Canberran and St John Ambulance volunteer Val Dempsey has been named as Senior Australian of the Year for 2022.
Ms Dempsey has been a volunteer for St John for more than 50 years, starting at only age 10.
In an emotional speech, Ms Demsey said "all life is precious". She spoke of her commitment to inspire a generation to learn first aid, so they can help save lives.
"There is no greater gift to our nation and our humanity than saving lives," she said.
Ms Dempsey said her own family was "forever changed" by a car accident 30 years ago, where people who came to help did not have skills to save her loved one.
"All Australians should learn first aid to save lives," she said.
"Bystander first aid is is proven to prevent death in those vital minutes before an ambulance arrives.
"Imagine this ... every learner driver in Australia undertaking compulsory first aid training as they currently do in 11 European countries. No other single measure has the potential to educate a generation to save lives."
Australia Day National Council Danielle Roche said the 71-year-old has dedicated more hours to St John than any other volunteer in the ACT.
Ms Dempsey led 40 volunteers supporting affected communities during the Black Summer fires in 2020. She spent her Christmas break to work 12-hour days, providing first aid and helping at evacuation centres.
When the COVID pandemic hit, the Australia Day council said Ms Dempsey "displayed unwavering commitment" to St Johns. Ms Dempsey also assisted ACT Health with contact tracing during COVID.
The Australia Day National Council Chair said Ms Dempsey "embodies the Australian spirit of volunteering".
Ms Dempsey has also been a registered nurse since the age of 16. She has worked in cancer wards around Canberra. She is strong advocate for first aid education.
When she won ACT Senior Australian of the Year, she said she hoped it would "shine a light on volunteering".
"So if this shines a light on that and encourages Australians to bring first aid into their lives, then I'm just delighted," she said.
"Even as young girl, the opportunities have been enormous [at St John]".
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