Advocating for people with disabilities

It was a career he “fell into”, in his own words, but working with and for people with a disability quickly became a way of life for Blackheath’s Bob Weaver.

His nearly 40 years of service to the community, particularly in mental health and disability, were acknowledged with an OAM in the Australia Day honours on Sunday.

Mr Weaver said he decided to train as a nurse after a school careers night in 1975.

“A friend’s sister came and spoke about Marsden [a hospital for children with a disability] and somehow after that I applied and then I got a letter saying come in for an interview.

“Initially it was quite confronting but then it turned into a fantastic career choice,” he said. “My experience at Marsden was very positive and what I saw there was that the nurses made a difference to the lives of people who lived there.”

Mr Weaver later studied further at university and eventually moved into management, constantly advocating for those with the greatest needs.

He helped set up a research fund at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (where he is a life member) which allowed the college to employ a chief executive for its first five years, an appointment critical to its  ongoing development.

He worked with a colleague on a curriculum to educate nurses about working with people with disabilities, which led to the formation of the Professional Association for Nurses in Developmental Disability Australia. 

He has served as its president, vice-president, executive member and conference convenor for 24 years.

He was also a foundation member of the Guardianship Tribunal, a position he describes as “the icing on the cake” of his career. The tribunal looks after people with an intellectual disability, often deciding who is best placed to act in their interests.

“It’s to ensure that the rights of people with a disability are upheld and protected. It’s about putting the person first, about preserving their dignity,” he said.

Mr Weaver and his partner, Bob Zarb, moved to Blackheath in 1990 and he continued working, first at a group home in Blackheath and later at Greystanes Disability Services in Leura.

He also immersed himself in the local community. He was a founding member of the Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre, he has been chairman of the Food and Wine Fair committee for a dozen years and currently he is treasurer of the Rhododendron Festival Committee and president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Weaver and Mr Zarb were together for 30 years until Mr Zarb’s untimely death in 2010 of motor neurone disease. Mr Weaver said he believed his commitment to those with a disability arose from his personal circumstances.

“I think I stayed in it because I got my own discrimination about being a gay man. I got that people with a disability and their families were also discriminated against. 

“It gave me an understanding about the road they had walked and the times they had lived through.”

Deb Brown, who worked with Mr Weaver on the Blackheath disability recreation program (one of his initiatives), said of him: “He has been tireless in advocacy for people with disabilities and the nursing profession and in his work in the Blackheath community.”

Mr Weaver said his Australia Day honour was “rather unbelievable’’.

“It’s very humbling actually to think that you can live your life and do what you like doing and be rewarded in this way. It’s a very nice thing to have happen.”

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