STAWELL - It's pretty rare that a workplace hosts a farewell function and one hundred and twenty people turn up.
In October, Meg Blake officially retired from the payroll at Stawell Regional Health and she was given a party to remember.
Current and past colleagues, some family and friends and blasts from the past made the event an overwhelming one for Meg.
After 18 years, Mrs Blake may have packed up her desk as Fundraising and Public Relations Officer but her association with the hospital will continue for the rest of her life.
When she was a young girl, Meg Blake and her three sisters watched her mother Evelyn, a nurse, come home after gruelling shifts at the Stawell Hospital.
Evelyn met her husband Charles when he was a patient.
She went on to be Charge Sister of Female Ward and Outpatients.
"The hospital was a big part of our lives," said Mrs Blake.
"As a little kid I always remember there being a hospital appeal on in the region.
"We had gala days, egg appeals and collection tins.
"We were brought up to respect the hospital and support it."
When Meg was a young mum she and a group of her mates started the 'Younger Set' in 1974, organising events to raise funds for the hospital.
"We wanted to do something for the town," said Mrs Blake.
"With no hospital, you have no town."
She was also working in the local wine industry at the time.
After dozens of successful fundraising balls, events and shopping sprees, the group is still going strong and is now known as the 'Y-Zetts'.
Meg Blake is the current secretary.
She was invited to join the hospital Board of Management in 1977 and was the youngest female member ever appointed.
Childhood friend and current board member Joan Brilliant said Meg brought a number of key attributes to the role.
"Enthusiasm, ideas and most importantly, she was an inspiration to other women in the area to take on leadership roles," she said.
In 1994 she won the job as part time fundraiser and Public Relations officer.
Although having been doing the role 20 years, Meg Blake was now officially on the payroll.
Mrs Blake said there were a few stand out highlights during her 40 years of service as a volunteer.
"Our gala balls and dinner dances used to be huge events," she said.
"In 1975 we had high profile TV personality Geoff Raymond, we used to have music, fashion parades and bar - we were a bit out there at the time.
"The PGA charity golf pro-ams were serious business back in the early 1990s, we actually chartered planes to bring professional golfers and media personalities in.
"We had Bob Shearer and Ian Stanley, all top of the PGA golfing circuit. None of it could have been achieved without tournament director Greg Earle.
"He put up the prize money and Fishers has continued this on."
Mrs Blake also took some time to reflect on the charity race days hosted by Stawell Regional Health in partnership with Stawell Racing Club.
"I used to recruit anyone I could get my hands on to help," she said.
"Friends and family, they all did the gates, bar and anything else that needed to be done.
"I remember us serving 560 people in two settings for lunch one day, those big social days used to raise massive money."
Meg Blake could come up with things that were even better, digging deeper she recalled the night Guy Rossi and a team of other now high flying chefs cooked at a fundraiser held at the Stawell Town Hall in 2004.
"We had Michael Kelly, Teague Ezard, Guy Rossi, Luke Mangan and John Lepp all preparing a gourmet dinner at the Town Hall," she said.
"We sold out the tickets in 40 minutes."
She also recalled the rural women's event held in 2005, supported by a list of strong partners including Northern Grampians Shire Council.
VIPs included Weekly Times journalist Genevieve Barlow, Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Professor Kate Auty, Guy Grossi's wife Melissa, who grew up in Stawell, the founder of 'Farm Day' Deb Bain and chef Michael Kelly, who cooked on the night.
Mrs Blake reflected that fundraising is indeed harder these days due to changes in government legislation and GST.
"It all affects people's drive to give," she said.
"Fundraising is so hard to do now and there are so many other wonderful and mighty causes out there.
"Individuals and businesses only have a certain percentage that is expendable for charity now."
Mrs Blake said she has seen many changes to Stawell Regional Health in 40 years and has enjoyed seeing other people's careers flourish.
"In 2003 I was very involved with the 100 years of medical service in Stawell celebration and honouring Dr Norman Castle for his 50 years of service and 25 years for Dr Roger Warne and Dr Andrew Cunningham," she said.
"It was an honour to write a winning submission for Dr Castle for the 1994 Rural Doctor Award."
Meg has contributed to over $5 million being raised for the hospital during her various roles.
"When the Board decided to upgrade the hospital in the early 1980s a deputation was sent to the Department of Health and they considered us a poor cousin, which put us in strong stead," she said.
"With Gary Henry from the Royal Women's Hospital and Stan Capp from Wimmera Base Hospital, care taker managers at the time, we started to reshape the direction of the Stawell hospital.
"In 1984 the then Minister for Health Tom Roper rocked up and gave us $76,000 which seemed like a fortune at that time, to redevelop the kitchen, which hadn't been touched since the early 1930s.
"This was a critical first step in moving forward as we couldn't upgrade the hospital until the catering capacity was increased."
From there, the hospital, under the guidance of new CEO Michael Delahunty, appointed in 1982, continued to move forward.
A professional fundraiser was appointed to conduct a huge capital appeal in partnership with the community.
"We started on the new nursing home and day centre, upgrading and increasing bed numbers and then started on the Simpson Wing," she said.
"We were the first in the region to have telemedicine and a helipad."
They then turned their attention to what services were on offer, especially chemotherapy.
"We thought, why should people be driving back and forth from Geelong for chemo?" she said
"We had to offer at least something here to minimise their travel time."
In late 1999 Mrs Blake approached a local hospital contributor with a proposal.
She secured $10,000 to train staff and refurbish an area of the hospital for chemotherapy.
This all happened in a space of three months.
Mrs Blake has been praised as someone who sees a problem and talks to the right people to get a solution.
She may not have won all her causes, but she has lost very few.
Now, in her 'retirement', Mrs Blake turns her attention to the family business, Bellellen Grampians Organics with her husband Rod.
They grow, process and sell ACO 251 certified organic herbs and vegetables all year round.
Mrs Blake will continue her love and commitment to improving health services in the region through her membership with the local IMMERSe Board, part of the School of Medicine at Deakin University.
The IMMERSe board helps connect third year medical students to rural areas for 12 months.
"If we work hard to make sure their time working and living here is good, they might say this is a wonderful place and someone else might come, some may even come and settle here," she said.
"And that's the thing, we live in a unique community.
"Yes, I've stuck my head out and stuck my hand up, but everything we've ever achieved at the hospital has been a team effort.
"I've begged, cajoled and worn out mates, their husbands and kids, they've always been touched by the hospital cause like I have.
"Whilst not everyone has a capacity to give in monetary terms, each individual can give of themselves."
Stawell Regional Health Chief Executive Officer Rohan Fitzgerald said the turn-out at Meg's farewell was testimony to her character and the respect she has from her colleagues, friends and family.
"Meg Blake's energy and passion for the hospital will be remembered for a very long time by her colleagues, patients and the broader community," he said.
"She's a one-of-a-kind person whose efforts will forever be embedded in the hospital's history."