Honorary doctorate awarded to Dementia Australia Ambassador Ita Buttrose AO OBE

Journalist, businesswoman and Dementia Australia Ambassador Ita Buttrose AO OBE has been awarded the University of New South Wales’ highest honour – an honorary UNSW Medicine doctorate for her outstanding services to health, the community and empowering women in business.

In describing the reasons for recognising Ita in this way, the University described her as a health advocate and inspirational role model.

Professor Rodney Phillips, UNSW’s Dean of Medicine, in the citation commending Ita, stated, “Throughout her career, Ita has been a committed contributor to many community and welfare organisations and is passionate about the field of health and aged care and the rights of older Australians to receive appropriate and adequate care.”

Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia said the organisation has been fortunate to be able to rely on Ita’s invaluable support and input over many years in her roles as National President and National Ambassador.

“Ita has been instrumental in so many of Dementia Australia’s achievements, and her commitment has played a huge role in improving the lives of Australians living with dementia, their families and carers,” Ms McCabe said. 

“On behalf of everybody at Dementia Australia I would like to thank Ita for all she has done and continues to do. Congratulations Ita on this well deserved achievement!”

In her Occasional Address, Ms Buttrose said she was honoured and delighted to receive the honorary degree. She spoke of the importance of never stopping dreaming one’s dreams and working to achieve them.

“All too often we allow people to talk us out of doing things that are close to our hearts. All through my career people have told me I couldn't or I shouldn't do something I set my heart on,” Ms Buttrose said.

“I've listened, but I've never allowed other people's negativity to deter me. No-one else dreams your dream. I've always had this belief in myself that whatever I put my hand up for, I would be able to do it.”

Ms Buttrose also encouraged graduates to take risks, to never give up trying, and to always try to make a difference.

“You must always believe in yourself, and be prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone every now and then. Take the risk, dare to make a difference, dare to try. I believe everyone can make a difference. Something very small could actually make a big difference,” she said.

Ms Buttrose has had a distinguished career in journalism in both Australia and the UK, and in 1979 was awarded the OBE for services to journalism. During her media career, she also founded publishing company, Capricorn Publishing, and was co-host of Channel 10 morning program Studio 10.

Amongst her many charitable commitments, Ms Buttrose served as National President of Dementia Australia between 2011 and 2014, and continues her involvement as an Ambassador for the organisation to this day. Through her work with Dementia Australia, and more recently her support of the UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, Ms Buttrose has devoted much of her time to promoting a wider understanding of dementia and the need for action to improve the quality of life of people impacted.

“I've had two careers, actually: one in journalism and publishing, and the other in a voluntary capacity in the not-for-profit sector – supporting charities and community causes, particularly those involved with health and wellbeing,” said Ms. Buttrose in her address.

“My voluntary work is a valued part of my life. I think it enriches a person’s life and makes us grow as people and I recommend it to you all,” said Ms. Buttrose.

In 1988 Ita was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to the community, particularly in the field of medical education and health care. In 2003, she was awarded the Centenary Medal for service to Australian society in business leadership. And in 2013, she was named Australian of the Year.

This article was developed in collaboration with Isabelle Dubach, UNSW Sydney.