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Faith, family and friendship lead to life of service

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The Rotary motto of ‘service above self’ has always struck Peter Sandercock as a very simple phrase but it’s one that still resonates with the Glenelg parishioner and recipient of an Order of Australia Medal in this year’s Australia Day honours.

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Whether it’s taking communion to aged care residents, washing dishes every Monday at the Hutt St Centre or doing odd jobs for the  Sacred Heart College Foundation, Peter Sandercock continues to put ‘service above self’.

Peter’s 30-year involvement with Rotary International, including a term as district governor, and 31-year membership of the Knights of the Southern Cross were integral to his nomination for an OAM.

But Peter is equally proud of his 70-year association with the Marist Brothers who, along with his parents, have had the biggest influence on his life. It’s a relationship that began when he and his brother Des entered Year 6 at Sacred Heart College in 1948.

Despite living at Kensington, only a stone’s throw from Rostrevor College, Peter and Des were determined to go to Sacred Heart College at Somerton Park.

“Perhaps it was because it was near the beach or maybe it was because there were lots of Woodlands girls on the bus,” Peter laughed.

At a meeting with the headmaster, Brother Sylvester, Peter’s parents explained that they could only afford to send Des to the college but a few weeks later Br Sylvester told them he’d spoken with the finance adviser and they had found a way to enrol both boys.

Peter and Des would catch the tram into town and a bus from North Terrace until the family moved to Plympton and the boys rode their bikes to school.

Peter said the Brothers had “always been there” and he had great admiration for them. He recalled his first teacher, Brother Christopher, who was “about 6’ 9”, 16 stone” and “could have been opening batsman for Australia”.

“He used to fill the roller with water and push it up and down the main oval on his own, he was that strong,” Peter said.

He also has fond memories of the hard but fair Brother Dom and, more recently, his friend and local legend Brother Jordan Redden. After leaving school, Peter continued his association with the Marists through his role as secretary of the old scholars association, of which he is a life member.

Referring to the influence of his parents on his life, Peter said religion was a big part of his upbringing but “without any pressure” and they also taught him the importance of respect.

“It was just the strength of their faith – I could see the real benefits of the way they lived their lives and that was good enough for me,” he said.

“My parents never owned a car so we would walk to Mass at St John’s, Mornington, every Sunday and then walk home again – rain, hail or shine.”

It was through the parish and playing tennis for the St John’s club at Plympton that Peter met his wife-to-be Pam McPherson and, predictably, they were married in Sacred Heart chapel.

Joining the insurance industry after school, Peter moved to the Copper Coast with Pam and their two eldest children, Tracy and Paul, were born at Wallaroo. Returning to Adelaide, the family settled at Glenelg East and their third child John was born. The children attended Our Lady of Grace School, Glengowrie, where Pam was president of the mother’s club and Peter helped out in the parish through his involvement with the Knights of the Southern Cross.

Their two sons moved on to SHC and Tracy to Cabra Dominican College while Pam worked in the SHC library for 15 years. “We would get roped into various things – there were lots of functions, school fetes, that sort of thing, it was non-stop,” Peter recalled.

Despite holding down a senior role with SGIC, Peter continued his voluntary work with the Knights until 1996, including as chair of its finance and investment company which took him interstate for national board meetings. He also filled the role of Justice of the Peace for 35 years.

After retiring from SGIC in 1992, his involvement at a leadership level with Rotary grew and as district governor in 2001-02 he clocked up 40,000km travelling around the State as well as to Broken Hill and the Sunraysia area.

One of the highlights of his time with Rotary was coordinating PolioPlus Partners Task Force, an international appointment which involved working with two representatives from the Philippines and selected districts in Australia to promote the removal of polio campaign which Rotary has been running since 1985.

Since then the number of new cases of polio has gone from 300,000 to nine, with those few remaining cases partly due to the movement of refugees around the world.

“That was a big thing,” Peter said. “But it’s also all the community things you’re promoting and trying to develop with people in need, and some of the youth exchange programs are great.”

Peter is quick to point out he wouldn’t have been able to achieve what he did without the support of Pam, who died in November 2014.

“In fact, when they rang me about the OAM I said I’m going to ring the Governor General and see if he’s got two medals – one for me and one for her.”

Peter said there was definitely a degree of sadness that she wasn’t there to see him receive the OAM but he was pleased that his three children could attend the ceremony at Government House on April 4.

A grandfather of eight, Peter said his own family had become even more important to him since Pam passed away. In 2015 he spent three months in hospital with a serious heart problem and he had to go through intensive rehabilitation to learn to walk again. “I don’t know if I’d be here now if it wasn’t for their ongoing love and support.”

With organisations like Rotary finding it difficult to attract new members, Peter said a lot of people tended to ask “what’s in it for me?”.

“I never really thought about that,” he explained.

“When I joined we used to go and look after the Glenelg Hospital garden, paint the seats on the seafront, all sorts of things, we just did it.

“It’s the fellowship and all the fun you have while you’re doing it; the great people you meet, that’s the common denominator.”

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