Retired Illawarra dairy farmer Richard Miller’s donation to the University of Wollongong will enable new insights into dementia, reports Liz Henderson.

The fight against dementia in Australia received a healthy boost in August when the University of Wollongong (UOW) was gifted $500,000 by a retired local dairy farmer in what has been described as “a great act of kindness”.

Illawarra farmer Richard Miller has had a close personal interest in dementia since losing his wife Janet to Alzheimer’s disease. After selling the family’s farming land he felt he could make a difference with his philanthropy.

His recent gesture, which will create a dementia scholarship program in perpetuity at UOW, follows a string of donations to the university now totaling $682,000.

Miller’s support for UOW began in 2008. He established the John and Belle Miller Memorial Endowment – named in honour of his parents – to support his philanthropy, which has focused on scholarships for financially disadvantaged undergraduate students across all faculties and medical research.

He also founded the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) Summer Scholarship Program to fund projects on dementia.

At a special morning tea on August 29, UOW vice-chancellor Professor Paul Wellings announced the $500,000 pledge, which he praises as “a great act of kindness … we can only hope that others follow your example.”

Professor Wellings added that the gift wasn’t only a benefit to students lacking the funds to access a university education, explaining it would lift the profile of the progress being made by UOW’s dementia researchers.

With no children of his own, Miller said his hope is to help bright young people achieve their dreams at the same time as seeking his beloved Illawarra region thrive. “I have been gob-smacked at the intelligence and drive of these young people,” he said.

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