HUNTER woman Sheila Woodcock rarely discussed money, preferring instead to live simply and relish her close friendships, travelling, horticulture, acting and chocolate.
Her second cousin and enduring guardian Kent Woodcock said her family and friends knew she was comfortable, but weren't aware even after her May 2018 death at 87 of just how comfortable - until Wednesday.
Kent invited representatives from 15 community organisations to gather at the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service base at Broadmeadow to reveal that Sheila's will included around $14 million to be split between them.
A total of eight organisations will receive $1.375 million, three $450,000 and four $340,000.
Each organisation was told beforehand how much they were receiving, but weren't aware of the size of the total gift, leading to an audible gasp when Kent announced the figure.
The $14 million follows decades of generosity and donations.
"Her gifts to charities over the years were significant, but today is just phenomenal," he told the audience of around 100.
"Sheila would be very pleased to see you all here from far and wide.
"Today is a day to celebrate the generosity of a very proud Novocastrian and a strong, independent, vibrant and private woman.
"But today most importantly shows Sheila's love for her community and friendships created from a life of quietly caring."
Kent told the Newcastle Herald Sheila had left virtually her entire estate to the organisations.
"I don't think anybody [in Newcastle] has ever done something like this and I don't think we'll ever see it again," he said.
"This is to be a celebration. It's not sadness at her passing, it's 'Look what she's done, look what she's doing'."
Kent said the 15 recipients were from the worlds of "health, humanity and discovery".
"It was in her will and all planned," he said.
"She did not share her will with anybody - I only found out in the last six months."
Westpac Rescue Helicopter's marketing and fundraising manager James Lawrence thanked Sheila and her family on behalf of the service's chief executive Richard Jones and the 15 organisations.
Mr Lawrence said Sheila's gift would improve "the lives of hundreds of thousands of people".
"Without this function I think all of us as charities would have been stunned, appreciative, grateful and humbled and we would have all applied this funding for really good purposes, but... I don't think any of us could have any idea of the true extent of Sheila's gift and the cumulative $14 million," he said.
"I don't quite know the words to say our thanks and gratefulness.
"We accept Sheila's gift very responsibly and we know how important it is to use those funds well."
Mr Lawrence said Sheila's astuteness in business and life also appeared to have been applied to the organisations she supported.
He said all 15 had a clear purpose for "helping life", strong standards of governance, a clear vision for the future and a fundamental reliance on community support.
Sheila left $1.375 million to the helicopter service to fund a high fidelity winch simulator and live hoist training tower and $1.375 million to the Royal Flying Doctor Service to purchase a new King Air B350 engine and three sets of essential role equipment.
"There's investments in engines and assets and projects but we'd like to see that remembered and thought of by the family as ultimately going to help with rescue and life saving flights."
An AW139 helicopter landed "as a mark of respect and thank you to Sheila" after the event.
RSPCA NSW chief executive officer Steve Coleman said it "was a great day but a real loss at the same time".
He said Sheila had donated more than $200,000 to the service during her life and her final gift of $1.375 million would allow the organisation to move its vet hospital out of its leased Tighes Hill premises to its own newer building, hopefully by Christmas.
"What a transformational community member - it blows me away," he said.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT general manager of planned giving Sally Biles said Sheila had donated more than $340,000 to the organisation, which she said was humbled by the final "enormous" bequest of $1.375 million. It will train 25 guide dogs.
"80 per cent of our funding needs come from the community and two out of three of our guide dogs are funded by people who leave a gift in their will," she said.
"She was an absolutely remarkable woman and true philanthropist.
"It restores your faith when you know there are people who are so actively involved and care so much about their community and people and making the world a better place."
Salvation Army area officer for the Hunter and NSW Central Coast Major Mark Everitt said Sheila's bequest of $1.375 million was "overwhelming" and would be used to purchase property around Belmont for emergency and transitional housing.
"It's one of those spine tingling moments," he said.
"She has demonstrated a great sense of generosity and compassion that is quite extraordinary.
"She is a blessing to our community."
Major Everitt said Sheila had told staff about her "hopes for the most vulnerable members of our society".
"It will not just put a roof over heads but help them to be equipped, to get a rental history, to upskill for employment, whatever they need for the next part of their life."
The Smith Family's partnership coordinator for Newcastle Lyn Falkiner said Sheila's $340,000 gift to the charity was "transformative".
She said the funds would support the Learning for Life program, ARTcastle program and create the Sheila Woodcock Memorial Scholarship.
She said it would help expose students to opportunities and experience that would otherwise be beyond their reach.
"It builds your views of the world, so you can see that I can achieve and be part of a wider environment," she said.
Nelita, 18, received support from The Smith Family from year seven until she graduated high school last year.
She said funds helped contribute to the cost of schooling, excursions, supplies and uniforms.
"We were really were really grateful for the money we got," she said.
"It helped me get books and pencils and things for school so I could be learning. It helped me to be there and not worry about everything else happening.
"It made it much easier on my mother, she didn't stress so much about having to pay for everything.
"This is going to be so helpful and so amazing for kids who are able to now get that extra help and just be able to do better because Sheila has been so supportive."
