When Deacon Gary Stone stepped up to receive an Order of Australia Medal for his charitable work supporting veterans and their families, he wanted his own family to be recognised too.
Even with strict COVID-19 attendance restrictions in place, Deacon Stone sought extraordinary permission for his wife Lynne and four adult children to attend his investiture at Queensland’s Government House on September 24.
Deacon Stone said his OAM “belonged not to him alone, but to his entire family”.
After serving 48 years with the army and police in numerous overseas conflicts, Deacon Stone’s voluntary work through the Veterans Care Association – “going the extra mile” for veterans and their families – has shone brightly in recent years, and he’s sure it’s largely due to his own family’s shared sense of service.
He said wife Lynne had been the bedrock of the family through 47 years of marriage.
“She had to move home 19 times during my military career, but also accompanied me on numerous trips to East Timor doing humanitarian work,” Deacon Stone said.
“Lynne also for many years was a volunteer aged-carer at Centrecare’s Enoggera facility.
Deacon Stone’s eldest daughter Catherine is a student services officer at the Queensland University of Technology.
“She relocated herself to Canberra to live and offer support when I was reassigned to chaplaincy work at Duntroon in 1998-99, at a time when Lynne and the younger children needed to stay on in Brisbane for their education,” he said.
“Eldest son Michael served 20 years in the army – eight of them in Timor – and now works full-time alongside me in the Veterans Care Association and is the program director for the very successful Timor Awakening program.
“Younger daughter Christy has been working in Brisbane Archdiocesan Services for almost 20 years and is currently Human Resources Systems director.
“She provided the HR support to establish Veterans Care’s personnel systems for paid and volunteer staff.
“Youngest son Paul was a long-term volunteer in Timor in 2005-06, has served 15 years in Army, including a Timor deployment in 2012 and is currently the adjutant of the 9th Battalion Royal Queensland Regiment at Enoggera.
“He has spent the last 12 months firstly on bushfire relief and then straight into COVID support.”
Deacon Stone said each member of his family had responded to community needs when existing government or community resources had been lacking.
After East Timor’s independence struggle, and witnessing poverty and destruction there, Deacon Stone was behind the setting up of Friends and Partners with East Timor that subsequently, over 18 years, delivered more than $1.5 million and practical aid and capacity development in the young nation.
The whole family travelled to Timor many times to assist.
Like many other veterans both Deacon Stone and son Michael experienced post-traumatic stress as a result of their military service.
This too impacted on the whole family. Deacon Stone was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, and he almost died from undiagnosed peritonitis.
“While both boys were deployed in Timor, I lay dying in Greenslopes hospital with excruciating pain that doctors could not fathom,” he said.
“I would not be alive today had Lynne and the girls not been at my bedside praying and pouring love into me when I had no energy left.
“Miraculously Lynne received a word of knowledge – the word ‘peritonitis’ – which she did not know the meaning of – but which triggered a bowel specialist to be called who undertook emergency surgery to repair a ruptured bowel and extensive infection.”
Deacon Stone later learned from his surgeon that his organs had already gone into arrest and he was within 10 minutes of dying. Only Lynne’s action saved his life.
After serving in Timor both Deacon Stone and son Michael struggled with their stress and comorbidities.
Unable to find satisfactory treatments, they researched veterans’ health issues and gathered together a broad team of veterans and clinicians to develop a comprehensive holistic health and peer support organisation.
Over the past six years the Veterans Care Association has progressively improved its offerings, helping to bring hundreds of veterans back from the brink of suicide and providing healing and wholeness to veterans’ families.
Michael has led 14 Timor Awakening programs and the Department of Veterans Affairs is studying VCA’s evidence-based results with a view to incorporating VCA’s approach into its own rehabilitation model.
Since the awarding of Deacon Stone’s OAM, the Stone family has received hundreds of messages of support on social media from across Australia and Timor for the initiatives they have shown in seeing a problem needing a response, and then finding a solution.
Deacon Stone insists they were simply following the example of Jesus who engaged the marginalised, wounded, ill and injured.
“He didn’t seem focused on building a church, but rather inspiring people to engage in mission to the marginalised,” Deacon Stone said.
“Of course we need a church community, but it must exist primarily for the support of God’s mission, and not become a comfortable holy huddle.
“Mission is God’s main game. If we are not constantly seeking out, caring for and supporting those in need, we are not responding to God’s call. We all need a mission mindset.”
In terms of engaging with broader society Deacon Stone said “people won’t care how much we know until they see how much we care”.