The ‘girl who could do anything’ turned into the woman who did. As a country girl growing up on a farm in Western Australia, Ellen Cox was told she could do anything. The lifelong accountant took that message with her when, years later, she was asked to visit colleges and high schools to talk to young women about her career.
“I tried to challenge the students to see the world as their oyster,” she says. “I used to hold up a magazine or perhaps quote something out of an article and ask them if they saw themselves as the head of a public company.”
Cox, 76, is the granddaughter of a journalist. At the farm on which she grew up, her parents would sit the gifted youngster and her three sisters down at the kitchen table and read that day’s newspaper editorial. “I remember there being quite exciting discussions on the political issues,” she says. “My mindset was quite different to a lot of my friends and family.”
Volunteering is something Cox has done as far back as her memory stretches. It was just what you did as a kid in a small country town, she says, noting that her early days of community involvement were family ventures.
The retiree, who is stepping back from her voluntary work to travel, has been a member of Zonta International for more than 30 years. The service group involves professional women working together to advance the status of women.
Cox could almost fill a book with her volunteering adventures. She has served on the Western Australian small claims tribunal, been on the governing council of Curtin University, was treasurer of the Harvey Art Galley and, more recently, was part-time manager and treasurer of the Yarloop Historic Steam Museum in Western Australia.
“It sounds as though I’ve done nothing else,” Cox jokes. “But believe me, it’s been a very balanced life … I’ve had lots of other exciting things happen too.”
One of those was running a successful accountancy practice with her late husband, Thomas Cox, for more than 30 years. The couple shared a passion for volunteering. Tom, who died from cancer 11 years ago, was heavily involved in Rotary International. “That was really our extracurricular thing, other than the children and sporting events,” Cox says.
The mother-of-two says she has never looked for recognition for her community work. Nevertheless Cox was “terribly thrilled” to receive an honorary doctorate of letters from Curtin University for her significant contribution to the university council and other important committees. She is also a life member of the Harvey Art Gallery and a CPA Fellow.
“At times you’re under so much pressure that you wonder ‘is this one you could drop off’?” she says. “But looking back, I’m very pleased I stuck with it all.”