To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of James Ramsay’s birth in 2023, recipients of support from the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation talked about the lasting legacy of philanthropy.
To Restless Dance chief executive Julie Moralee, the support of the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation has been transformative. The foundation’s investment has provided Restless Dance with opportunities to build international relationships and present at major festivals across the globe, making it Australia’s leading creator and collaborator of dance theatre by dancers with and without disability.
To South Australia’s flagship health and medical research institute, SAHMRI, the foundation has been one of its largest philanthropic supporters, delivering $1.5 million in grants since 2015 and supporting a range of research projects including Resilient Futures, focusing on building mental health and wellbeing for young people; providing seed funding establishing the Ramsay Bioinformatics Fellowship which SAHMRI credits for the impetus of the establishment of the SA Genomics Centre.
To Mike Feszczak, chief executive of Grandcarers SA, the Foundation’s generous funding has enabled it to help carers who are often isolated, lonely and unsupported. Funding has allowed Grandcarers SA to purchase a team car to safeguard its volunteers while travelling to state-wide peer group meetings.
But to James and Diana Ramsay’s nephew, Richard Jasek, the two were beloved for their razor-sharp judgement and unwavering honesty, which at times Richard found quite scary, until he realised what an “incredibly naughty sense of humour” they shared and how warm they were.
Through their foundation, the late James and Diana Ramsay are believed to be South Australia’s largest philanthropic donors, giving more than $20 million to youth, health innovations and arts organisations since 2008. A further $100 million has been gifted, which also includes the bequest to AGSA and the corpus of the foundation. Yet few people outside of these sectors are aware of their generosity and impact.
July 2023 marked 100 years since James’s birth. His love for the arts, along with his contribution to organisations such as The Australian Ballet (to which the Foundation has donated more than $2.6 million), with $1 million of that specifically dedicated to the ballet’s new production of Swan Lake. The Adelaide season of Swan Lake began in October and was dedicated to James.
James was born on July 19, 1923 to Lady Ella Ramsay and Sir John Ramsay. James lived to 73 and passed away from cancer in 1996. Diana survived him by 21 years.
The Ramsay Foundation’s executive director, Kerry de Lorme, says James’s father and his uncles each made their fame in very different ways, and each of them had an impact on both James and later Diana.
Kerry says Sir John was a brilliant surgeon and hospital administrator; James’s uncle, William, founded boot polish manufacturer Kiwi; and another uncle, Hugh, painted some of Australia’s greatest portraits. James and Diana have gifted many Hugh Ramsay works to state galleries.
The Ramsays’ Tasmanian family home in Launceston often hosted events, where James witnessed his parents’ deep involvement in numerous charities, societies and philanthropic causes.
While James grew up with a degree of privilege and opportunity, he was keen to make it on his own, working as a bookkeeper/credit manager. Later in life he inherited some wealth through the Ramsay family’s connection with the Kiwi Boot Polish Co and his own parents.
“What spare money they had, they shared with organisations that gave them joy, particularly in the arts, but this also extended to supporting young people and medical scholarships,” Kerry says of James and Diana.
According to Richard, the Ramsays started with small gifts and gradually built up their giving over decades, becoming increasingly generous and widespread as their financial circumstances changed.
“Their generosity encompassed support for career pathways, young people at risk and strengthening families and community organisations to help build their capacity. By the end of their lives literally thousands of people had been the direct or indirect beneficiaries of their extraordinary vision,” Richard says.
Nine years before her death in 2017, Diana established the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation. It has since supported more than 70 organisations to deliver more than 220 projects, having a significant impact on thousands of young people, arts and culture, and health innovations – changing lives, improving physical and mental wellbeing, building family relationships, enhancing careers and boosting collections.
Among the achievements are:
For the first time in an 86-plus year history, one of Adelaide’s iconic Popeye boats became a floating work of art this year, with artist Carly Snoswell commissioned by the Foundation;
The Ramsay Art Prize launched in 2016, awarding the fourth $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize in conjunction with AGSA in 2023;
The foundation commissioning a book on the history of the Ramsays and their families and the establishment of the foundation which they are planning to launch in 2024;
Supporting SAHMRI with seed funding into Bioinformatics and the Be Well Plan for positive mental wellbeing; and
Supporting programs for young people experiencing disadvantage through organisations such as Operation Flinders and Youth Opportunities.
At the launch of the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation in 2008, Diana said:
“Giving money away is easy, however it is the intention of the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation to give it away effectively with a positive impact to those it supports long into the future… I am so delighted and proud about the launch of the Ramsay Foundation and I know James would be too”.
To Kerry, James and Diana stood tall on the shoulders of benefactors before them. “We can be sure that there will be future benefactors who have been inspired by their vision and their substantial acts of kindness – and imagine the impact in another 100 years from now?” Kerry says.
This article first appeared in the September 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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