Environmental educator and co-founder of OzGREEN Sue Lennox has won the 2020 NSW Senior Australian of the Year award.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney last night, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the four category winners, who also include BackTrack founder Bernie Shakeshaft from Armidale as NSW Local Hero, Indigenous mentor and fundraiser Corey Tutt as NSW Young Australian of the Year, and former refugee, orthopaedic surgeon and human-rights advocate Professor Munjed Al Muderis as NSW Australian of the Year.
The four winners will be joining other state and territory award recipients at the National Australia Day ceremony in Canberra on January 25.
Sue began her acceptance speech by acknowledging her husband Colin Lennox, "who walked beside me on this journey for 46 years and died just a couple of years ago".
"We're really just picking up the pieces again in OzGREEN," Sue said, fighting back tears before saying that what gets her out of bed every morning is "knowing that the work we are doing is absolutely critical".
Sue and Colin co-founded OzGREEN almost 30 years ago. As school teachers during the 80s, they were deeply concerned their students were feeling anxious and distressed about the future of the planet.
Realising the importance of encouraging young people to turn despair into positive action, Sue and Colin left their jobs as teachers to design and deliver global programs based on environmental education, participatory leadership and community development.
Youth Leading the World is a learning and leadership course that creates sustainable communities. Under Sue's leadership, OzGREEN has developed sustainability programs in 1600 locations across Australia, India, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Pakistan.
Another key program, Riverwatch, teaches people to become 'citizen scientists' and to take action to improve the health of their waterways.
"As a grandmother, I'm standing with the young people of this world," Sue told the Bellingen Shire Courier-Sun last week, when the news broke that she was a finalist.
At Monday's award ceremony, she spoke of seeing young people become "incredible influencers".
"Through their actions, they have changed their communities radically," Sue said.
She paid tribute to Youth Leading the World participants' willingness to face up to the challenge of climate change and the need to "redesign our societies in the shortest space of time".
She also spoke of the devastating fires on the Mid North Coast, which have burned over 100,000 hectares, some of it ancient Gondwana world heritage rainforest and have killed 350 koalas near Port Macquarie.
Speaking directly to the Premier, Sue suggested that it would be a good time to go ahead with the Great Koala National Park proposal.
"Well, if you can't use now to hit up the Premier for a few bucks, when can you?" joked MC Wendy Harmer.
After stepping down as CEO this year, Sue is now focused on sharing OzGREEN's multi-award-winning approach by training others as facilitators and citizen scientists.
"We consistently hear that becoming part of a community working for change and losing that sense of isolation gives people a sense of hope," Sue told the Courier-Sun.
"The hope comes from action, from getting on and doing something and knowing others are doing it too."