September 1, 2015
Laurie Clarke and Debbie Battaglini-Clarke’s business is in banking. However, their heart lies in giving back, and together they have raised more than $200,000 for the local community. Here, they talk family, love, life after a serious diagnosis and their passion for philanthropy.
If the wealth of a person is measured by the happiness in their life, then Laurie Clarke and Debbie Battaglini-Clarke have discovered life’s riches.
As we chat in their gorgeous Rosemount abode, the giggle and chatter of their three energetic children, Addison, eight, and four-year-old twins James and Sofia mix with the yips of their two cute dachshunds.
We sit on the deck overlooking tennis courts and lush acreage, a sleek black helicopter lifts off from their neighbour’s property and Laurie races off to a meeting, smartphone in hand; it’s a reminder that although home is clearly where the heart is for the couple, they’ve flourished in the business arena too.
As philanthropic believers of giving back, the couple is set on making a difference in the community in which they are doing business.
Laurie and Debbie have, to date, raised in excess of $250,000 through their annual CCGD and Corporate Sports Lunch, together with major stakeholders and supporters, for various local children’s charities.
I saw how we could bring some unique events to the Coast and at the same time give back to the local community and work with various charities.”
And incidentally, it was charity work that initially brought the couple together while both were living in Melbourne in 2004.
Previously, Laurie had spent 30 years with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) in northern and western Melbourne, after migrating to Sydney from the United Kingdom as a young child.
Deb, who was raised in Queensland and Canberra, had a background in event management which saw her working for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and was tasked with supporting the CBA General Manager to host a joint event.
She was offered two tickets to attend the evening, and upon advising her contact she was single, he quickly organised one of CBA’s ‘eligible bachelors’ to accompany her – and that was Laurie.
The couple decided on the Sunshine Coast for their wedding, and after falling in love with the area, moved up in 2008 – interestingly, our photographer for this story, Tanya, was the couple’s wedding photographer!
It was a change of pace for the couple, who at that stage had baby Addison and while Debbie loved her job, Laurie was growing dissatisfied with the corporate structure of working for one of the ‘Big Four’ banks.
“Deb had owned a business before and my background is only in banking, so buying a bank was perfect,” says Laurie of their decision to move and buy into Bank of Queensland (BOQ) Maroochydore in August, 2007.
The couple admits their first foray into their award-winning business complete with 10 staff, was a “hard slog”, with the GFC hitting a month after they bought the bank; however they prevailed and 12 months and a growing business later, launched their first charity venture.
I love to give back and mentor a number of other small business owners informally … to support others in their quest for greatness and success.”
“The opportunity it gave us was going back to the grassroots level and doing stuff Laurie loved to do, and I ultimately loved to do which was helping people. I saw how we could bring some unique events to the Coast and at the same time give back to the local community and work with various charities,” smiles Debbie.
Debbie has just resigned from a SunnyKids ambassadorship, to focus on a new partnership with the Hear and Say Centre, and they hope to raise $40,000 for children with hearing loss, learning how to listen and speak with new cochlear implants.
“They’ve only had three ‘switch ons’ on the Coast and we were able to invite our major stakeholders to one … we watched this little girl who was six-years-old have her implant switched on for the first time. There were grown men crying, the tissue box was definitely passed around!” remembers Debbie.
“I think while we own a business we will always find a charity to support. With the charities that are based on the Coast and the amount of fundraising events, it’s a tight arena and the fact people are attending those events, putting their hands in their pockets, or helping in a philanthropic voluntary way is just outstanding,” she adds.
Children’s charities and organisations are a cause close to Debbie and Laurie – the twins were born four weeks prematurely, and James was later diagnosed with Level Two cerebral palsy (CP), which causes potentially limited motor skills.
James and Sofia were conceived via IVF through highly regarded specialist Paul Stokes, and born in 2012.
After opting to have their last two viable eggs in for their fifth, and last, attempt, the couple were in “shock for the first few months” after learning they were expecting twins.
“Because of my age we had to go to Brisbane to have the amniocentesis test and that’s when we found out we were having a son as well. Laurie has two daughters to his first marriage, so we were delighted there was going to be another Clarke in the family,” smiles Debbie.
When James and Sofia were assessed after birth, James had severe blood sugar problems and had to be transported to Brisbane for intensive care. Later, when the twins reached their 10-month check, the paediatrician signed off Sofia but expressed concern over James.
“We went for an MRI scan just before the 12-month mark and I remember coming to get the result and all I heard is the word ‘cerebral palsy’. I just stopped listening, lucky Laurie was there,” says Debbie.
“We were lucky because we got support straight away. The turning point, and the paediatrician agreed, for us was James having a twin sister because wherever she was at with her growth, he would want to be. So if she was walking, he wanted to be walking, if she was crawling, he wanted to be crawling. He didn’t know he had cerebral palsy, he just wanted to be doing what she was doing and that’s what has pushed him as well as our regular physio.”
“It’s a bit ironic, twins have a greater chance of one of them having cerebral palsy, but at the same time having the able-bodied twin helps them through their therapy,” adds Laurie.
Today, after an eye correction operation, Debbie shares you wouldn’t know James’ disability if you saw him.
After two years off with the twins, Debbie returned to work, scooping a coveted Sunshine Coast Business Woman of the Year Award, which gave her an opportunity to reflect on her philanthropic efforts.
“We’d raised $200,000 for the Coast by then. When you start to put it all together and realise that in itself has made an incredible difference to the lives of the people we’ve helped, it puts together a bigger picture,” she says.
“It’s humbling and rewarding. I love to give back and mentor a number of other small business owners informally as well, to support others in their quest for greatness and success.”
Now, Debbie has this year made the commitment to split her time between home, family and time for herself.
“I’ve decided the time I do have is now spent with the kids. It hit home I’m not going to have any more babies so I want to spend time with them while they’re still little. I think we’ve given a lot in terms of community involvement, and I’ll definitely be back hitting some of the voluntary positions again – but now it’s about giving more time to my family,” she says.
And that’s something money can’t buy.