November 11, 2022
People & Places

The gift of giving

You may not know their names but Joanna and Richard Collins are two of the most generous philanthropists in Adelaide. While they shy away from publicity, Joanna agreed to give SALIFE an insight into the couple’s philanthropic work in the hope it may inspire others to think about giving.

Joanna Collins AM and Richard Collins AM don’t seek out the limelight. While they may appear in the social pages now and then, it’s usually when they are out supporting their philanthropic ventures – and there are plenty of those.

This low-key couple possesses a deeply ingrained and unique sense of giving – and not just in a monetary sense.

Joanna and Richard’s philanthropic ethos stretches far beyond the financial support they are able to offer. They are renowned for their hands-on, practical help at ground level, as well as their human and personal connection to the many organisations and causes they support.

Today, Joanna has welcomed SALIFE into her home to chat about her life and the couple’s philanthropic work in the hope that it may encourage others to give.

“I’m really mindful not to preach to anyone, that’s not what we are about, by sharing some of our story it may inspire others to think about giving in whatever way they can,” she says.

“A lot of people feel their contribution won’t count, but cents make dollars and it does make a difference.

“It’s not just about financial help, volunteering time and expertise in whatever capacity you have, it all helps.”

This is a couple who walk the talk of commitment, compassion and caring for others. Whether it’s dishing out hot meals for OzHarvest Australia at the CEO CookOff in Sydney, visiting an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo or as ambassadors for SA’s Koala Life, Joanna and Richard are invested, long-term, in a staggering number of philanthropic causes.

Both come from business backgrounds and have worked hard to create success.

Over the past 38 years, Richard has built a large South Australian business employing 280 people. He is the owner of the Jarvis Group selling Ford, Toyota, Skoda, Peugeot, Citroen, Suzuki, Isuzu and Subaru vehicles.

Joanna and Richard on their wedding day in Rome. They eloped to the “Eternal city” for an intimate ceremony.

Joanna, a beauty therapist, launched her business, A Touch of Beauty, 35 years ago and she continues to work full time in the salon, as well as juggling the couple’s philanthropic projects.

Richard and Joanna met through their philanthropic work 25 years ago and have been married for 12 years after eloping to Rome, “the Eternal City”, for an intimate wedding.

“It was a very special day, in a city we both love, just the two of us,” Joanna says.

“When I met Richard, his major philanthropic support had been for Variety, the Children’s Charity, and to this day he is their longest-standing supporter. Variety helps children and families who face challenges through illness, disadvantage or living with a disability.

“Richard and I share a common commitment to helping others, such as the families of Variety, and we work well together as a team. Richard is kind, generous and he has completely supported me 100 per cent in the causes I feel strongly about.”

Richard says, “Joanna’s passion to help others, to bring hope and opportunity which would otherwise not exist, and her willingness and love to make a difference is what makes her such a unique, outstanding person.”

Joanna’s inspiring sense of giving was nurtured growing up in a family that lived by the saying “charity starts at home”.

Her parents, Angelo and Helen, were childhood sweethearts in Greece, moving to Australia in 1955. Angelo, a builder and carpenter by trade, ended up dealing in property and the family did well.


Joanna’s parents Angelo and Helen.


Joanna grew up in Norwood and Goodwood with her four siblings – she is the middle child – and it was a happy, busy home. Her mother was a homemaker, as well as supporting Angelo in the family businesses.

“My parents were both very charitable,” Joanna says. “I inherited my love for animals from my father and my empathy and compassion for charitable causes from my mum.

“They were very hospitable and when I was growing up our home was an open house and my parents welcomed everyone!

“As a child you are shaped and moulded by the people you most admire; my parents were excellent role models,” Joanna says.

“To treat people with respect, kindness and compassion, this was instilled into me from a young age. Mum always thought of others.”

Joanna says her family went to Greek Orthodox church every Sunday, and she was brought up in a home with “high morals, high standards and good work ethics”.

“There was a certain degree of religion but not too disciplined,” she says “We were also raised with what we call ‘philotimo’.

“Philotimo to the Greeks is like breathing. A Greek is not a Greek without it. It is to give without expecting to gain anything in return. It is about goodness, selflessness and the force that drives an individual to think about the people and the world around them. ‘Love of honour’ is its official translation.”

A strong sense of family remains at the centre of Joanna’s life and she and Richard regularly host family events at their home.

“Richard has three wonderful adult children and is a doting grandfather to three beautiful grandchildren, with another one on the way, and we get together when time allows,” Joanna says.

“We enjoy having everyone here and I always do something special for Richard’s birthday, as well as hosting Christmas.

The couple was invited to a function at Windsor Castle in 2013 through Joanna’s role as an ambassador for the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
Joanna, photographed at home, feels strongly about tackling homelessness in South Australia and says “everyone deserves a safe and secure place to call home”.

