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Our people: Jeff Newman OAM, Family Centre Chair

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Going back many years to when our CEO, Bec, was diagnosed with type 1 at age 17, I saw the profound impact her diagnosis had on her and her family. I felt desperately sorry for Bec – it was a time when she was just becoming an adult, she was in her first year of university and suddenly she was forced to change everything about her life. I looked further into it, and realised there were hundreds of others who struggled as she did with the impact of diagnosis and the complexity and burden of managing type 1 diabetes.

It became clear to me that children with type 1 diabetes and their parents needed far more support than they received, and that we needed to build more love, intelligence, and education into caring for people with type 1. This was the main motivation for the Family Centre – a place that looks after the people, builds community, and supports families.

Being known as Mr Telethon helped me bring others into the vision, including our Founding Supporters Telethon and Lotterywest, who gave us funds to build the Family Centre, and the WA State Government, which gave us the land the Centre stands on.

The original plan for the Family Centre was different to what you see today. Fortunately, as the plans for the building were being developed, our Deputy Chair, lawyer Rick Malone, came onto our Board and told us about a beautiful community cancer centre in Tasmania that he thought we could model our Family Centre on. Bec and I both went to see it, and agreed with Rick - people with type 1 didn’t need another medical centre, they needed a place they could walk into that feels like home. Our revised design featured a café-style kitchen, a large open-plan Family Lounge, and zones for young children, adolescents, and workshops, with a light, bright wing for our allied health practitioners. Now, when people walk in and exclaim ‘Oh! It feels like a home!’ I know we nailed it.

I was a Legacy Ward from the age of 8 after my father, a serviceman, died. I will always be grateful for the help Legacy gave me, my brother and my mum. My Legatee – the man appointed to help look after us – was exceptionally kind to my family. He helped me get my first job in radio, which led to my career in television. My experience as a Legacy Ward, and later my work hosting Channel 7’s Telethon and starting the Variety Club of WA, instilled in me a sense of gratitude for the lucky life I’ve led, a desire to pay it forward, and to give back to our community – especially to our kids.

I get an amazing kick from being at the Family Centre, and watching the way our team works with families. When I spend time at the Centre, I see the impact we have on kids, parents, schools and family networks, and since last year, young adults and adults. We make an impact because everyone involved with the Family Centre believes in our mission to connect, support and inspire the type 1 community of WA. I’m so proud to be part of it.

As the Production Manager for Channel 7 in the 70s and 80s, I created brand new television hits: programs like ‘It’s Academic’ and ‘Spellbound’, that people across Australia remember to this day. It felt like magic to create something wonderful and send it out into the world. I get the same buzz when our team at the Family Centre launches new programs and services that have never been seen before in Australia. In a way, it’s a little similar to the work I loved so much – we’ve got to listen closely to our audience, respond to their needs, be immensely creative, and constantly adapt to the changing landscape of technology and trends.

There is some brilliant research happening, and major breakthroughs have happened in type 1 diabetes research in my lifetime, but I don’t know when there will be a cure. I believe in helping the people who live with it today.

- Jeff Newman OAM, Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre Founding Chair

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