I am. I can. And that Matters.

Patricia Stiles (nee Joseph), Class of 1964

Now more than ever, people need to work together, says Patricia Stiles (nee Joseph, Class of 1964), who helped establish the first Ronald McDonald House in Australia, founded orphanages and schools for  children in Nepal, and who champions many local charities including Kiwanis and the Exodus Foundation.

Patricia says the most important things a Roseville girl should remember are “What you put into life, you get back” and “Giving is so much better than receiving”. Her story inspires every girl, no matter her ability, to be true to herself and live a life that prioritises others.

Patricia Joseph commenced at Roseville College in 1958 in Year 7 and graduated with her Class of 1964. While she is an extremely proud Roseville Alumni, she admits her time at school wasn’t always smooth sailing. As a schoolgirl, she confesses she was not an easy pupil. She was aware of the privilege and opportunity she had, but she struggled against the academic expectations others had of her.  While optimistic, inquisitive, creative and resourceful, Patricia’s real struggle was dyslexia, but she wasn’t to discover that until she was diagnosed many years after leaving school.

Patricia laughs that her husband, Peter Stiles, first proposed when she was just 2 1/2 years old! The friend of her older brother then waited a further 22 years before asking again; she says she is blessed to have found someone who loves her for who she is and let her be herself as they raised a family together.

With a head for design, and a father who owned and operated a textiles factory, Patricia initially pursued the family profession. By chance, before international fashion house YSL was famously appointed to the task, Patricia became the first Australian to design a Qantas uniform. However, it was a sliding-doors moment for her; she sold the design to Trent Nathan and walked away from the fashion industry.

Instead, Patricia had always wanted to be a nurse. She worked for three years at Royal Prince Alfred and St Anne’s Hospitals, then transitioned to the nearby Northhaven aged-care facility.

“I believe that each person is incredibly unique and matters,” says Patricia.

At the nursing home, Patricia was confronted by the lack of creative and mental engagement of her patients. She appealed to her manager, Elizabeth Lewis, for permission to personalise programs for patients in music therapy (also inspired by friend, Rosemary Marriott, see The Rose Semester 2, 2019), pet and art therapy, and even university undergraduate studies – indeed, one of Patricia’s aged-care patients went on to graduate in history and the humanities!

As Patricia describes the profound change in her patients, her eyes sparkle. She pauses and quotes Dr Martin Luther King Jr: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’ “

“What was I doing? I was enriching a life that wasn’t mine… what could be more important?” she says, adding that “giving to others, whether it is your time or your money – whatever is in your capacity” is essential to a good life.

Patricia says she was always involved in charity work as a child, and it remains part of family life for her children and grandchildren. She is reluctant to promote herself, describing herself as “just a member of a terrific group of people who enjoy helping others”.

“It is our family culture, actually, it should be our whole community’s culture. Giving isn’t comparative, according to who has more, it is characteristic to who I am. And that matters.”

Highly empathetic, Patricia is passionate about taking action when a need arises. She tells The Rose about a time in the late 1970s when she travelled to comfort her terminally ill mother in hospital.

She had asked a nurse, “Where can I stay (overnight)?” and, to her astonishment and disgust, she was told, “You can sleep on the floor”.

Patricia asked, “But what if I was the mother and she was my child?” And the reply was the same.

Patricia then spoke to Dr Doug Cohen, who introduced her to the American Ronald McDonald House Charities, and together they approached McDonald’s Australia to secure a dollar-for-dollar promise to match the funds needed to establish the charity in Sydney.

Over two years, Patricia and her family raised more than $1 million dollars, and were central to purchasing and developing Australia’s first, immensely successful Ronald McDonald House. In 1981, it opened adjacent to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Camperdown, of which Patricia was later appointed a director. In the past 30 years, Ronald McDonald House has made a profound difference to thousands of families of sick children, who travelled to Sydney for life-saving medical treatment.

Patricia knows life is precious. By sheer, fierce determination to “just get on with it”, she has beaten cancer many times. Despite life’s obstacles, she remains resolute about helping others.

“It’s something we must learn because, for many, it doesn’t come naturally,” says Patricia. “We learn to encourage, inspire, uplift, resource or carry them – to do whatever we can do.

“Once you start, you’ll realise that you are able to do and give beyond what’s comfortable because what you gain personally is immeasurably more valuable than what you have.”

In 2016, Patricia helped establish an orphanage and school in Nepal for 56 children. In March this year, she was determined to travel to Nepal in response to a plea from the Nepalese government to build a second facility, for children orphaned by landslides in 2017 that killed more than 70,000 people. Last minute, Patricia was prevented from travelling due to the global fears about COVID-19 and her vulnerability to the virus. Nonetheless, she ensured the finances and resources still reached Nepal in her absence.

“It is amazing what a relatively small amount in our eyes can achieve in a country like Nepal… just $10,000 can seed a school that will care for more than 100 orphans,” she explains. “It is my absolute privilege to serve people with what I have in my hand today, and I will keep holding out my hand to help others every day I’m alive.”

Locally, Patricia supports the work of several charities, including Kiwanis and the Exodus Foundation, the latter established by Rev. Bill Crews to serve Sydney’s homeless people.

“We started mobile food vans for the homeless and provided facilities to shower or wash their clothes,” she says.

“I imagine if I were homeless,” she adds, as if the idea just popped into her head, “that I would have a dog. But, did you know that you cannot be given a shelter if you have a pet? It’s shocking! So, we have to do something, right?

“So, we are building vans for homeless with pets. I particularly love this project because it will really help people who currently can’t access it.”

When asked about Roseville College today, Patricia smiles and says she is very proud of her old School and what it represents in the lives of girls today.

“I am proud that the girls are learning to consider others and to serve others in practical ways such as fundraising, and overseas service and learning trips. In my mind, serving and giving are essential to good character. Good character is just as important in education as are skills and knowledge.

“While at school, we learn all sorts of things. Importantly, learn that whoever you are, matters to someone else. You could change other lives for the better, far more than you ever imagined.”

First published in The Rose Magazine, Semester 1 2020.