A new era begins for Vinnies WA

10 Nov 2022

By The Record

David Kennedy
New Vinnies WA President David Kennedy. Photo: Supplied.

On 1 July, David Kennedy took over as State President of the St Vincent de Paul Society in WA.

David follows Gladys Demissie, who served as State President from 2018 to 2022 and helped steer the Society through the COVID pandemic and brought members, staff and volunteers closer together.

In this special interview, David and Gladys speak candidly about their commitment to Vinnies WA.

Gladys Demissie completed her term as Vinnies WA President in June 2022. Photo: Supplied.

When you look back on your term as State President, what are some of your biggest achievements?

The approach I’ve tried to take is the idea of ‘One Society’. It doesn’t matter whether someone gets paid for what they do or whether they volunteer their time, the fact is, we’re all here because we have signed up to what the Society is about.

My term has been the COVID term. I’m just so proud of the way that we’ve been agile and flexible. We were all trying to adapt, but not lose sight of why we’re here.

I’m also proud of the work we did through the State President’s Housing Fund, which has supported stay in a motel, until she finally got a rental. That is a memory that will stick with me.

How did you manage it all?

I told myself I made a commitment. Being State President is a role of service. It’s front and centre for me.

They talk about the stars being aligned, and it was just the perfect time for me. It was so important to give almost all of myself, because I’m so connected to what Vinnies stands for.

I’ve been really grateful for Susan Rooney, because we’ve worked really well together. She’s a very skilled CEO and very respectful of this position.

I can walk away thinking that maybe not everything worked out, but I think I’ve made a difference.

Outgoing Vinnies WA President Gladys Demissie says she finishes the role thinking that maybe not everything worked out, but that she believes she made a difference. Photo: Supplied.

You were only the second woman to lead the Society in WA. How did that affect your work?

When I was first on some of the sub- committees, it was very male dominated. I thought there were some barriers to break down.

But only recently, someone stood up at a meeting and acknowledged that two women – Susan and I – lead this organisation. It’s really significant that he said that.

I think diversity is important. I’m proud of our State Council and the diversity. You can’t have everyone agree with you.

You can’t expect others to jump on board if you’re not prepared to think there might be a better way of doing this and I just might have to learn. Success only happens when we’re all in it together.

Is there a particular philosophy that guides the work you do as a Vincentian?

I am a Vincentian because of my mother. It’s what I saw in her. She was always doing this sort of work. I’m about faith in action, so not just having faith but doing something about it. I want to live a life that makes a difference to someone. It doesn’t have to be written about or published, but it’s just something that you know.

Do you have any advice for your successor, David Kennedy?

David is a no-nonsense guy, but he’s also humble and passionate. His heart is in the role and he will do a great job.

What will you do now?

It is a big change. I’ve been involved with so many issues, so it will be interesting just to step back into a Conference. I will take some time just for me. I’ve planned a trip to Melbourne to see my daughter and another trip to Singapore. I think I’ll do a bit more travel, even if it’s just around WA.

Meet David Kennedy

New Vinnies WA President David Kennedy enjoys golf, swimming, cycling, oil painting and some minor consulting work with old client friends. Photo: Supplied.

David Kennedy started his term as the new State President on 1 July.

Having retired in 2017 from a life in real estate, David is very active, balancing his Vincentian duties with family life – he has four children and six grandchildren.

David is a member of the Subiaco Conference, and previously served on State Council as Vice President. He enjoys golf, swimming, cycling, oil painting and some minor consulting work with old client friends.

Congratulations on becoming the new President of the St Vincent de Paul Society in WA. How are you feeling as you begin this new chapter?

Gladys has left big shoes to fill, however I will endeavour to keep up with the help of a great leadership team which includes Susan Rooney, our CEO, Vice Presidents Pauline McIntyre, Danny Cloghan, and Luke Coffey, and Tinashe Kamangira, our State Treasurer.

I also have great support from State Council and the office administration executives to ensure we have the ground covered. All of this support gives me the

confidence to embark on my term as your State President.

You’ve said Gladys Demissie has left big shoes to fill – what made her term as State President so significant?

If that’s not enough, she had weekly meetings with Susan Rooney, Andrew York and Maija Hildebrand, and created a great team atmosphere.

She was also in contact with me as Vice President almost daily.

She made a point of attending Festival Masses whenever she could and travelled to meet Vincentians from Albany in the south to Kalgoorlie in the east, Halls Creek in the north and major towns in between.

Her leadership has been a great guide for me and I hope she takes a well-earned rest before embarking on any new projects in the future.

I just want to say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”

Please tell us some of things you have planned as State President.

I also intend to attend Regional Council meetings and Festival Masses wherever possible, as it provides the opportunity to applaud new leaders and new volunteers in addition to congratulating long serving members.

New volunteers are the lifeblood of the Society, and, COVID permitting, I would like to bring back workshops for new volunteers at Ozanam House in addition to leadership workshops and the like going forward.