April 2019

‘Do unto others’ sparks a lifetime of service

An ‘interesting life’ and practical desire to give back has spurred Patricia Purcell’s volunteer service to the community, writes Debra Vermeer.

BY Debra Vermeer

Good Samaritan Foundation board director, Patricia Purcell OAM reckons she’s had “an interesting life” and few could argue, with careers in nursing and the tourism industry, underpinned by a practical commitment to give back to the community through volunteering.

Born in Sydney, Pat grew up in Cabarita, the second youngest of six children, in a family of strong faith.

“Oh yes, we all walked up the street every week to Mass at Mortlake, with an Irish Catholic priest. It was definitely a big part of our lives,” she says.

Pat went to primary school with the Sisters of St Joseph at Enfield and then to Santa Sabina College at Strathfield, with the Dominican Sisters, before embarking on a nursing career with the Sisters of Mercy at the Mater Hospital, and then specialising in midwifery at the Royal Women’s Hospital at Paddington.

“But then I decided I wanted a break from nursing,” she says. “And I had this interest in tourism and hospitality, so I quit nursing and got a job at Sydney’s Chevron Hotel in the public relations department.

“I looked after the reservations for its nightclub, the Silver Spade, which was one of the two big nightclubs in Sydney in the 60s. All the stars came to it, like Shirley Bassey. I saw a lot of great shows there and it opened up a whole new world to me.”

From there, Pat moved onto the Hotel Australia, a landmark hotel in the city, and worked in sales. She stayed there until the middle of 1971 when they closed the hotel to make way for the MLC Centre, which stands on the site today.

A job at The Gazebo Hotel followed, where she worked for five years in sales and marketing, with a particular emphasis on the New Zealand market, which provided for much of Australia’s tourism flow in the 1970s.

“It was wonderful training and I met some fabulous people,” she recalls. “Tourism was really taking off in the 70s and 80s. Before that, nobody travelled much, but then there was a real boom.

“It was a bit of a bloke’s world, that’s for sure. And the men didn’t like the women coming up the ladder in those days. You’d get so far and then hit the glass ceiling. But by the same token, I didn’t let it worry me too much. We used to just tell them to get nicked.”

Her next move sounds like everybody’s dream, working for Club Med as National Sales Manager, a role that necessitated visits to the company’s various resorts, especially in the Pacific.

“Oh yes, I went to all the resorts,” she says. “We opened (the resort) in Noumea and Malaysia while I was there. It was a lot of fun.”

However, being a single mother to a two-year-old daughter meant that regular overseas travel “wasn’t going to work” and so Pat set up her own sales and marketing consultancy which she ran for 15 years.

“That was great during those years of raising my daughter Claire. The flexibility was really good. And I had a lot of great clients, like Tourism NSW, the Darling Harbour Authority and the Sydney Cove Authority.”

That flexibility allowed Pat to take on various volunteer roles over the years for which she was recently recognised with an Order of Australia Medal for Service to the Community.

“It probably started when I helped a friend who was fundraising for a Catholic Hospital in Papua New Guinea and I’ve been on one committee or another ever since,” she says.

Pat was Marketing and Advertisement Officer for the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association from 1988 to 2015 and has more recently been volunteer Media Officer for the Sydney Southern Region of the State Emergency Service (2003-1010). She has been a volunteer at St Joseph’s Parish, Newtown and chair of the parish’s Sesquicentenary Committee, and she volunteers in her new local community, with the Drummoyne Community Centre.

“But I first came across the Good Sams when Sr Clare Condon asked me to join the board of St Scholastica’s College in 1988 and I actually became the inaugural Chair of the Board,” Pat says.

She later served as a board member for Rosebank College, also a Good Samaritan Education school, from 2007-2014 and chaired the sesquicentary celebrations for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in 2007.

“Then, as I retired, at age 69, Sr Clare asked me to go on the Board of the Good Samaritan Foundation,” she says.

The Good Samaritan Foundation brings together people and resources to support works and initiatives of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Good Sams assist the needy in communities across Australia and the Pacific, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees and asylum seekers, women and their children who are homeless or escaping domestic violence, women subjected to human trafficking and more. The Good Sams rely on generous community support to provide these services and established the Foundation to continue this work into the future..

Apart from being a Director on the Good Samaritan Foundation board, Pat also volunteers to work with the Foundation on a range of initiatives, including organising a raffle each year, which raised $8000 for the Foundation last year.

“I enjoy my work with the Good Samaritan Foundation,” she says. “I enjoy the different ministries we support and fundraise for.

“And in particular, I love the scholarships for Good Samaritan Education schools that we raise funds for. The need for these scholarships is so great. The applications that come in each year from families would break your heart. It’s wonderful to be able to help families who are doing it tough.”

Pat says she has also enjoyed the formation in Good Samaritan-Benedictine spirituality and mission that she has received.

“I’ve really enjoyed connecting with the Good Samaritan Sisters over all these years and learning about the story of the Good Sams and their history,” she says.

“They are so down to earth, they have high standards and they are really warm, and they really help people with their ministries. They’re very welcoming and not judgmental, and they are really thankful for all you do for them.

“Plus, they’ve got so many characters among them! We have a lot of laughs.”

Pat says she also enjoys working with the Good Samaritan Foundation Executive Director Catherine Cresswell.

“Catherine is very professional and warm and she really takes the Good Sam ministries to heart.”

Pat’s busy life of volunteering has been forced to take a back-seat on a few occasions, due firstly to treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2009, which led to bone damage in her knee, and two recent knee replacements, but she is looking forward to completing the rehabilitation and getting back to it.

“Hopefully, when all this is over I’ll be as good as new and can get back into things,” she says.

The prospect of being well enough to receive her Order of Australia medal at Government House in May is urging her on in her recovery.

“I was surprised to have been awarded it and to have been nominated,” she says. “But it will be a nice occasion to receive it, and that’s what’s spurring me on.

“My philosophy has always been to ‘Do unto others what you would hope they would do unto you’. I’ve had some difficult times in my life, but I never gave up the faith and I just got on with life.

“I’ve always been a practical person and I believe that we should give back, so that’s what I’ve tried to do.”


Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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