‘‘Like most people would be, I was quite speechless,’’ Monica Saville said of being awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.
The West Pennant Hills resident has rarely found herself lost for words over decades giving speeches and working as an advocate for a range of causes.
That included her work raising awareness of the polio vaccination, a disease which temporarily took away her power of speech when she was 10 years old.
‘‘I remember the doctor saying, ‘I hope you weren’t planning to be a singer’,’’ she said.
‘‘I had always wanted to be a teacher too, and if you cant talk you cant teach.’’
It was a experience that would later motivate the Rotary Club member to take up a volunteer mission to India, where she vaccinated children against polio.
Later, she returned to India where Rotary funded the construction of several toilet blocks at schools in disadvantaged areas.
‘‘The significance of that is in the fact that in India, sanitation isn’t big in schools,’’ she said.
‘‘Once girls reach puberty and need to have privacy, their parents won’t let them go to school anymore. Their education was being interrupted.
‘‘So putting in these nice school toilet blocks with hand washing facilities meant a lot of girls could continue their education.’’
A former deputy principal of Epping West Public School, Ms Saville said she was ‘‘very, very honoured’’ to be awarded an OAM.
‘‘I think when you do this through a charity you don't expect to be acknowledged in any way — you do it because your heart is there,’’ she said.
Her fundraising work shows no sign of slowing down. She is renowned across The Hills for her swift ability to extract money from willing donors.
‘‘A few years ago the district governor said if we could raise $30,000 for a research project he’d shave his head,’’ she said.
‘‘I love a challenge, and I managed to raise it in three days while we were at a conference.
‘‘My biggest challenge was finding the clippers at 4.30pm on a Saturday afternoon.’’