Battlers' champion Shirley a Border hero

Shirley Rutherford saw a need and worked to fill it.
Shirley Rutherford saw a need and worked to fill it.

SHIRLEY Rutherford was a woman of great passion and drive whose work helping the Border’s battlers and people with disabilities was enormous.

She probably made the biggest single personal contribution to creating the array of social services set up in Albury-Wodonga and neighbouring shires in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mrs Rutherford, 69, died in the Royal Melbourne Hospital on Thursday after being ill for several weeks, and a funeral service will be held at Camberwell today.

Her first career was as a school teacher, but in the 1970s she and her husband moved to Howlong, where they raised five children.

The town lacked services and Mrs Rutherford and other mums got together to start a kindergarten, community health centre and a baby health service.

In 1979 she re-entered the workforce with the social planning unit of the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation and stayed there 11 years.

In that period, by then a single mum, she led the corporation’s drive to establish neighbourhood houses, play groups, parenting programs, mobile childcare and related services in the shires.

As well, she was involved in the Poverty Action Group, encouraging low-income people to find their own solutions to improving their lives.

In this work, she discovered that domestic violence was a bigger problem than poverty and realised that community attitudes had to change.

A program Lift the Lid increased awareness of the problem and was a model across Australia.

From the corporation, Mrs Rutherford moved to Community Services Victoria to develop early intervention programs for children with disabilities and worked in Albury’s community health service and the base hospital.

Mrs Rutherford’s last job on the Border was at the Albury Base Hospital and from 1997 to her retirement three years ago she worked in primary care at Colac, Geelong, Carlton and Echuca.

She is survived by her five children and nine grandchildren.

Son Tim Rutherford said yesterday: “She was a good woman — her focus was on family, community and children, and she did an amazing amount of voluntary work”.

Mrs Rutherford continued to serve on various boards until her death.