Rotary awards Paul Harris Fellow honour to Bega Cheese boss

Barry Irvin (left) of Bega Cheese and Giant Steps is made a Paul Harris Fellow, one of Rotary International’s highest honours, in a presentation by Bega Rotary president Charlie Blomfield.

Barry Irvin (left) of Bega Cheese and Giant Steps is made a Paul Harris Fellow, one of Rotary International’s highest honours, in a presentation by Bega Rotary president Charlie Blomfield.

Although he receives many corporate accolades, a recent honour bestowed by a local service organisation has left Bega Cheese executive chairman Barry Irvin “truly humbled”.

This month, Mr Irvin was made a Paul Harris Fellow by Bega Rotary. 

The presentation of a Paul Harris Fellow is The Rotary Foundation’s way of expressing its appreciation for a substantial contribution to its humanitarian and educational programs. 

It is named for founder Paul Harris, a Chicago lawyer who started Rotary International with three business associates in 1905. 

Charlie Blomfield, president of Bega Rotary, said the organisation was pleased to give Mr Irvin the honour for his work with Giant Steps, a school and early intervention centre for children with autism. 

“Locally people are familiar with Barry through his executive role at Bega Cheese, but that isn’t why he was chosen.

“His work with Giant Steps, his close association with that organisation and his ongoing volunteer and fundraising role with it, are very closely aligned with the work Rotary does.

“Through Giant Steps he has done so much for bettering the lives and educational opportunities of autistic children and their families, so it’s something that makes him an ideal Paul Harris Fellow.”

Mr Irvin had no idea he was to be named a Paul Harris Fellow and was tricked into believing he was returning to Bega on business. 

“I had meetings all over the country that week and kept saying to Faith [Behrens], why do I have fly back to Bega?” he said.

“So I was a little surprised to find out it was for Rotary!

“I’m truly humbled and this is a very special award for me.

“Rotary has a long and meaningful association with Bega, the town I grew up in and developed my career in.

“They are very highly regarded by the community so for them to choose me is a great honour.”

In 1995, Mr Irvin joined a small group of parents who just a few months beforehand had decided to start a school for their children.

Mr Irvin’s son had been diagnosed with autism and he and his wife had made the decision to move to Sydney to access services not available in Bega. 

The group would go on to found Giant Steps on the site of the old Gladesville Hospital in Sydney. 

From six primary-school aged pupils in 1995, the school has now grown to include a high school, early intervention centre, community college for young adults, diagnostic and assessment facilities and from this year a new mental health clinic.

“What’s also important about Giant Steps is that its programs are disseminated throughout Australia and globally, and its teachers are recognised globally for their training methods,” Mr Irvin said. 

Mr Irvin’s volunteering and corporate fundraising expertise has been integral to the school’s growth and he has been chairman of Giant Steps since 2002. 

Mr Irvin has been busy this week speaking about the impact Russian agricultural trade sanctions will have on Australian farmers as well as the global dairy industry

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