By ESTHER MACINTYRE

In another life, Jean Gray was a morse code intercept operator for the Australian Armed Forces, but even in 2020, the 98-year-old MADEC Volunteer of the Year is outshining us all.

MADEC Education and Training College happily announced the hard-won prize at its Mildura campus on Friday.

“The winner this year is an amazing woman who is definitely an unsung hero, who demonstrates the community spirit that we all strive for,” said MADEC Chair, Peter Jones.

Jean has belonged to the Country Women’s Association for an incredible 62 years, and has volunteered for many community groups like Meals on Wheels, Red Cross, and the Cancer Clinic.

“I’m just overwhelmed. I can’t believe it,” Jean said.

“But I’ve always lived my life trying to help those less fortunate than myself.”

She is a prolific member of the Embroidery Guild of Victoria, having made hundreds if not thousands of items.

“I retired from the farm in 1984, and I knew women who belonged to the Guild, before I came into Mildura to retire. So I’ve been a member since 1986,” Jean said.

“I was born in Hopetoun. Came to the Millewa when I was three-and-a-half, my father was a pioneer of the area. I maried a local after having been in the army for two-and-a-half-years.

“I was a wireless operator and I took messages from the enemy – a very secret operation that was going on.

“A few years ago a package came from England for me and I opened it and it was a medallion from Beechley Park in England, to all the Australian special wireless group members and there were only about 500 all told.

“I trained in the grammar school in Ivanhoe I did a course in morse code, and then I went to Bonegilla and did another course in Japanese code.

“And was sent to Brisbane, Collinga, about where the airport is now, and that’s where I worked on sets intercepting the enemy.

“So when the war finished I came home and married the local bloke – who’d I’d known before I went into the army.

His name was Reg. Reginald Gray. And he had six brothers in the army, and six came back.

Jean’s specialty is linen embroidery, “all types, and many different styles”.

“Lampshades, tablecloths, runners, bags, place mats, pin cushions, everything!” she said.

“I’ve made numerous pictures, a lot of my work is framed.

“Net darning or what they call finlay lace, I love doing that, and creating new designs.”

“I’ve made articles for the Guild to raffle, to make money at their biennial exhibition,” Jean said,

Some of her work is on display in the Melbourne Embroiderers Guild collection in Wattle Tree Road.

In her older years, Jean’s sight is failing, so she has swapped embroidery for knitting.

“I knit blankets, rugs, and beanies, that’s how I fill in my spare time now,” Jean said.

“I do it to help the prem babies at the hospital, and the bigger beanies I take to the sexual assault unit, Mallee Family Care I think, and it all goes out into the district, locally.”