By Catherine Noy
I first met Mary Salce in 1993 when preparing for the Inaugural International Agricultural Women’s Conference, which was showcased in Melbourne, Victoria, in July 1994.
At this time, I had recently finished working for the Victorian Government’s Department of Agriculture and was home-based, operating a freelancing administration support business to various organisations while caring for my newborn son. The conference committee asked if I would assist with some of the administration set up for the conference. This project was exciting and innovative, and I enjoyed every moment of the work, albeit it being stressful and overwhelming at times.
However, the stress was trumped by the excitement and joy of working with Mary and her dedicated conference team. The First IWiAC was a huge success and was hailed as a momentous gathering and networking bonanza for grass roots community and farming women across the world.
The inaugural IWiAC certainly wasn’t the first time Mary had orchestrated and influenced many leaders, politicians, and in particular grass roots people from across the globe – being the voice for the underdog had been hers brief for a long time.
I learned that as early as the 1970s Mary had been a strong advocate for grass roots farmers and community members. She had influenced many of the “knights at the round tables”, bringing change to decision makers, including industry boards, local, state and international politicians.
When I first met Mary, I was taken aback by her strong presence, her charismatic personality and passion to “get things done, and get things done properly”, that being to the finest detail.
Mary has a strong but humble presence. Her influence can infiltrate across many social and demographic thresholds with extraordinary ability, humility and integrity. Mary is often confrontational – but always with integrity; fighting the good fight fairly with credibility. She demonstrates exceptional fair-mindedness and honesty in her ability to govern and initiate a powerful influence of positive change.
Mary was able to meticulously formulate, orchestrate and demonstrate an extraordinary suite of projects, one being the Gippsland Women’s Network (GWN) projects for which I was appointed administration and networking officer. I filled this roll amongst other ad hoc projects initiated throughout the network over a 20-year period.
Mary believes it takes a “whole village to raise a child” – the child being the “project” in most instances, and she has the talent to make it happen. Mary brought together many women with various skills and strengths for the planning and activation of the projects and included other key players such as politicians, local community representatives and others from a broad spectrum and demographic which helped achieve credibility and validity of the positive outcomes.
Mary, having extensive practical knowledge and financial expertise, was able to bring together and maximise these skills without ego or bias in the influence of her planning and decision making.
Her motive for the many projects she has initiated and led were of a purely altruistic intent. With regard to the Gippsland Women’s Network projects, Mary sacrificed much of her own time and unselfishly put other’s needs before herself, not only personally but also financially. All of Mary’s time, contribution (including financial contributions) were of a volunteer nature.
In 2013, Mary was awarded an Officer of the General Division of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours for her work, dedication and contribution to rural and agricultural women.
Along the way Mary has brought many women, families and communities together for the greater good. Her legacy will outlive her lifetime and my own. The rippling effect of her work and vestiges of her deeds will infiltrate and influence many generations to come.
From my own perspective, Mary has had more influence on my professional life than any other. I have regarded Mary not only as my number one mentor, but also as a dear, loyal and trusted friend.
Mary’s motto has always been to lead by example, and empower others to do the same. Mary Salce epitomises what Brene Brown says in her book, Dare to Lead, “I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”
Resource: Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. Random House, London ISBN 9781785042140