Largest bequest in Hunter history left to medical research and arts

Jun 1 2020

The generosity of a proud Novocastrian has today been recognised by the two local organisations that will share a bequest worth more than $20 million, the largest of its kind in Hunter history.

The Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation (NAGF) have today announced that they are major beneficiaries of an estate which totals more than $20 million.  The bequest was left by the late Valerie Ryan who passed away in November 2019 at the age of 94.  A number of other local and national charities will also benefit from additional bequests left in Valerie’s will.

Long-time supporters of both HMRI and the NAGF, Valerie and her husband John Ryan were proud Novocastrians who lived a humble life and spent little on themselves.

John Ryan, who passed away in 2009, was a metallurgist who established a coat hanger factory in Newcastle, while Valerie owned a ballet store and taught shorthand and typing at TAFE. The Ryans were hard-working people who invested wisely in property and stocks but who lived modest lives and gave generously within the community. 

Valerie and John’s niece Megan MacManus shares, “They were a devoted couple who valued hard work, sharing good times with friends and were great fun to be around.  Valerie loved many things – her family, her friends and her travels.  She was passionate about art and culture, knowledge and Newcastle.  She chose the Art Gallery and HMRI to donate this wonderful gift because she believed they would do great things for the City she loved.  The outcome of these bequests will be a wonderful legacy to this amazing couple.”

Valerie’s association with HMRI started after her husband’s death when she approached the Institute about funding medical research. Her generosity continued each year and she enjoyed regular updates on the projects she had supported from HMRI researchers.

Valerie also had a longstanding relationship with the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation, which is a not for profit charity and the major fundraiser for the Newcastle Art Gallery.

The true value of the Valerie and John Ryan Bequest is immeasurable, says HMRI Institute Director Professor Tom Walley. “This extraordinary legacy will have a huge impact for HMRI and the health of the community we serve,” Professor Walley said. “This gift is truly transformative and will make a significant difference to research here at HMRI for many years to come. HMRI is built on generous donations from our community and every dollar makes a difference to improving health outcomes.”

Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation Chair Suzie Galwey said the Valerie and John Ryan Bequest would have an enduring impact on the cultural life of the city they loved.
“Valerie was a generous donor to the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation during her lifetime achieving the highest level of Foundation Governor in 2014. She loved attending Gallery events and contributed to a range of projects including the commissioning of the Stuart and Sons piano and the purchase of important works by the artists Joseph Lycett, William Dobell and Brett Whiteley,” she said. 

Director of Newcastle Art Gallery, Lauretta Morton, said the Gallery was humbled by the significant bequest of Valerie and John Ryan.
“It is through their incredible and continued generosity that important works of art for the city’s collection have been made possible. We are thrilled that through this extraordinary gift to Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation the legacy of Valerie and John Ryan will continue to benefit their beloved Gallery and community for future generations,” she said.

The Valerie and John Ryan bequest is a timely reminder of how important scientific and cultural pursuits are to so many Australians.

Both HMRI and the NAGF are honoured to receive these gifts and hope that Valerie & John Ryan’s generosity provides the Hunter community and beyond with hope and inspiration in otherwise difficult and uncertain times.