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A mountain of volunteering

Jo Beetham was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for services to community and arts. PHOTO/ELI HILL

Joanna [Jo] Beetham – The Queen’s Service Medal for services to the community and the arts

Eli Hill
[email protected]

She set up Wairarapa Riding for the Disabled, has chaired Friends of Aratoi, read to the blind, volunteered at the Home of Compassion and is working to set up Kokomai Creative Festival 2019.

Yet for all the giving she’s done, Jo Beetham finds it hard when people give back to her.

In fact, Beetham said, she had to be tricked into her Queen’s Service Medal.

“So, my grandson asked his grandmother what she did in retirement around volunteering for a school project, and I stupidly wrote down everything so he would have a good project.

“Next thing, my daughter and long-time friends and people I’d volunteered with were colluding.”

Beetham said it had been a shock when she received her letter from the government.

“I didn’t know what a Queen’s Service Medal was particularly, I’m sure all the volunteers I work with would qualify for it as well.”

The 70-year-old cites a favourite Chinese proverb: “The person who moves a mountain begins by carrying small stones.”

Beetham’s journey towards her mountain of volunteering began as an Otago University student when she spent two hours, twice a week reading to the blind.

“I went looking for them, in fact I knocked on the door. It was procrastination about studying really.”

After two years of reading to the blind Beetham married her ‘long suffering’ husband Monty and began work as a physiotherapist in paediatrics and pain management.

In 1972 she formed Wairarapa Riding for the Disabled with Logan Bruce and Shirley Hyde, where she volunteered one afternoon a week.

“To see those kids’ progress was amazing.

“An autistic child spoke for the first time. Another sat up for the first time on a horse.

“I think when you’ve got time, it’s nice to share it.

“Volunteering’s about people and mutual benefit, I don’t do it to make me feel good – it’s learning and actually being challenged.”

From the 1980s until 1990, she volunteered at the Home of Compassion, helping children with Cerebral Palsy and spina biffida one morning a week.

She’s worked as an Aratoi volunteer one morning a fortnight since 2001 and chaired Friends of Aratoi during a difficult period for the group.

From 2016 to 2018, she volunteered at Victim Support two days a week and spends four to five hours a day working as the chairwoman of Wairarapa Arts Festival Trust.

Beetham’s volunteering spirit is set to continue for many years to come; the mother of three and grandmother of five plans to continue until she’s 90 or more.

All the time spent dragging her children around her various volunteering roles appears to have rubbed off and her children have a volunteering nature as well.

“We’re all like-minded, people who volunteer, there’s a common thread.

“We’re givers. We’re the oil in the engine.”


  1. Thank you, Wairarapa Times-Age for this lovely recognition of Jo Beetham’s voluntary work. And the headline is one of my favourites ever.

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