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Geoffrey Alexander honoured by OAM

By James Bennett

Geoffrey Alexander can spin a yarn.

His speech is slow yet thoughtful, and he jokes he doesn't want to get any older but his mind is still sharp.

Mr Alexander has been a member of Shepparton and District Parkinson's Support Group for more than 25 years but he doesn't let the disease define who he is.

Although people know Mr Alexander for his involvement with the "Parky" support group — as he described it — he has a long list of achievements and service to the wider community which has culminated in Mr Alexander being awarded an Order of Australia Medal.

“It's a great honour,” he said.

“It was something that I didn't anticipate or even think about.

“One of the doctors asked if I had any important mail; I said ‘no’ but then he asked again a week later.

“I jokingly said ‘What, for the OAM?’ and trying to be a smart-a*** he said ‘Yes’," Mr Alexander said with a laugh.

“It was just one of those things I thought of then and there instantly, then forgot about it.”

For a 79-year-old with Parkinson's disease, Mr Alexander has only recently started to feel some of the harsh realities of the condition.

He spends his days reading in his den or tending to his garden. His eyesight is getting poor and he uses a walker. Although, it could be argued that most of his pain has been caused by being a lifelong supporter of the Melbourne Demons.

Mr Alexander was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease more than 30 years ago.

Despite being "minimally affected by it" and a serious injury from a tractor in 1976, the father of two couldn't work which left his wife Margaret to become the sole breadwinner as a kindergarten director.

But his condition didn't stop him from contributing, and because of Mr Alexander's determination to better his community, Orrvale Primary School holds an obscure state record.

“They had to change the name of the Orrvale Primary School Mothers Club to Parents Club because I wasn't a mum,” he said.

“Joan Kirner (Victorian Premier) wrote to me saying if I wouldn't wear a skirt to the meetings we had to be a parent group.

“We were the first in the state to be called a parent group."

Mr Alexander joined Shepparton Apex Club No. 12 in 1961. He lived and breathed Apex, and became a life member in 1981.

“I just loved Apex,” he said with a smile.

“It was a group of young men, all of which were owners or part owners or managers of family businesses. It was just a wonderful group of men and we undertook all sorts of things.”

Mr Alexander said the bulk of the Apex Club work was wrecking and demolishing houses and buildings with the material sold off or salvaged.

Mr Alexander was principal of the Shepparton Technical School; he received the Australian Defence Medal in 2006; and he has been involved with the Shepparton and Karramomus cricket clubs as well as badminton, shooting and swimming clubs, and Scouts.

One of his greatest achievements was receiving the highest honour in the Parkinson's Victoria community: the Sir Zelman Cowen Award — presented by Sir Zelman Cowen.

Another of Mr Alexander's achievements was helping to obtain support nurse Sheree Ambrosini for the Parkinson's Support Group members. Mr Alexander said it was one of his proudest moments during his time with the group.

“Literally the floodgates opened,” he said.

“Parking is a hell problem in Melbourne and most of our Parky partners are elderly women and they hate driving in Melbourne. But they could drive here in Shepparton.

“When Sheree wasn't at the hospital, she was working around in other places; she was fantastic."

Mr Alexander said his love of Shepparton came from his father and grandfather, and his wife agreed Mr Alexander lived for the community.

“It has been Shepparton in all the things that he's done with the community, for the community,” Mrs Alexander said.

“I think it's a very great history. His dad was very community minded, and his mum was always involved with church groups.

“Geoff has always being involved with something in Shepparton."