The remarkable man behind the St Ives Yuletide tree

    A modest Christmas tree in St Ives shopping centre is little indication of the mammoth work behind the tree – and the indefatigable man who helped get it all started.

    Wal Edwards may turn the magnificent age of 100 on November 22 – but he remains a tireless advocate of caring for the less fortunate. And if ever proof were needed of the life-affirming benefits of a life of service to others, Wal is it.

    A founding member of the Rotary Club of St Ives, Wal decided in 2002 that he’d do something to connect with the many elderly people forgotten at Christmas time, by helping to establish the Rotary Tree of Joy. Its purpose: to give presents to nursing home and war vet residents, many with no close relatives and no hope of a Christmas gift.

    Now in its 14th year, the Tree of Joy goes up on November 28 this year.  While Wal maintains it’s a team effort, he gets it underway by collecting people’s gift requests from retirement villages and nursing homes and transferring those onto little cards tied to the tree, each labelled with name, age, sex and present requested.

    “Members of the public pick a card from the Tree and then go and buy the gift and return it wrapped,” explains Wal, who lives in Manly with wife Joan. The present requests – a dressing gown, chocolates, underwear, a New Zealand Rugby DVD, a bottle of Scotch – are met by members of the public who deposit the wrapped gift by the Tree ready for distribution. Last year Wal and his son took around 600 gifts to delighted recipients.

    “But all together last year Rotary St Ives distributed 1,400 gifts in total to 12 nursing homes around the North Shore and Northern Beaches over a couple of days. It helps the sad and lonely and makes them realize people are thinking about them – and gives us all who are doing this a beautiful feeling.”

    Before retirement, Wal owned an estate agency in St Ives, employing 12 sales people and selling houses, land, farms, motels and hospitals. After caring for his second wife Mary for 40 years until she passed away, Wal married Joan in 2003. He has five children, losing a son aged 28 in a car accident and another at age 68, as well as a grandson at age 38, as well as 15 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

    The tireless work extends beyond Christmas. As a trained grief counsellor, Wal pays weekly visits to hospitals to chat with the elderly or sick kids, as well as to war vet homes and retirement villages. As the Welfare Officer of the Harbord Diggers for the last 24 years, Wal was awarded a Life Membership.

    Little wonder that he’s received a string of other awards including an OAM and another for 50 years’ service from St Ives Rotary Club.

    What keeps this indomitable Aussie going, doing the rounds and confronting mortality every day? “When you’ve seen so many things in life as I have, I’ve found that the recipe for happiness is forgetting about your own bad stuff and reaching out to others. There can be no greater gift.”

    Happy 100th Birthday, Wal Edwards.

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