Our first 60 years

The Australian MS Society, as it was originally named, was the first MS Society in Australia and just the fourth to be established in the world, only eight years after the first Society started in New York, USA.

The early years of the Society were very much a hand to mouth existence. In fact, the first "office" operated from Phillips' home in Vaucluse, Sydney, for its first decade. Through the tireless efforts of many, with Phillips leading the way, public awareness of MS increased and fundraising appeals led to the establishment of new offices and treatment facilities.

Today, Societies in the other Australian states have been established and are all part of the national body, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia (MSA).

Milestones

1956

Formation of the Australian Multiple Sclerosis Society Inc begins in Sydney.

1957

First general meeting of the Australian Multiple Sclerosis Society Inc held in February. The Board comprises The Reverend S.A. McDonald OBE, President; Commander S.T.M. Gower RAN and James Godfrey, Vice Presidents; Mr Neville Harding, Honorary Treasurer; and Ron Phillips, Honorary Secretary (and effectively the Chief Executive).

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Victoria (MSSV) forms. The inaugural President is Mr C. Nicholls and the Honorary Secretary, Mrs Kathy Fitzgerald. Treatment centre, physiotherapy treatment unit and hostel open in Cammeray, NSW.

1958

The Queensland MS Society is established.

1959

Paddy Phillips establishes the Society's Women's Auxiliary (now fundraising branches) in NSW.

1961

The Tasmanian MS Society forms.

1964

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of South Australia forms.

1972

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Western Australia forms. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia (now MSA) is formed by all the state MS societies. The first President is Simon Resch (Vic) and the Secretary, Ken Donahue, also the Executive Director of MSNSW. The Australian MS Society changes its name to the MS Society of New South Wales.

1974

"The R.A. Phillips Rehabilitation Unit" in Mowbray Rd, Chatswood, NSW, is purchased.

1978

Multiple Sclerosis Society of the ACT forms (formally named in 1983).

1982

The NSW Government approves the Society as trustee of 6.5 hectares of Crown land at Lidcombe, NSW, for the construction of a pioneering 50-bed Nursing Home, Activity Therapy Centre and Hostel.

1985

Led by Chairman John Studdy, the Western Region Project at Lidcombe is officially opened in October.

1986

MSSV starts operations of Australian Home Care Services Pty Limited (AHCS).

1987

MS ACT opens its headquarters in Deakin, named Gloria McKerrow House after its principle donor.

1993

MSNSW locates its head office in Kent St, Sydney.

1998

Lidcombe facility renamed the MS Studdy Centre in honour of John Studdy, to recognise his tireless work for people affected by multiple sclerosis at a state and national level.

2001

MSSV sells its Camberwell property and purchases its current headquarters in Blackburn, named The Nerve Centre.

2002

MSSV's Lifestyle Planning Service begins operations.

2005

MSNSW and MSSV merge and are now known as Multiple Sclerosis Limited (MS).

2008

MS ACT merges with MS.

2016

MS Tasmania merges with MS.
 

Ron Phillips

Pioneer of the MS Society in Australia

 

Ronald Alfred Phillips had two overriding interests during his life: the Australian Navy, which he joined at the age of 13, and the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, which he helped form in 1956 and for which he worked strenuously until his death ten years later.

A quiet, unassuming man, Phillips was born in Grafton, New South Wales in 1908, the eldest son in a family of six. He entered the Royal Australian Navy as a cadet in 1922 and studied at the Jervis Bay Royal Australian Naval College. Upon graduation, he joined HMAS Adelaide as a Midshipman in 1926. From there he trained as an engineer at the Royal Naval Engineering College in Devonport, England until 1930, before being appointed as a Sub-Lieutenant to HMS Shropshire. While in England he married Florence Beatrice Lyle, known always as "Paddy", and afterwards returned to Australia to join HMAS Canberra. This was followed by three years at the Flinders Naval Depot and a tour of duty on the cruiser HMAS Sydney.

Phillips first exhibited the symptoms of MS at a time when very little was known about the illness. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was engaged in Sydney dockyard duties (HMAS Penguin) as a Lieutenant and Third Assistant to the Engineer Manager. The activity was hectic and he found himself working day and night, converting merchant ships to fighting ships and doing repairs and alterations to warships. It was while under this terrific pressure that he first experienced double vision.

Assuming that this and other passing conditions were due to overwork, he ignored them and applied himself to his duties in the engine rooms of many great warships. In July 1940 he was appointed to HMAS Australia, joining her in England as a Lieutenant-Commander, in which ship he saw active service until 1944. He was then appointed to HMAS Adelaide with the rank of Acting Commander, to be promoted to Commander a few months later (reportedly the youngest in the Navy at the time). At the cessation of hostilities in 1945 he was Base Engineer Officer, Darwin.

While the episodes of double vision increased, other alarming symptoms appeared, causing distress and misunderstanding. With the loss of balance and spasmodic muscle failure in his legs, rumours circulated about Phillips' lack of sobriety. However, he continued to serve in the Navy.

Eventually, in late 1956, the disease was correctly diagnosed and in January 1957 he was invalided out of the Navy. Years later, reflecting on Phillips' MS, his wife Paddy wrote (1971): "It now seems certain that the earlier attack of double vision was followed by a remission that lasted until the war was over. He may have been worried about other early MS symptoms but if he was he kept his concern to himself and continued to go about his duties quietly and efficiently."

Right from the first years of the Society, Phillips focussed on providing world-class treatment facilities and funding medical research into the cause and cure of MS. In fact, the Society's first fundraising appeal was specifically targeted at research and the first research funding grant was to Professor Lance's Prince Henry Hospital neurological science unit in 1963. He was also instrumental in establishing a physiotherapy treatment unit and hostel in Cammeray. Phillips himself regularly attended the unit for treatment as did many others from around the world.

Ron Phillips passed away in 1966.


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