Ninety-one-year-old Des Latham is Armidale’s oldest OAM recipient this year. He has been honoured for service to the community.
For 25 years, he has been involved with the University of the Third Age – including a seven-year-term as its third president, and the rest of the time as its vice-president.
“I went in there because it was going to give me something to do in my retirement,” Des said. “I wasn't going to sit round and twiddle my thumbs, or sit down watching TV. I wanted to be active. I'd been active all the rest of my life!”
Born in 1926, Des joined the Commonwealth Bank in 1944. After starting his career in Sydney, he moved to Inverell in 1953, worked in several towns around New England, and finished as manager of the Guyra branch.
He changed careers in 1977 to become an insurance broker, installing new computer systems at a time when PCs were starting to replace punchcards.
Computing was his field of expertise with the U3A. He assisted seniors to use the machines, drawing on the experience he’d gained since 1977.
“We appealed for some computers,” Des said. “We got some old Macs from the university for a song; we had donated ones - but they were all different versions, and they had different versions of Word. So that was a bit of challenge!”
When a computer wizard developed a program, the U3A ran beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes – often with “explorers” (as learners were called) of different levels in the same class.
One of his biggest successes, he said, was an 80-year-old woman who wanted to write her life story to hand onto her grandchildren. She didn’t want to learn the program, but Des knew that she would need it to tell her tale and put in photos.
“At the second last session,” Des said, “she came up with a grin that wide, and plonked down the book.
“It gives both sides a lift if they know I've achieved something and I've taught her something, and she's achieved something that she wanted to do.”
In the towns that he and his late wife Jean lived with their seven children, Des always seemed to end up on the Parents and Friends Associations Executives. At one stage, he was the president of the O’Connor Catholic College board; and he was business manager at St Alby’s for two years.
He has been an active supporter of the St Vincent de Paul Society for more than 60 years, and was a volunteer driver/deliverer for Meals on Wheels from 1979 to 2003.
“I was busy all the time, and I wanted to continue to be busy,” he said – particularly since Jean died 15 years ago.
“Anything that I did was to help myself,” he reflected, “but the secondary result was that it helped other people as a result of my action.”
His record of service to the community speaks for itself, though, and is deservedly recognised today.