Since finding out in March she would be receiving a Medal of the Order of Australia on the Queen's birthday, Mary Blackford has had to keep the award secret from her five children, 14 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
"It nearly killed me," the 86-year-old said, with a chuckle. "I have to share it with them; it's not my award. I have such a supportive family. We're going to have a barbecue on Monday."
But Ms Blackford's contribution to her community is no secret.
After her children left home, the Birmingham Gardens resident began volunteering in her community. She saw a need for a home-visiting service. With the help of the Hunter Volunteers Centre and a dedicated board of committee members, she founded Wallsend Carers, an organisation that has provided companionship to hundreds of elderly people in the area since 1984.
"I saw loneliness. I saw people who were unable to attend any social activities and people who just needed someone to bring the outside world to them, to their home," Ms Blackford said.
"At first we ran the service on what we made from garage sales at my place to cover the insurance and my kitchen was the office. The clients and volunteers brought their time and talents and we became a very successful organisation."
The organisation started receiving government funding in 1991 and Ms Blackford worked in a part-time paid coordinating role "plus a lot of volunteer work" until she retired in April last year at age 85. The service is now run by Mercy Services.
Ms Blackford said she had received many "rewards and blessings" for her work.
"One of the best things for me was that it afforded me a way of living my Christianity in a practical way," she said. "I call it active prayer, that's my interpretation.
"I don't see this award as about me as much as I see it being about my wonderful community in Wallsend."
Ms Blackford says she now visits her clients "as friends".
"Socialising is so important for elderly people," she said. "I would say a sense of humour is vital. They love it if you can tell a few good jokes."
QUEEN'S BIRTHDAY HONOURS:
- Professor Geoff Isbister honoured for work on snakes, spiders and poison
- Hunter building tycoon Bill McDonald awarded OAM
- Freemason Robert Peattie receives Queen's Birthday honour
- 'Fire in the belly' drives Eliza plus Hunter's other AM winners
- Hunter historian Ed Tonks recognised with OAM
- OAM for Margot who says it's an honour
- Trevor put Morpeth on the map
- 'Polio tried to kill us and nothing else will': The force driving John and those like him
- A life in league recognised: Corcoran receives Order of Australia
- Glenn Turner rewarded for improving his adopted home of Newcastle