“We create lots of happy memories and celebrate special occasions, to make them memorable. Family is very important to us.”

Richard still goes to his dealerships six days a week. He was recently one of only six Ford Dealers worldwide to be awarded a “Salute to Dealers” honour, presented by Henry Ford III, to signify his huge contribution to the Ford Motor Company, as well as acknowledging his expansive long-term philanthropic work.

With their combined success, Joanna is aware that she could choose to be a “lady of leisure”, but she has absolutely no interest in that.

“Whenever Richard suggests that I should rest and not work, the joke between us is that I say, ‘Well, when you retire, I’ll retire’ – because he’s never going to retire, even though he has great managers in place,” she laughs.

“I love what I do. One has to have purpose in life and this is what drives me.”

While they also share a love of travel, almost all of Joanna and Richard’s overseas trips in the past 25 years have been in support of their philanthropic work.

Through their involvement with Animals Asia, the couple has visited China and Vietnam and witnessed first-hand the extraordinary work by founder Dr Jill Robinson MBE.

Animals Asia is devoted to ending bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals across Asia. Jill and her team promote compassion and respect for all animals and work to bring about long-term change.

“I knew the first time I met Jill, we would do a lot more together,” Joanna says.

The Green Gecko Project is another charitable organisation that Joanna and Richard support. Based in Cambodia, The Green Gecko was started by Australian, Tania Palmer AM, in 2005 and works with children, families and communities to bring an end to children living on the streets. The grass-roots charity implements effective and sustainable change through long-term programs.

Meeting mining magnate Gina Rinehart.
The couple with high profile conservationist and Joanna’s childhood hero, Dame Jane Goodall.

Joanna and Richard have been involved with the charity for 13 years and are the major sponsors. They have visited The Green Gecko headquarters in Siem Reap and know many of the former street children by name.

“These children are now 100 per cent off the streets, are safe and secure and enjoying a holistic approach to learning,” Joanna says.

“The support we provide doesn’t just stop at primary school, we are invested long-term in the lives of the children and we have made a pledge to continue our support through early adulthood.

“Some of the children we first met are now in tertiary studies.”

Joanna proudly mentions the children she knows by name including a young woman called Srey Neang who has just completed her degree as a social worker and is working at a reputable NGO for street children.

“I first saw met Srey Neang in Siem Reap through The Green Gecko Project when she was a young girl.” Joanna says.

“She came and sat with me and we bonded and I said to Richard, ‘We need to do more’. So, I called Tania Palmer and asked ‘What more can we do to help?’”

They extended their financial support and continue to stay in close contact with the organisation and those they’ve helped.

Orangutan Foundation International in Borneo is another cause close to Joanna’s heart, established by Dr Birute Galdikas. Their mission is to support the conservation, protection, and understanding of orangutans and their rainforest habitat, while also caring for ex-captive orphan orangutans as they make their way back to the forest.

Joanna explains that thousands of trees are being cut and degraded for timber, palm oil, pulp, rubber and minerals, destroying the orangutans’ natural habitat.

Meeting HRH Prince Edward in 2013.
Receiving her Duke of Edinburgh pin from Prince Phillip.

“We are speaking about the area of hundreds of football fields a day,” she says.

“Sadly, the destruction of these tropical rainforests results in the death of the mother orangutans and the displacement of the babies. It’s heartbreaking.”

She and Richard have visited Borneo several times and were lucky enough to have a behind-the-scenes tour with Dr Galdikas.

“We visited the Orangutan Care Centre, which is not open to the public, where we cuddled the baby orangutans, who were in the care of their ‘human mums’,” Joanna says. “Baby orangutans need their ‘mother’ for seven years. It is a long process to rehabilitate these beautiful orphans.

“You’re not allowed to pick them up unless they come to you, but luckily they did and when you look into the eyes of these big beautiful babies, it’s just so moving.”

“While we were there, we asked the medical staff at the veterinary hospital what they needed most. They expressed the urgent need for a digital x-ray machine, so we donated this to aid with accurate medical diagnosis. Along with a large generator which also provides power to the local village.

“It’s an incredible feeling when you see it first-hand. You know that everything you are doing is worthwhile. I have great respect and admiration for the women who establish these sanctuaries. They are extraordinary.”

Through her philanthropic work, Joanna has also become good friends with high-profile conservationist and chimpanzee expert Dame Jane Goodall: “She is my childhood hero. I feel honoured and blessed to call her a friend, she has dedicated her life and has worked tirelessly for the welfare of the chimpanzees”.

Closer to home, Joanna is passionate about tackling homelessness on Adelaide’s streets supporting Hutt St Centre and Catherine House, which assists women experiencing domestic violence and homelessness.

“Everyone deserves a safe and secure place to call home but there are more than 116,000 people who are homeless on any given night in Australia and this is rising all the time,” Joanna says.

