Ross crosses the finish line after 59 years

19 Jan 2021

There are everyday folk who, through their will, passion and personality truly bring a cause to life. This is the story of one such person, a local legend who has worked tirelessly for nearly 60 years for the life he deserves and for the benefit of those around him. This is the story of Ross.

When Ross White first moved to Brisbane as a 14-year-old, he couldn’t read, write, or speak.

But the 77-year-old, who is retiring after 59 years of work with Endeavour Foundation, still remembers the country race meets he attended as a boy, where beautiful horses would cover crowds of thirsty punters in clouds of outback dust.

Growing up with intellectual disability in western Queensland in the 1950s, there was little support and it impacted Ross’s development.

Ross' Quilpie family home

“It was hard because there were no facilities (to work with) people like Ross, until we moved from Quilpie to Charleville,” said his sister Gladys White.

 “There wasn’t much there either, so our father decided Brisbane was the best place.

“My father said, ’I have five boys and Ross needs special care, so we’d better find it for him,’ so we moved to Brisbane.”

It was there in 1960 that a friend of Ross’s mother showed them a newspaper clipping about a new school that could help Ross.

Now known as Endeavour Foundation, in the parlance of the day the Queensland Sub-normal Children’s Welfare Association had been formed in 1951.

Ross working on telephones at Endeavour Foundation's Bowen Hills Business Solutions site
Ross sanding a barrel at Endeavour Foundation's Strathpine Business Solutions site
Peter and Ross (right) assembling furniture at Endeavour Foundation's Strathpine Business Solutions site

Starting when a group of parents employed a specialist teacher and opened a makeshift school on the veranda of a home in Coorparoo, in the next decade the organisation would go on to open a school in Bowen Hills and establish branches offering specialist education throughout Brisbane and Queensland.

Schools were quickly followed by vocational training centres with a strong emphasis on the abilities of each person and offering meaningful employment pathways.

The first principal at the school in Bowen Hills, Thelma McConnell, saw a huge amount of potential in Ross and in just a year, he’d jumped a hurdle in his development.

“Mrs McConnell said, ‘I wish I’d have had him when he was seven,’” remembers Miss White.

“She meant she could have taught him more [if he’d been at the school longer] because she had to teach him to read and write, but within 12 months he was out of there and into the printing press.”

Ross working with telephones at Endeavour Foundation's Northgate site
Ross holding his certificate 30 years of service as an Endeavour Foundation Supported Employee
Ross with coworkers from Endeavour Foundation's Strathpine Business Solutions site

From his first job at the printing press in Bowen Hills in April 1961 to his final job in Geebung in 2020, Ross White has worked for Endeavour Foundation for an astonishing 59 years.

“If we’d have lived and stayed in the country, he’d have never had that opportunity. He’d have just stayed as he was just learning from us.

“Endeavour Foundation has been the greatest organisation for him. It’s got him to where he is today.”

Endeavour Foundation CEO Andrew Donne said Ross and his family should feel very proud of all he has achieved, and his incredible contribution as one of our longest-serving employees.

“Ross brings Endeavour Foundation’s history and mission to life,” Mr Donne said.

“He’s a wonderful example of what people with intellectual disability can achieve if they have the right support.

“He started with lessons from Thelma McConnell - the first principal at our Bowen Hills school - and after 59 years of dedicated hard work, he’s crossing the finish line.”

Ross celebrating his retirement with his fellow Endeavour Foundation Solutions Coworkers
Ross receiving a special QArt piece from Endeavour Foundation CEO Andrew Donne

Despite the years that have passed since he first moved to the city, Mr White’s memory is still strong when he thinks about his first teacher, and how his love of horses began as a youngster.

 “I remember Mrs McConnell,” he said, “She was real good. I used to ring up and say hello to her every now and then [after she retired].

“I love the races,” he said, “Many years ago my cousin in country Cunnamulla, he had a horse and he said you can have a go on the horse – so I did.” Mr White said.

“Now, I got a white appaloosa – a big white one – in the paddock called Cal.

“He’s a very old horse. He’s quiet and I used to ride him around the paddock but I can’t ride him anymore.”

Here’s hoping Ross and Cal get to enjoy a bit more time in the paddock together.

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