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Bequest a win for the arts, medical research


Valerie Ryan loved her friends, her family, the arts and Newcastle.

That love is now reflected in what’s believed to be the largest bequest in the Hunter’s history.

On behalf of herself and late husband John, Ms Ryan left more than $20 million in her will to the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation (NAGF).

Their niece, Megan McManus, told the Newcastle Weekly Ms Ryan’s love for art developed through her neighbour, former Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation Chair, Judy Hart, after John went into care.

“Aunty Val was a little bit lost at the time and Judy took her down to the art gallery for all the events and they treated her like a queen – it gave her pleasure in her later years,” Ms McManus said.

“Uncle John wanted to give to science, so this was her little bit from Uncle John.”

Mr Ryan, who passed away in 2009, was a metallurgist and established a coat hanger factory in Newcastle, while Valerie owned a ballet store and taught shorthand and typing at TAFE.

As a couple, they invested wisely in property and stocks.

Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation Chair, Suzie Galwey, said Valerie had been a long-time supporter of the foundation and the bequest would be a “transformational gift”.

“Valerie became a Foundation Member in 2009 and became the highest level of support, a Foundation Governor, in 2014,” Ms Galwey said.

“During her life she gave us significant works of art for the gallery such as those of Brett Whiteley, William Dobell and Joseph Lycett, and contributed to a lot of projects close to her heart.

“She was someone that very much loved the gallery, so this is an incredible legacy that’s going to mean so much to the gallery and Newcastle’s arts and culture into the future.”

HMRI Director, Professor Tom Walley, said the donation was “immeasurable.”

“This gives us the opportunity to take on some major projects, either capital projects or investment into new staff positions, which will help accelerate the research and help bring the benefits of the research to the community faster than we ever have before,” he said.

“We have some thoughts [on where to allocate the money] but I’m not ready to share those yet until we discuss with the family to ensure they feel like we’re honouring the legacy of Valerie and John in areas they were particularly interested in like stroke, cancer and leukaemia and dementia.”

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