How hospitality matriach Mary Sampson helped grow the community spirit of AHA Newcastle Hunter



She is the First Lady of Hospitality and to many, Mary Sampson is still considered the matriarch of what may be one of the Hunter's most dedicated fundraising organisations, the

Australian Hotels Association (AHA), Newcastle Hunter.


In 2019 alone, AHA Newcastle Hunter and its members together raised more than $1.1 million for individuals and charity organisations, some of which represent relationships built more than 20 years ago by Mary and her husband Wayne Sampson, who was President of what was then, and remains to be, Australia's largest AHA largest sub-branch.


"I certainly don’t think I shaped the AHA Newcastle Sub-Branch, only by supporting Wayne and the committee he had around him in any way I could," Mary said.

"But then in the early 1980s there was the idea of re-inventing the AHA Newcastle Charity Ball which was a very popular event in our young days, but had fallen away over the years.


"So, with the existing committee we re-created the Sub-Branch Charity Ball with great success, holding the first one on The South Steyne floating restaurant, owned by local hotelier Brian McDermott.


"Following the success of the inaugural ball, we then held the event annually, a couple of times at Newcastle City Hall, but mostly at the University of Newcastle, which was very supportive of our industry.


"We had amazing support from hoteliers and staff from our hotels and industry sponsorship. Together we raised money for many different charities in our Newcastle area, including Northern Kidney Foundation, Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and Parkinson’s Disease Newcastle Branch."


"As our fundraising grew and we began to see how much support we could provide, we knew we needed female input to iron out the edges and provide some good ideas in regard to the organising and styling of the events. So a predominately female social committee was formed..."


While numerous non-profit groups became recipients of AHA Newcastle Sub-Branch fundraising, in the beginning a large percentage of funds went to an organisation close to Mary's heart, the Nicholas Trust to help build a Paediatric Hospice at John Hunter Hospital.


Funds raised from the AHA Newcastle's charity golf days were also provided to the Heart Foundation, an initiative that would later be renamed the Cliff Lopez Charity Golf Day in recognition of a fellow hotelier lost to heart complications. Funds were then directed to HMRI for the purpose of heart disease research.


"As our fundraising grew and we began to see how much support we could provide, we knew we needed female input to iron out the edges and provide some good ideas in regard to the organising and styling of the events. So a predominately female social committee was formed," Mary said.


"Myself along with a group of dedicated women worked well together for many years, some moving on and more joining in, with a few of us remaining the whole time.


"All of our members brought new ideas and everyone on the committee was committed to getting in and helping for all functions."


Mary and Wayne Sampson featured in the media in the mid 1990s.

"As our fundraising grew and we began to see how much support we could provide, we knew we needed female input to iron out the edges and provide some good ideas in regard to the organising and styling of the events. So a predominately female social committee was formed..."


While Mary may sound humble in regard to the mark she made on the AHA Newcastle Sub-Branch's fund raising efforts, co-committee member and industry leader Vicki Woods, who herself has been Chair, Vice President and inducted into the Restaurant & Catering Industry Association (RCIA) NSW Hall of Fame, said Mary was the momentum behind everything they did.


"There's no denying Mary was the driving force behind our accomplishments on the social committee," Vicki said.


"There was so much to do in order to to make those events as successful as they were. We chose locations, sold tables, chased up auction prizes, organised menus and drink offerings, booked entertainment, in some locations we had to apply for Council approval, sometimes we had to have everything brought in, it was endless. Whatever was required to make it tick, that's what we did. Everyone did their part, but Mary was the powerhouse behind it."


In addition to the fundraising initiatives Mary pursued, she said her role in the AHA social committee also created strong friendships, some that have lasted decades.


"In the early days of Wayne being President of Newcastle Sub-Branch, most hotels were owner-operated and so it was easy to make good friends with the people you were in regular contact and socialised with," Mary said.


"Many of those people are still good friends even though many of us are now retired or have moved away from the area."


"She was always that way. A fiercely loyal woman who valued relationships and had the drive to get in and get things done. She was always a valuable member of our AHA and hospitality community and always will be..." Vicki Woods


In fact, every Tuesday night of the month the self-proclaimed 'AHA Oldies' get together for a regular dinner, an initiative now organised by Mary.


"It doesn't surprise me that Mary is still organising our monthly dinners," Vicki said.

"She was always that way. A fiercely loyal woman who valued relationships and had the drive to get in and get things done. She was always a valuable member of our AHA and hospitality community and always will be.

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Australian Hotels Association 2018