April 14, 2020

Meet The Locals: Derek Tuffield OAM, CEO Of Lifeline Darling Downs

In 2017 Derek Tuffield, or Tuffers as he’s affectionately known around town, was awarded an Order of Australia Medal.

I spoke to Derek about his years of service with Lifeline and his deep affection for Toowoomba and its people.

You must be one of the most recognisable faces in Toowoomba, Derek!

I’ve been CEO at Lifeline for 20 years and spent 33 years overall in the organisation, so I’ve met a lot of people.

Are you a Toowoomba local?

I was born in Brisbane. I worked in the banking industry for 18 years. Then I was transferred to Toowoomba to what was the old Commercial Bank of Australia in 1980. This August, I celebrate 40 years living in Toowoomba.

Tell me about your family?

I have three wonderful children – a daughter and two sons from my first marriage. They’ve now moved to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. It’s often the case children born and raised in Toowoomba move away in their early twenties, which is what happened with my family, and then they return to live here in their forties and fifties. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens with my family. My second wife is Rosemerry and we married just over 2 years ago. My extended family has grown to include a step son and step daughter which is very exciting.

What made you want to stay in Toowoomba all those years ago?

The scenery and the weather! It’s rural and 2000 feet above sea level. You’re up on the glorious Darling Downs. Winters can be cold, but the weather has changed over the last 20 years, so they’re not as bitter as they used to be. We’ve also got the best educational institutions in Queensland, such as Toowoomba Grammar, Downlands, Glennie, etc. There are a smorgasbord of high-quality schools in and around Toowoomba.

How did you get involved with Lifeline?

I was working at Westpac as the accountant at the Toowoomba South Branch. I was also providing volunteer financial counselling for Lifeline to help solve problems for their clients who were struggling with money management issues. Their business administrator had resigned, and they tapped me on the shoulder and said, we think that you’d be a good fit for the organisation. I decided that it was an opportunity to put my money where my mouth was. I’d been telling people for years how to run their business, but it was all textbook and I’d never stepped up to the plate. I liked the work Lifeline did, and I got to stay in Toowoomba, so I went for it. It was a bold move at the time. When I joined we had 15 staff, but now we employ 215 paid staff. We have 350 active volunteers across the region.

What services does Lifeline offer?

Our primary focus is the community, so it’s face-to-face, and mobile counselling services. There’s emergency relief for drought, bushfires or flood recovery. We work with the Aboriginal Torres Strait Island community, and also around issues of child protection, domestic and family violence, and much more. Plus, all our services are free.

How have the rains eased the community’s pain?

Over the last seven years, the drought has been the number one priority because of the financial impact that it has had on farmers and their families. When there was no sign of rain, people’s mental health deteriorated, so we did a lot of work in that area. The rains bring hope. Hope changes the atmosphere and people feel positive, as there is water in the dams and they’re planting the winter crops.

How do you raise money?

We’ve got a network of 15 retail shops across the region – with nine in Toowoomba – and two Containers for Change depots for refunds on bottles. The business division raises about $4.5 million each year.

Great! Toowoomba is very community orientated town

It’s amazing! For example, I had a gentleman from Stonestreets Coaches ring me saying we’re taking a bus down to the Apple & Grape Festival. We’d like to donate $1,000 in the Stanthorpe Area to those families to buy food and pay bills. We’re thankful for the generosity.

What about when you’re not working, any local spots you like to relax?

I like good coffee, and there are some lovely cafes in Toowoomba. I love the Park House Café, and the Coffee Club in Margaret Street.

We’ll see you there! Thanks for all your work for our community.

Article by Gary Klein

For over 35 years, Gary has been involved in the profession of selling. He held a senior position in a large local business in town and was in fact the company trainer, inductor and troubleshooter. From his experiences, he understands people very … View profile

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