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DURING his rugby union days Joe Roff was operated on by surgeons who helped out in programs at the John James Foundation.
Now the former Brumbies and Wallabies player will be working with them in a different way.
The 41-year-old will take over as CEO of the John James Foundation next month.
“It’s an organisation that does incredible work, but not too many people know how much they do for the community,” he says.
Born in Heathcote, Victoria, Joe moved with his family as a 14-year-old to Canberra.
He went to Marist College, which was where he first started playing rugby union because all his mates were playing.
“I love sport, I was that kid that always had a ball in my hand,” Joe says.
But he never thought he would end up playing for the Wallabies and caught himself and his family off guard when he started making representative teams.
At the age of 19 Joe was selected in Australia’s 1995 Rugby World Cup squad, where he made his debut against Canada scoring a try, followed by another two against Romania.
“I was nervous meeting and playing alongside my heroes,” Joe says.
“I was just a country kid a few years earlier and then I was playing with legends I grew up watching.”
By 2004 Joe was losing the passion and energy he once had for the game.
“The excitement had gone, the nerves weren’t there and it felt like a job,” he says.
Needing a change, he moved to England to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University.
“The thing that Oxford does to you, is that it makes you believe that you can change the world,” he says.
“I always had a passion for not-for-profit work but it was refined there and I thought to myself that I want to do something that has a positive outcome.
“I wanted to change the life around me and around Canberra.”
So when Joe moved back to the ACT he took a job as the director for workforce and development at Lifeline Australia.
Joe saw friends struggling with transitioning out of sport.
“I had good friends who are world-class athletes who tried to take their lives,” he says.
“As an athlete you live in a bubble and you have to understand that real life is not like the bubble,” he says.
“It’s a struggle for everyone because you go from the top of the mountain to the bottom, where you’re made to start afresh.”
After two years with Lifeline Joe moved to the role of CEO of the University of Canberra Union where, during his six years there, he was instrumental in bringing the Brumbies and the UC Capitals to the campus.
But he wanted to work for a not-for-profit again and knew he could add value to the John James Foundation.
“I want to build on the partnerships that already exist. I think Canberra is the greatest city in the world because individuals and organisations are willing to collaborate,” he says.
“The John James Village is a perfect example. The government, John James Foundation and Leukaemia Australia partnered to create a facility that is now at capacity and making a positive difference to patients and families of victims.
“I just want to work with good people and do good things.”
Until then Joe is planning to spend time with his three children, read a book and get some headspace before he “hits the ground running” in his new role.