Helping others has always come naturally to Ruth Gorton.
Mrs Gorton, of Keinbah, was recognised on the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours List with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to community health.
While her main passion has been mental health support, Mrs Gorton’s first taste of volunteering was with Meals on Wheels in the Northern Rivers town of Maclean more than 30 years ago.
Her husband Gordon was stationed there as a police officer and was a member of the Apex Club in the early 1980s when a group of members’ wives started volunteering for Meals on Wheels.
While the club is no longer, the Apex wives still deliver Meals on Wheels – and Mrs Gorton sometimes joins them when she is visiting up north.
Mrs Gorton – who grew up at Keinbah – continued her dedication to helping others when she returned to the Hunter region.
She was among a group of local families who got together, approached the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW and formed the Cessnock Carer and Consumer Mental Health Support Group in 1998.
Mrs Gorton was the group leader until a couple of years ago and also volunteered with the Sunflower Centre.
In 2009 she was made a life member of the Schizophrenia Fellowship, which is now known as One Door.
In her role as Cessnock group leader, Mrs Gorton would organise fundraising raffles at shopping centres, but she said the primary aim was not to raise money but to “start a conversation” about mental health in the community.
“Selling the tickets was the icebreaker,” she said.
“Mental health awareness is so important.
“People are more open about it now, but there’s still a stigma.”
Mrs Gorton said the most satisfying thing about her involvement with the support group was directing people towards the services that were going to be beneficial for them.
While she stepped back from her role with the Cessnock mental health support group a couple of years ago, she still takes many calls from people in the community.
The urge to help others remained – and it wasn’t long before Mrs Gorton started helping out at the Maitland blood donor centre.
“If you’re going to volunteer, it comes from the heart,” the mother-of-three and grandmother-of-eight said.
Mrs Gorton is also a long-time member of Cessnock VIEW Club, and was nominated by the club for the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Hidden Treasures Honour Roll in 2014.
She also received an appreciation award at Cessnock City Council’s Australia Day awards in 2012.
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent was thrilled to learn Mrs Gorton will receive the OAM.
“She’s a great worker for our community,” he said.
Mrs Gorton said it has taken a little while for the honour to sink in.
“I’m rather overwhelmed by just how big and important it is, and the fuss that people have made,” sh said.
“It takes you back – you think ‘oh my, that couldn’t be me – it must be for someone else’.”
The Queen's Birthday Honours and Awards will be officially presented at a special ceremony at Government House, Sydney in September.
The Cessnock Carer and Consumer Mental Health Support Group meets the first Monday of the month at Cessnock Leagues Club at 7pm. Call Julie on 8315 1450 for more information.
- For 24-hour support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14