Philanthropic donation to address escalating dementia epidemic

One man’s “great act of kindness” has already led to a life-changing experience for a UOW student and is also providing invaluable aid in the fight against Australia’s dementia epidemic.

Retired dairy farmer Richard Miller knows only too well the devastation wrought by dementia as his wife, Janet, died from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Richard has a strong passion for the Illawarra region and after the sale of the family dairy farming land he turned his attention to philanthropy.

He has been giving to UOW since 2008 through the Office of Advancement after forming close ties with Ainslie Tweedie and Monique Harper-Richardson. Mr Miller established the John and Belle Miller Memorial Endowment to support his giving and the fund was established in the name of his parents.

His philanthropy has focused on scholarships for financially disadvantaged undergraduate students across all faculties and medical research. Through his strong and personal interest in dementia, Mr Miller established the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) Summer Scholarship Program to fund projects on dementia.

Over the past six years, he has gifted $182,000 and at a special morning tea ceremony on 29 August the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings, announced Mr Miller’s pledge of $500,000 to establish the scholarship program in perpetuity. This will bring Mr Miller’s total support to UOW to $682,000 with the possibility of extending to $750,000.

Professor Wellings described his giving as a “great act of kindness”.

He said the University was founded on the contributions of the local community and Mr Miller was carrying on that tradition.

Professor Wellings said Mr Miller was not only helping students gain access to university who don’t have the financial resources but also helping to lift the profile of the invaluable work being done by dementia researchers at UOW.

“We can only hope that others follow your example,” Professor Wellings said.

Professor Brett Garner from IHMRI told guests at the gift announcement that 300,000 people now suffer from dementia in Australia and this was going to rise dramatically to one million by 2050.

He said research teams were working across a range of areas to try to combat dementia for which there is no cure at this stage.

“We deeply appreciate the Miller family support,” Professor Garner said.

One of the beneficiaries of Mr Miller’s generosity is final year medical student Mariam Chaalan who gave a vote of thanks on behalf of all the students benefiting from the philanthropy.

“Through your selflessness I was able to fulfil my dream of spending a six weeks stint at a hospital in Zimbabwe. It was a life-changing experience for me,” Mariam said.

Mr Miller said his visit to the University for the announcement had been an “overwhelming occasion” for both himself and his sister, Judith, who accompanied him.

Mr Miller, who has no children himself, said he simply wanted to help young people aspire to achieve their aims.

“I have been gobsmacked at the intelligence and drive of these young people.”

He said he really wanted to do something for an institution like UOW which is doing so much good for the region.

“I believe that UOW has contributed more to advancing the diversity and reputation of Wollongong than any other organisation.”


  • Richard Miller . . . his philanthropy has focused on scholarships for financially disadvantaged undergraduate students across all faculties and medical research

  • Mr Miller, pictured with one of the students who has benefited from his philanthropy, Marian Chaalan

  • UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings pictured with Mr Miller