Page 1786 - Week 06 - Thursday, 30 July 2020

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Mr John van Waterschoot—tribute

MS CHEYNE (Ginninderra) (4.59): I rise this evening to pay tribute to John van Waterschoot, an active Rotarian, former scout leader, motivational speaker, adventurer, IT guru and Belconnen resident. John died on 29 June this year, aged 60 years. Before I go on, I want to record my sincere thanks to Mr Leo Farrelly for his significant contribution and insight into John’s life in crafting this speech.

What made John’s life remarkable is what he achieved. As a child John’s enrolment in the local public school was denied on account of him having cerebral palsy. So the nuns at the local convent school accepted him, and he was an A-grade student from the start. At eight years of age John started at St Laurence’s College in South Brisbane and again was an A-grade student right through to matriculation. John could not play regular sport so he took up chess, became school champion five years in a row and was the Queensland under 16 state champion in 1975.

John came to Canberra in the early 1980s, and he worked in the computer systems area of the Department of Defence. He was a scout leader with the 13th Canberra Scout Group in O’Connor, where he developed his interest in trekking, which in later years saw him climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

In addition to scouting, John joined the Canberra Ginninderra Rotaract Club and he attended Rotary’s youth leadership awards seminar at Greenhills in 1982. The motto of RYLA, as it is known, is assist youth to lead by bringing out the best in candidates to provide them with the leadership skills for their working life, and John found his niche as a team leader and motivational speaker at subsequent RYLA seminars over the next 20 years.

He would have spoken to approximately 1,000 young, professional business and trades people over those years. He developed his talks around the topic of, “What if I couldn’t,” broadly based on being an achiever in spite of his disability and inspiring others to recognise their abilities. John inspired many RYLArians to become leaders in the local and wider communities.

John was a member of a six-week Rotary vocational exchange or group study exchange, a team which went to the United States in 1991. Returning from his exchange having reached the maximum age of 30 for Rotaract membership, John joined the Rotary Club of Belconnen in 1992 to continue his community service through RYLA where he became a mentor at seminars and managed the administration of those seminars for 20 years. Additionally, John provided leadership guidance to Rotary’s younger cohort, the Rotary youth program of enrichment, or RYPEN, aimed at developing communications and social skills and giving confidence and self-esteem to teenagers between 15 and 17 years over a full weekend seminar.

John became president of the Rotary Club in 1999. He served in many club roles over the next 20 years, especially in helping others through his considerable IT skills. He also served at the regional level as the coordinator for RYLA and RYPEN to ensure the continued success of those youth programs.

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