Soon after Don Mackay moved to Griffith to work in his father’s furniture business in the mid-1950s, he realised the area had a problem. There was nowhere for children with special needs to be educated.
This placed an enormous strain on the parents, some of whom had to give up their jobs to look after their kids. Families would find themselves isolated from the rest of the community. Mr Mackay was determined to change this.
Saturday 15 July 2017 is the 40th anniversary of the murder of prominent Griffith businessman Don Mackay. As the national media descend on the MIA, rehashing the unsolved mystery of Australia’s first political assassination, it’s worth reflecting on contributions he made to Griffith receiving far less attention but creating an everlasting legacy.
Mr Mackay’s friends remember him as generous man who took up a range of causes to defend the most vulnerable in society.
Rick Schwarzer, a former school principal who befriended Don through his church, summed up the view of many by saying, "he was highly respected for his life – someone who believed that those who could help, should help those in need.”
Family friend Lesley Hicks wrote in a book about Mr Mackay’s murder that he was a man who “had the compassion to recognise needs, the vision to see how they could be met and the gift of leadership to inspire others in hard work to attain these goals”.
His fight for disabled children came as a man in his just his early 20s. He joined with wife Barbara to form an association concerned with the children’s welfare, and together with others planned, fundraised and lobbied – their efforts rewarded in 1969 when Kalinda, Griffith’s first school for children with disabilities, was opened.
Mr Mackay then joined the Apex, a volunteer community service group, and toured Sri Lanka to help the developing nation establish the organisation.
He also laid much of the groundwork for the establishment of Pioneer Lodge, which provides residential aged care services.
Terry Jones, the editor of The Area News at the time of the 1977 assassination, first met Mr Mackay at an Apex meeting in 1971, and immediately noted him as someone motivated by a concern for other people.
“He has left a legacy that is a shining light for this town,” Mr Jones said.
Griffith Police confirm Mr Mackay’s murder investigation file remains open, and welcome any new information.