The Board and staff of Elder Rights Advocacy mourn the death of Philippa Campbell, former Chief Executive Officer, on February 24th 2023, at the age of only 56. It is a heart-breaking loss for all who knew her. Elder Rights Advocacy has lost an inspirational and much-loved CEO, and the older people of Victoria have lost one of their most passionate advocates.
Philippa continued to lead the organisation until November 2022, when the severity of her illness and its drastic treatment put an end to this heroic effort. Her determination to shepherd the organisation through the largest expansion in staff and services in its history, and to ensure a smooth handover to her deputy and successor Debra Nicholl, were nothing short of astonishing. Yet such valour was of a piece with her extraordinary character and the qualities which made her leadership so outstanding.
Philippa’s impact on the staff and board of Elder Rights Advocacy was so positive, dynamic and far-reaching it’s hard to credit how briefly she served as CEO – a little over two-and-a-half years. Starting in February 2019 as Specialist Advocate Elder Abuse Prevention and Response Advocate and Manager of the Melbourne Advocacy Team, she was eminently qualified for the role after eleven years at Seniors Rights Victoria, where she was a founding member and its Advocacy Manager. Indeed, hers was a life of public service – a more-than-thirty-year career spent in the Not-For-Profit residential and community aged care sectors – residential aged care home management, business administration, quality management, community development and project management.
Her departure from Seniors Rights was sorely regretted by her former colleagues – but their loss was undoubtedly Elder Rights Advocacy’s gain. Very soon, there was general recognition of the outstanding abilities that ideally fitted her to lead Elder Rights Advocacy as its CEO, a position to which she was appointed in March 2020, just a year later.
There could not have been a more difficult time to take over the reins of the organisation, as COVID-19 began its worldwide rampage. When Victoria entered a period of protracted lockdowns lasting more than two years, none suffered more than the oldest and most vulnerable members of the community, especially those in residential aged care. So many suffered devastating neglect, isolation and death.
As CEO, Philippa’s compassion, strength and mounting anger at injustice were immediately galvanised to meet unprecedented challenges. Her initiatives enabled Elder Rights Advocacy’s advocates to continue their work under radically altered circumstances and in different ways, with staff working remotely rather than gathering in the CBD and regional offices, and the organisation undergoing massive structural change and expansion. Elder Rights Advocacy staff were deployed in April 2020 to assist our OPAN member organisation, Seniors Rights NSW, as Covid deaths in aged care placed impossible demands on their capacity to provide the necessary services. This was soon followed in 2021 by Victoria’s own crisis of deaths in residential care, when Philippa and her team were closely involved in the enormous effort of supporting older people, their families and carers.
At the same time as responding to the major changes brought about by the pandemic, Philippa tackled the multitude of tasks facing a new CEO. She not only learned the ropes but also supervised all aspects of operations, including Elder Rights Advocacy’s submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. She initiated and oversaw major projects – among them a far-reaching Service Model Review, the Reaching Out and Diversity and Inclusion projects. She managed the huge influx of government funding that followed the Interim Report of the Royal Commission and required the recruitment of new staff across the state.
Elder Rights Advocacy grew exponentially during her brief period in office – tripling in both budget and staff numbers – which placed Philippa and her colleagues under unrelenting, enormous pressure. The many practical achievements of her leadership would have been impressive at any time, let alone in the midst of a pandemic. Such massive organisational change would have been impossible without Philippa’s capacity for collaboration and recognition of others. Passionate support of her staff and acknowledgement of the value of every individual engendered their intense loyalty and affection as well as that of the board of directors.
Philippa will never be forgotten. Her enduring legacy will undoubtedly be her humanity and generosity of spirit, her passion for human rights, her determination to combat the chronic ageism that afflicts older people and undermines their quality of care. Kindness and sympathy pervaded all she did, transforming Elder Rights Advocacy’s workplace culture and infusing every aspect of the organisation.
The Board and Staff of Elder Rights Advocacy unite in sending our heart-felt and deepest sympathy to Philippa’s devoted family and friends.
Elder Rights Advocacy Board Secretary