Joanna has become good friends with superstar Hugh Jackman, whom she met when he came to her salon while in Adelaide.
Getting close to wildlife through their support of SA’s Koala Life and the Orangutan Foundation International in Borneo.

“It only takes a crisis in anyone’s life to find themselves homeless. Richard and I feel compelled to help and support vulnerable people in need. No one should be living on the streets.”

Other causes include supporting the RSPCA, PETA, the Virtual War Memorial, the Charlie Teo Foundation, the Botanic Gardens, Her Majesty’s Theatre, the Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre. Joanna is also an ambassador for Koala Life, which runs a koala rescue and breeding program located in Cleland Wildlife Park, set up after the devastating bushfires that swept across SA. Koala Life is making a huge difference in the fight to save koalas against habitat loss and life-threatening diseases.

Joanna and Richard are both also ambassadors for OzHarvest Australia, a food rescue program started by founder Ronni Kahn AO in 2004. Its aim is to reduce the huge volumes of food that go to waste across Australia, collecting it from commercial outlets and redistributing it to those most in need.

Joanna and Richard participate in the organisation’s annual cook off each year, and the couple also recently donated two refrigerated trucks to the organisation. They are now fully funding a new OzHarvest supermarket in Adelaide to supply food free to those in need; good food which would normally go to waste.

“Ronni is a social entrepreneur, a passionate advocate and activist, renowned for disrupting the food waste landscape in Australia,” Joanna says.

“How many billions of tonnes of food go to waste here? She is doing something about that and the organisation’s aim is to halve food waste by 2030. To be able to play a small part in this is very rewarding.”

While their tireless charity work is not about awards, Joanna admits it was an honour when she and Richard were appointed as Members of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for their “significant service to the community through charitable initiatives”.

“It was very humbling to be acknowledged for doing something that we feel passionate about, but more importantly something that makes a difference to the lives of others,” she says.

While she’s happy to push up her sleeves and donate her time at the grassroots level, Joanna admits her philanthropic work has also given the couple entrée into some of the world’s most exclusive events. Through their support of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, which tackles global poverty, Joanna is on first-name terms with the famous opera singer and his wife Veronica Berti.

In 2017, the couple was invited to see Italian tenor Bocelli perform in the Colosseum in Rome; Joanna describes it as one of the most breathtaking experiences of her life.

Having a cuddle with one of the bears saved through Animals Asia.

Philanthropy has also provided opportunities for the couple to attend VIP events around the world and meet famous names such as Sir David Attenborough, Sophia Loren, David Foster, Brian McKnight and Michael Caine, as well as royalty including HRH Prince Phillip and HRH Prince Edward.

“I am an ambassador and supporter of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which helps young people across the Commonwealth become better versions of themselves, through education, mentoring and support,” Joanna says.

Joanna meeting iconic film star Sophia Loren.

“It was started by the late Prince Phillip, whom I was lucky enough to meet. He presented me with my Duke of Edinburgh Award pin at a ceremony which was held at Windsor Castle. It was an honour to meet him; he has a wicked sense of humour.

“Through our involvement with the Duke of Edinburgh Award we have also attended intimate dinners at Buckingham Palace with HRH Prince Edward. A wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded people who work in philanthropy providing memorable moments in life.”

When they are not busy with their philanthropic pursuits or working, Richard and Joanna love to spend time at home in North Adelaide with their three miniature schnauzers, Bella, Beau and Bartholomew.

Pastimes include walking the dogs, spending time with family and boating, and travelling when they can. Joanna says her work is very people and customer-orientated, so when they are home, the couple likes to relax and not do too much socialising beyond family.

Joanna also sees her father, Angelo every day. The 92-year-old is very independent and lives at home with family.

“I make the time to see Dad every single day, especially after the sudden passing of my dear mother Helen 10 years ago,” she says.

Joanna says she hopes the legacy she and Richard leave behind is to have made a difference.

Joanna says her mother continues to inspire her every day and she is never far from her thoughts.

“I agreed to do this interview to honour the memory of my late beloved mother Helen,” she says.

“I am the person I am because of her love and influence. She taught me faith, strength, courage, love, determination, compassion and kindness. She was an extraordinary woman who I miss dearly.”

Joanna says she hopes the legacy she and Richard leave behind is to have made a difference – be it in the life of a child, an adult, animal welfare or the environment.

“My life philosophy, which I leant from Jane Goodall, is to think global, act local. So, while you’re here, make a positive difference in any way you can,” she says.

“I think empathy is the ultimate virtue, when we empathise with those in need, we understand their pain and we want to help.

“As my beloved mum would say, ‘You can’t take it with you, a shroud has no pockets’. I think that is really special, that’s what keeps me going.”


This article first appeared in the September 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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