Building up the next generation: Continuing a family legacy

Dr Richard Simmie is grateful for his family’s perseverance in seeking a better life for future generations. Today, he finds pride and joy in honouring their spirit through giving.

“I look back and see what I got from my education and where it took me, and life is certainly much fuller when you have choices,” said Richard.

“As a farmer, my father sacrificed a lot to give his children a good secondary education – and I certainly took advantage of everything that was given to me.”

Professor Hannah Lewi and Dr Richard Simmie Dr Simmie discusses the work of his late grandfather Jock Simmie with Professor Hannah Lewi from the Melbourne School of Design.

A retired anaesthetist, Richard was the first in his family to attend university, studying a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Melbourne.

While he enjoyed his career, Richard is now relishing exploring the roads less travelled through his giving to the University of Melbourne.

“Originally, I had always wanted to do architecture, but in the end decided to do medicine,” he explained. “Now, I’m coming back to those architectural roots.

Building future architects

Establishing the Jock Simmie Prize and the Jock Simmie Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage Research Fund satisfied two of Richard’s motives – developing future leaders in architecture and honouring his late grandfather’s legacy.

I would like to see research that could influence the way we preserve our heritage or support a future leader in urban planning.Dr Richard Simmie

The Jock Simmie Prize is an annual award for the highest achieving second-year student enrolled in either an Architecture/ Urban Planning or Architecture/Urban and Cultural Heritage double masters.

Richard hopes that his support for these high achieving students will help them see their studies through to completion and, ultimately, help create a better future.

“I keep wondering what our world is going to look like in a century, because we’re in a very tumultuous time,” he said. “I feel that one way I can help is by giving students a helping hand.”

The Jock Simmie Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage Research Fund will support research into architectural history and/or urban and cultural heritage – a cause close to Richard’s heart.

“We’re not good at preserving our heritage. I’ve just finished reading a book about old vintage Melbourne, and my heart breaks when I see some of the buildings that we’ve destroyed.”

Revering past generations

Throughout the process of establishing both the prize and the research fund, Richard felt compelled to honour his late grandfather – World War I veteran and master builder Jock Simmie.

 Jock Simmie (1916)
Jock Simmie recovering in the UK from injuries sustained during his service in World War I in November 1916.

“Through my family research, I’ve realised every now and again, you have somebody who stands out in a generation,” said Richard. “Of his generation, he was the one.”

Jock and his brother George served at Gallipoli and all three brothers served on the Western Front before returning to Australia, safe but wounded, between 1917–1919.

“Jock was one of the last to leave Gallipoli. He was then wounded in the Battle of Pozières,” shared Richard, “it’s where the idea of a National War Memorial Museum began. My grandfather built both stages of the museum in the 1930s.”

Upon the brothers’ return, they drew on their carpentry training and business acumen to establish the building company Simmie & Co.

The business helped build Canberra from the ground up, constructing iconic buildings such as Albert Hall, the Institute of Anatomy (now the Film and Sound Archives), and the original National Library.

In Melbourne, Simmie & Co built many churches, monasteries, schools, housing, factories, offices and theatres.

“It was a pioneering building company of World War I veterans – built on courage, risk taking, and the workforce who made it all happen,” said Richard.

Reflecting on all that his grandfather overcame to achieve success, Richard is proud to be able to continue his legacy by investing in the future of architectural planning and heritage.

“He was wounded in the line of fire and had a serious limp for the rest of his life. He had a constant reminder of the war,” he said.

“I think he’s worthy of being remembered as a part of Melbourne and Canberra’s early history.”

Generosity reaps rewards

Beyond architectural planning and heritage, Richard and his husband Dr Andrew McAliece are also passionate about the performing arts.

Through the Dr Richard Simmie and Dr Andrew McAliece Prize, each year the couple support a second-year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music Theatre) student based on merit and financial need.

“We get to meet the recipient and see them during their development, and it’s really encouraging as we enjoy music theatre so much,” said Richard.

“It’s lovely to get caught up in their enthusiasm.”

Spurred by the excitement and gratification Richard feels in supporting the University community, he has extended his giving even further by leaving a gift in his Will.

Again, I want to help the system that did so much for me, so I thought the best way of leaving a legacy is leaving money in my Will to help our future generations.Dr Richard Simmie

For those unsure whether a philanthropic future is for them, Richard has a simple message. “You don’t have to be wealthy to be philanthropic,” he said. “Every contribution is going to a worthy cause, helping the future of our students.

“Knowing this gives me great pleasure and satisfaction.”