Sheila's friend of around 70 years June Wooden said while they never talked about money, she had an "estimation" of Sheila's wealth and that all of it would go to charity.
"She was a very private person but she cared," Ms Wooden said.
"You would never have known - unless you knew her personally - she had that sort of money, she didn't throw it around, she didn't do anything that would make you think that.
"I think its incredible, it really is - it's wonderful."
Kent told the Herald he would visit Sheila at Maroba Aged Care in Waratah in the last year of her life and bring a bottle of champagne and her mail, which often consisted of handwritten thank you cards from community organisations, shareholder statements and invitations to board meetings.
"We knew she was comfortable, she did not have a regular career, but we weren't invited to pry or ask," he said of her wealth.
"It was not something she wanted people to know, she kept it very private."
He said he noticed the organisations were thanking her for large sums and he asked her why she had never received any recognition.
"She said it was around her safety, if people knew she was living by herself - she felt unsure," he said.
"But she said the most important thing was that the charities know."
He said she had supported many for a long time, including World Vision for nearly 40 years.
Some relationships had been formed after meeting people at the grassroots level of the organisations, "then over time she would get to know the head honchos", with many becoming her friends.
"A lot of her charity giving came down to getting to know somebody," he said.
"If she liked the person and thought their organisation was a good one, she would support them.
"If she liked the cut of your cloth and respected who you were she would never forget you.
"She had the most amazing memory and would never forget anybody, particularly if she were good to her.
"She felt as if by contributing to them that she was part of them."
Kent told the crowd he had asked Sheila before she passed away what she would like to see happen when she died.
"She said 'It's got to include a glass of champagne', as quick as a whip," he said.
"Then 'I would like for my charities and friends to come together to celebrate my life's gifts'."
"I was really pleased as it was definitely time for Sheila to be recognised for her generosity.
"It's just a shame she's not here in person.
"Next question, why these charities?
"She said 'Because I've known them for years or known of them and their work. I have made friends and have seen their appreciation and respect of my support... and feel and trust they have and will use my final gifts well for the benefit of our community'."
Everyone assembled was given a glass of Champagne and toasted Sheila, with Westpac Rescue Helicopter patron Cliff Marsh OAM adding "God bless her".
Kent said Sheila's wealth was built from her inheritance and her astute management of her investments.
Sheila Winifred Woodcock was born the only child of Winifred Anne and Frederick or Fred Woodcock on January 3, 1931.
Fred and his brother Geoff followed in their father Christopher's footsteps and worked in the timber merchant business Christopher had helped establish, Earp, Woodcock and Beveridge or EWB.
Fred was managing director and Geoff the yard manager.
Kent's father, also named Christopher, was Geoff's son and Sheila's cousin.
Kent said EWB bought the Sorby's chain of hardware stores, plus bought Gould Brothers hardware store in Singleton and expanded it into a chain of stores.
He said Sheila was never involved in management, but was a major shareholder of both EWB - which was sold in the late 1980s to BBC Hardware, which became Bunnings - and Gould Brothers.
"She had contact with and was privvy to the way the family business was being run," he said.
"She was very much respected.
"The head financial controller at EWB looked after Sheila's interests for many years and in the past ten years Pitcher Partners have looked after her.
Kent said Sheila had wanted to be a pharmacist and "would have been awesome, knowing her business acumen and strength of character".
"But it came down to her being a single lady - her father had difficulty letting her go to Sydney to study."
Instead she joined the Newcastle Dramatic Arts Club in 1948, performing in Madame Butterfly, Once Upon A Mattress, Carmen and the lead in Elixir of Love.
She was also assistant treasurer.
Sheila Woodcock's bequests
- Australian Red Cross $450,000 to help humanity.
- Breast Cancer Trials $450,000 for The Sheila Woodcock Travel Grant to allow a young researcher to attend the Breast Cancer Trials' Annual Scientific Meeting.
- Cancer Council NSW $340,000 for cancer research and life-saving education programs.
- Diabetes NSW & ACT $1.375 million for the Sheila Woodcock Development Scholarship, for three graduates to attend the International Diabetes Federation Congress every two years.
- The Garvan Institute of Medical Research $1.375 million to help drive cellular genomics research led by Associate Professor Joseph Powell.
- Guide Dogs NSW/ACT $1.375 million to train 25 puppies.
- The Heart Foundation $340,000 to fund research and two scholarships at $50,000 per year over three years.
- Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia $1.375 million for a King Air B350 engine and three sets of role equipment.
- RSPCA NSW $1.375 million to build a new veterinary hospital in Newcastle.
- The Salvation Army $1.375 million to buy property in Belmont for short term crisis accommodation.
- Scots Kirk Presbyterian Church, Hamilton$1.375 million for church redevelopment.
- The Smith Family $340,000 for Learning for Life program, ARTcastle program and to create the Sheila Woodcock Memorial Scholarship.
- Vision Australia $450,000 for children and young adults program.
- Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service $1.375 million for a high-fidelity winch simulator and live hoist training tower.
- World Vision $340,000 to seed an endowment fund.