Garry Stephen has a passion for life, helping people and getting the job done. His love of sport is as big as his personality – he has worked tirelessly with others to improve sporting facilities in the Manning Valley and enhance the lives of people with special needs.
Where were you brought up, and what prompted your move to Taree?
I was born at Hornsby and lived at Mt Colah, a few miles up the road. When I was 12 years old we moved here when Dad bought a business: the old Golden Fleece Service Station.
What did you aspire to after you finished school?
Finished Year 12 and had no idea what path I wanted to pursue. Dad said to me I could work in the family business until I knew where I was heading … I stayed 12 years.
You’ve had an ongoing interest in sport. Were there any that you excelled in?
Played a bit of every sport around – enjoyed it all, but never reached great heights. I did play A grade cricket.
How did your passion for basketball come about?
I started playing with friends, and we formed a team. It was so enjoyable, I moved into refereeing and began helping in administration.
You spent a lot of time helping out at the basketball stadium. Why was this important?
It was not financially viable at the time, but Paul Healey and I saw many opportunities to cement basketball as a viable sport. We wanted the sport to grow in all areas, and now it has.
You’ve worked over many years with Paul to turn the stadium into a first class facility …
The improvements took a long time. Facilities were updated under the ‘work for the dole program’ and good liaison with the Greater Taree City Council. It is now financially viable and employs a manager full time who coaches and runs the stadium as a business. It is working very well.
Did you get paid during that time?
No! I had a cleaning business which was at night and spent the days at the stadium getting it right.
After achieving such a successful outcome, you made the transition from businessman to working with people with disabilities?
Yes, with my association with disability sports for 20 years, I applied for a job at Valley Industries. I oversee the Business and Office Section, which entails packing, recycling and retailing through our Op Shop.
Do you enjoy your work?
Love it. It is challenging to find the right path for the staff. It is a process that sees the staff work to their best, to be profitable.
Basically you place them where they are the most productive and where they are happy.
You are Chairman of the Sport and Recreation Committee at the Greater Taree Council. How did this evolve?
I have been attending Council meetings for 20 years to get sport in a healthier position. I was a foundation member of the newly formed committee and elected chairman after 18 months, and I have been there ever since.
What does the committee oversee?
We have 15 different sports represented, which have fantastic input. We all recommend improvements to see all sports grow, and it is working well with Council.
How has the committee enhanced junior and senior sport?
It has put all sports on an equal footing. There are no favourites; everyone gets a bite at the cherry. There is tremendous consensus; we all work together, and that is why it works.
How do you see the future for local sport?
Very positive. The next 18 months will see the recreational ground being a standard equal to anywhere in a regional area. We all aim to hold zone, state and sometimes national championships. This will greatly boost the local economy and tourism.
What has helped the process along?
I believe the rec committee has made sound judgements. We’ve found working with Council fruitful. Their support has enabled us to obtain grants and do the improvements with great co-operation.
We have had, over the years, growing community input, because we’ve used the correct protocols … enabling us to have terrific support to enhance the community and sport.
I believe this has opened the doors for both parties (Council and the community) to work together with huge benefits. This is why we are at the stage we are now.
Apart from your work and sporting commitments, what do you do to relax?
My family are important. We go camping and caravanning. They are an important part of my life and give me great joy.
Will you continue your sporting involvements in the long term?
The next two years will see our projects finished, but there are always new areas to explore. I will step back after that, but will still be involved somewhere.
Garry, thank you for your time.