For many years, around this time, the Christmas season would officially kick off at the Weekender.
Not because Christmas carols started blaring through the office or our plastic tree that has seen better days was brought out of storage, but because Barry Leavett-Brown would bound into the office with his Lions Christmas Cakes.
With his infectious community spirit and cheeky smile, Barry would have scored himself a story in the paper and sold about 15 cakes by the time he left the office.
And of course, he left behind a printed out press release (with some hand-written notes as additions) and a developed photo. No USB stick or email in sight.
Sadly, Barry passed away in late 2019, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of commitment to the community that spanned some five decades.
On Monday, I had the great honour of attending and speaking at a special ceremony where a bench seat and plaque was unveiled in Barry’s memory at Jamison Park.
Fittingly, locals can now sit and reflect on Barry’s legacy amongst the very trees he helped plant at the park.
The plaque reads: “Barry Leavett-Brown made a significant contribution to the Penrith Local Government Area through his dedication to charity work with the Penrith Lions, advocating for youth opportunities and supporting health and education for over 35 years.”
It goes on: “Barry made a major impact to improving many open space areas by coordinating the planting of more than 2,450 trees in Jamison Park and South Penrith, working in partnership with Penrith City Council. He was a champion for a sustainable environment and was a leading advocate for the Banool Avenue Sustainability Group and establishing the garden on Greenhills Avenue.”
I only knew Barry for a short chapter of his remarkable life, but I was very humbled that his wife Joyce asked me to speak in tribute to one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met in this job.
Over the years, Barry and I developed a special relationship that went beyond Christmas cakes and whatever the latest community initiative he was involved with was.
He’d speak so fondly of Joyce, and it was clear listening to those who also spoke on Monday that while Barry’s commitment to the community was enormous, he always made time for his family.
A floor layer by trade, Barry and Joyce met when they were 16-years-old. They were married at 20, and would remain together for the next 59 years until Barry’s passing almost three years ago.
For half a century they lived in their South Penrith home together, entrenched in the community they both gave so much back to.
So often Barry’s visits to the Weekender would be about drawing more members to the Lions Club.
While Barry was a ‘glass half full’ guy in the way he lived his life, he was also a realist, knowing that people like him were few and far between.
It is no secret that the majority of the members of clubs like Lions are older, taking the opportunity now to give back to the community that gave so much to them over the years, whether it be personally or professionally.
But as generational shift occurs and society evolves with technology, one does fear that giving back through clubs like Lions won’t happen as often as it should in the years and decades to come.
After all, Barry joined the Lions when he was in his 40s. With the speed of life these days, it’s hard to imagine too many people out there in their 40s now putting their hand up to join service clubs.
But the more people like Barry get around the community, the more infectious their volunteering spirit becomes.
There is no question that Barry Leavett-Brown made a special impact on the Penrith community.
It’s wonderful that we now have a permanent reminder of his commitment to Penrith and passion for volunteering.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.