How Legacy makes life easier for those left behind

TERRY Dillon might look more like a grandfather than a hero but he is both.

As a volunteer with Legacy, Mr Dillon has made life a little better for the spouses and children of veterans who did not return intact from conflict zones as he did, or who have since passed away.

During 37 years as a Legatee, he has helped "fill the gap" for about 200 of widows and their children whose husbands have died or been incapacitated by post traumatic stress disorder.

He is one of 46 Legatees on the Coast who support 1300 widows,15 children, including five under 10, and 15 dependents with disabilities.

The Vietnam Veteran could have put his energy into the community in any one of ways but was drawn to looking after the dependents of less fortunate diggers.

"Being a returned servicemen, I wanted to look after the widows and children of returned servicemen," he said.

He wears his Legacy shirt and badge with pride.

"Legacy is unique in the world as there are no other countries who have a dedicated group of volunteers who look after the widows and children, the dependents, of returned servicemen," he said.

Mr Dillon had wanted to put something back into the community upon his return from Vietnam in 1969 but it was not until Anzac Day nine years later that he discovered Legacy.

"After the ceremony, we were having a few beers and this bloke said to me, 'Why don't you give Legacy a go?' and I said, 'What do they do?'"

Only returned active servicemen were able to join Legacy in those days but entry is now open to men and women from all walks of life who are interested in helping veterans' dependents.

But Mr Dillon said it was not a role that suited everybody but a sense of empathy and good shoulders - not to cry on, but to shoulder some of the burden that might be unloaded in a discussion with dependents - were essential.

"Because we are working with widows and dependents who have lost relatives - husbands, partners and fathers - it can be delicate so even though we encourage people to join Legacy, you have to be the right sort of person to join," he said.

Mr Dillon learned what to do by accompanying an experienced Legatee during visits, a system which continues to this day.

LEGACY OF GIVING: Terry Dillon has been giving to Legacy for 37 years.
LEGACY OF GIVING: Terry Dillon has been giving to Legacy for 37 years. John McCutcheon

He said Legacy received referrals for veterans' dependents from various sources, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, RSLs and families sources.

Initial contact was made as soon as possible to establish if dependents had any immediate needs, and this was followed by subsequent contact to make sure they were in receipt of available entitlements, such as pensions, he said.

Legacy stayed in contact as necessary and then, if dependents were coping, simply checked in occasionally to make sure all was well.

Even when Mr Dillon was working - after 20 years in the army, he became a training manager for some of the nation's biggest companies - it was never difficult to fit in his Legacy work.

"I just did it at night and on the weekends," he said.

He said Legatees were simply on hand to help by obtaining the necessary advice, expertise, funds or tradespeople, to solve what ever issues arose for veterans spouses and children.

"We don't actually do the work ourselves but make sure the job is done correctly," he said.

The now retired 76-year-old, who has been married for 57 years to Dot, has 26 Legacy widows on his list at the Sippy Downs retirement village where he lives and describes his hobbies as "bowls and Legacy."

Many of the women on his list are widows of veterans who served in Malaya, Vietnam and Korea, as some from World War Two.

But he said conflicts in more recent years in places such as Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq had produced a new crop of dependents needing assistance, often because veterans were increasingly suffering from PTSD or other mental health issues.

 

COMMON GROUND: Terry Dillon, a Sunshine Coast Legacy volunteer with Jan Rogers, a widow and president of Caloundra Legacy Laurel Club.
COMMON GROUND: Terry Dillon, a Sunshine Coast Legacy volunteer with Jan Rogers, a widow and president of Caloundra Legacy Laurel Club. Greg Miller

Legacy gives Mr Dillon and Jan Rogers, 74, who lives in the same retirement village as Terry and is the widow of a Vietnam veteran, common ground to talk about.

Mrs Rogers' was still working and with teenage children when her husband died, and did not get involved with Legacy until some time later, when she was invited to a social function.

She loves the social side of Legacy, which made it easier to make friends when she moved to the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane's southside.

Although she manages well on her own, she knows she can call on Mr Dillon if necessary.

"He's there if I ever need anything," shesaid.

Legacy Brisbane CEO Brendan Cox said Legatees like Mr Dillon were the "beating heart" of the organisation.

"Keeping a promise to a mate is a value ingrained in the Aussie consciousness but, for Legacy, it's not just a belief; it's a solemn duty the organisation has proudly upheld for more than 90 years," he said.

"Our spirit of service is centred on the personal contact that our Legatees have with the families they support, and that's what makes Legacy care so special, and gives our work its unique character."

Mr Dillon said more Coast residents were needed to volunteer as Legatees.

"I urge anyone who values mateship and the spirit of keeping a promise to a mate to please consider volunteering as a Legatee," he said.

"Even a few hours a month can make a huge difference to widows and families in need in your local area," he said.

Even after 37 years as a Legatee, he feels he still has plenty of work to do.

"There are people who have been doing it longer than me - 50 years," he said.

To find out more about becoming a Legatee, call 5443 9841, email suncoast@legacybrisbane.org.au, or visit www.legacy.com.au/Legatees.


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