their children were young and involved in sport in Canberra. From that moment, they not only became heavily engaged in their own children’s sporting endeavours but also did all they could for the wider sporting and charitable community.

Since going to the men’s and women’s basketball at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics they have been supporters of the Canberra Capitals and, while they were in the NBL, the Canberra Cannons.

The couple’s love of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games resulted in their personal backing of Melissa Breen.

Matt Beckenham who has coached Mel almost through her entire career says of Debbie and Richard: “Their passion is amazing, I have no doubt Mel wouldn’t have made the Olympics without Richard and Debbie standing by her side and, most importantly, caring about the person first and foremost”.

Their four-car garage over the years has been filled to the brim with sporting memorabilia. Richard bought the medal dais from the Sydney Olympics, which has resulted in thousands of athletes receiving medals on the dais that was once graced by the likes of Ian Thorpe in 2000.

Glenn Keys, who has been a driving force for Special Olympics in the ACT, paid tribute to Debbie and Richard saying many athletes with a disability have benefitted by their generosity.

Don McMichael, from the Canberra Cavalry baseball team, also suggested that a number of baseballers playing in the US would be still playing locally had it not been for the support of Debbie and Richard.

The good news for Canberra as a community is that they are more determined than ever to help those in need. We are lucky to have them as part of the Canberra community; they have made it a better place to live.

IT’S also worth noting the passing of two people who also made our community a better place to live.

Kevin McCarty was at one time captain of the ACT cricket side, becoming one of only two players in ACT first-grade cricket to have scored 4000 runs and take 400 wickets. He then went on to become a leading umpire, a board member and a life member of ACT Cricket.

Joan Kellett pictured in 2011.

Joan Kellett was president of ACT Swimming for close to 20 years. Her involvement in Canberra swimming started at the Dickson Pool and continued well after her children had finished in the sport. Many a swimmer in Canberra has benefitted from the programs put in place by Joan over the years.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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