Arts philanthropist awarded Australian honour

Arts philanthropist awarded Australian honour
Brendan Rees

Since learning to play the flute from a young age, music and the arts have always been a part of John Simpson’s life

A regular visitor to Southback, John has performed on stage at Hamer Hall with the Scotch College Symphony Orchestra, had singing lessons at the Victorian College of the Arts and had a long association with the National Gallery of Victoria and the NGV Foundation - where he was a board member.  He also became a member of the board of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Today, he and his wife Cathy are philanthropic supporters of the NGV and the Melbourne Recital Centre (MRC), which Mr Simpson said, “has raised the bar of music performance in Australia”.

Mr Simpson has held a range of positions in the community, with his involvement in business, education, and the arts having recently seen him appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) as part of this year’s Australia Day Honours List. 

“I’m a big supporter of giving time to things that really interest you and I think it’s especially important to find interests well outside your field of work,” he said. 

“There’s so much to be learned from working with people in a variety of fields, whether it’s business, philanthropy, the rural sector, the arts, science and of course, education.”

Speaking about his honour, Mr Simpson said he was surprised, but grateful for being “part of something special”.

“I was very surprised - mostly as I have personally gained far more from the experiences, I had in various fields than I have given. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been offered and hopefully have made worthwhile contributions over the years.”

Mr Simpson is currently a member of council of Monash University, a role he has held for the past eight years, while also being the director of the Bionics Institute, which conducts vital research and applied work in hearing, vision, tinnitus, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Passionate about education, Mr Simpson was a member of council at Scotch College for almost 15 years. 

“I support the full diversity of choice we have in Australian education - that is the public, independent, Catholic/other denomination schools - but I think we are not achieving the outcomes that individual students are capable of or that the country so obviously needs.  

“Everything stems from a quality, broad-based education and every child deserves to be able to set goals and to achieve them.”

Outside of his professional life in the energy sector, Mr Simpson has been a board member of the National Science and Technology Centre (Questacon), and of SecondBite, the national food rescue charity. In addition to MRC, Mr Simpson and his wife are strong supporters of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.

His passion for music stems from his own experiences of learning music at school and joining a choir outside of school in his early teens.

“I had the benefit of playing in a symphony orchestra while at Scotch College and discovered the full power of being part of something uplifting and joyful. I remember performing Handel’s Zadok the Priest for the first time and being bowled over by it,” he said.

 Although a regular traveller, it is his love affair with Southbank, which he described as “a gem on the very edge of the City of Melbourne”, that will always remain close to his heart.

“Cathy and I walk to Southbank to concerts and exhibitions through the beautiful parks surrounding the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. For me this area is what Melbourne is all about.”

“It’s a privilege to live here.” •

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