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Diane Kargas Bray is 2018 Canberra Citizen of the Year

Megan Doherty

Published: March 8 2018 - 9:00PM

She is one of Canberra's quiet achievers. Modest, accomplished, doing good work behind the scenes for years without fanfare or fuss.

But community advocate and philanthropist Diane Kargas Bray was recognised for all her hard work in the most public way possible on Thursday when she was announced the 2018 Canberra Citizen of the Year.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr bestowed the honour upon Ms Kargas Bray for "outstanding contribution to the Canberra community through her social enterprise and philanthropic work".

"Our 2018 winner gives her time freely and is a mentor and role model to those who meet and work with her," Mr Barr said.

"She joins a long list of deserving recipients who act for the good of our community without expectation of remuneration or reward."

Ms Kargas Bray has been a long-time contributor to the local community, from her work as the ACT public trustee administering the Canberra Bushfire Recovery Appeal to her efforts helping people access affordable housing through Common Ground.

Her work with Hands Across Canberra has been instrumental in bringing together businesses, government and individuals to channel donations to local charities.

Now 70, Ms Kargas Bray could be forgiven for taking a step back. But she's not about to do that, reinvigorated by being named Citizen of the Year.

"When I got the phone call, I'm often not short for words, I actually couldn't say anything. My mind had to take it all in. So, it was overwhelming," she said.

"And then to have a couple of weeks to think about it, it's just such a huge responsibility. To actually use that recognition to do good work, to do more good work. So I think the time to slow down has just gone down the radar."

Born in Adelaide to enterprising parents - her dad was an automotive engineer and her mum had a health food shop - a young Diane left school at 15 to go nursing, training at Victor Harbour.

Her mum gave her advice that set her up for a life of giving back.

"My mother always said you shouldn't be idle. If you had time and you had nothing to do with that time, than you give it to the community," she said.

"So as a young girl I would visit an aged care facility which was near us in north Adelaide, take flowers and just sit with residents and talk to them."

She came to Canberra in 1965 as a newly-married woman with a child on the way. Her husband worked with the Army Office in Adelaide and was transferred to Canberra as Defence was setting up in Russell. The young family moved first to a house in Torrens Street, Braddon which is still there today. She raised two children on her own when her husband was posted to the Vietnam War.

"I thought this would be for two years and I'd be back home in Adelaide, safe again," she said.

"But Canberra actually taught me if you didn't go out and meet people you would be in your house and nobody would know and nobody would care.

"So I'm very grateful to this community for letting me get involved. And I've had some fabulous jobs."

An early one was setting up for the Belconnen community service the first childcare centre at the Belconnen shopping centre, eventually also introducing Legal Aid there as well for struggling parents.

"It was a lovely way to meet the community and see that there was a need," she said.

Ms Kargas Bray's work has also extended to roles with GreaterGood, Boundless, the ACT committee for the Fundraising Institute of Australia, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and as chair of the social enterprise taskforce at the Canberra Business Chamber.

She says her work with charities has convinced her that anyone can be a philanthropist. She said government assistance was not always enough to meet the ongoing need of the vulnerable in Canberra.

"I think a responsible, mature community can help and, indeed, should help," she said.

"If I can raise that awareness that you don't need to be Bill Gates to be a philanthropist. You just need to use well your time, your treasure and your talent wherever you can make a difference.

"It actually doesn't hurt and it feels really good to help somebody else."

A mother of three, Ms Kargas Bray was remarried to Adrian Bray 16 years ago. They have six children between them as well as 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

"And I love them all to bits," she said.

This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/diane-kargas-bray-is-2018-canberra-citizen-of-the-year-20180308-h0x72m.html