IT was one woman's fierce and unwavering commitment to support and protect the community's most vulnerable that would change the region forever.
Family, friends, colleagues and loved ones have celebrated the life of Ruth Michelle Isbel, who passed away this week after a short illness at her home in Crossley with her loving partner Loretta and family by her side, aged 58.
She was a loved sister to Jenny and Gaye, sister-in-law and friend to the O'Brien, Isbel and extended families, an adored aunty and great aunty, godmother and a great mentor to many. She passed away on July 25.
Ms Isbel was the chief executive officer of Emma House family violence service and worked for decades in the child and welfare sector in the region.
She joined the board in November 2016 and became executive officer in 2019.
Emma House board chair Gabrielle Toscan said the board and staff were deeply saddened at the passing of their former leader.
"Our thoughts and love are with Ruth's wonderful partner Loretta and her much-loved circle of family and friends," Ms Toscan said.
"Ruth was a passionate advocate for the women and children of south-west Victoria.
"Her unwavering commitment to the support and protection of women experiencing family violence drove her work at Emma House and the legacy she has left behind could not be stronger.
"It is difficult to put into words the impact Ruth has had on the community and the culture at Emma House - but to know her is to understand how one person can achieve so much positive change.
"We will greatly miss Ruth's support, wisdom and leadership. However, most of all, we expect we will sorely miss the warmth, humour and joy she injected into every room.
"Ruth will be forever remembered and treasured, and her great legacy will be honoured by Emma House."
Ms Isbel changed Emma House for the better.
"She really restructured Emma House and put a lot of energy and effort into ensuring the service was set up in a way that would best provide services to women and children and also encourage and support our staff," Ms Toscan said.
"The other real legacy she's left behind is the partnerships Ruth built for came to Emma House within the broader community services network.
"Ruth's time spent forming really strong relationships with other key service providers has meant Emma House now operates as part of a bigger landscape and is more able to respond to the needs of the service users.
"Her leadership really made a difference to the service. It was a privilege for all of us to work with Ruth and our region is incredibly fortunate to have benefited from the dedication of such a strong, feminist advocate."
A funeral service streamed online on Friday was an emotional tribute to Ms Isbel's life and celebration of the unique person she was, said long-time friend and colleague Kathy Sanderson, executive manager of Brophy Family and Youth Services.
To know her is to understand how one person can achieve so much positive change.
Ms Isbel worked at Brophy for more than 20 years before taking the helm at Emma House.
Ms Sanderson fondly remembered the woman who was first her supervisor and who would go on to shape her personal and professional career.
"She was a very significant person in the Brophy story and I would say the organisation still experiences the impact of that in its culture and its purpose," she said.
"A lot of people at Brophy are deeply affected by Ruth's death.
"I worked with Ruth for over 20 years when she was first my supervisor at Brophy and ended up being my colleague in the leadership team.
"Everyone is impacted by Ruth's death, it's a very sad time of grief and a challenging time where it's difficult for people to get together and mark her passing.
"Many of us watched the service online; it was a great tribute to her life and a great celebration of the unique person she was."
Ms Isbel's journey from Brophy to Emma House was shaped by her social justice principles of equality for all humankind.
Her work with Green Gekko has been hailed as inspirational, as well as her devotion to women in need where social structures continue to fail them.
"She was very grateful to have that opportunity to lead Emma House, albeit one that was cut short," Ms Sanderson said.
Despite work in the heavy area of family violence, her laughter and jovial outlook on life shone through her work.
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