Media/End of an era as one of Australia’s longest standing disability advocates retires after more than 30 years’ voluntary service

End of an era as one of Australia’s longest standing disability advocates retires after more than 30 years’ voluntary service

Cerebral Palsy Alliance President Marelle Thornton AM honoured for changing the face of disability services across the country

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End of an era as one of Australia's longest standing disability advocates retires after more than 30 years' voluntary service
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SYDNEY, FRIDAY 31 OCTOBER 2014– She is perhaps the longest standing disability advocate in the country. And in a remarkable contribution, her tireless efforts have all been voluntary.

Mrs Marelle Thornton AM has announced her retirement as President of Cerebral Palsy Alliance after more than 30 years leading the not for profit organisation.

She first became involved with the organisation in 1981; has been on the Board of Directors since 1983; and President and Chairman of the Board since 1990.

CEO of Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Rob White, says Marelle’s compassion, selflessness, and determination over more than three decades have been life-changing for thousands of Australian families over several generations.

‘Marelle is a remarkable Australian who has devoted much of her adult life to serving children and adults with cerebral palsy and their families’, Mr White said.

‘Her voluntary contribution has involved not only leading and expanding our world-class organisation, but also advising and lobbying politicians and disability leaders, and inspiring international researchers to focus on cerebral palsy prevention and cure.

‘What makes her work even more remarkable is that it has all been done whilst caring for her now adult daughter who has a severe disability, and for many years whilst also being a full-time primary school teacher.

‘Marelle is one-of-a-kind and leaves a legacy of an organisation well equipped to successfully make the transition under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.’

Marelle’s relationship with Cerebral Palsy Alliances goes back to 1977 when her daughter Katie was born with severe cerebral palsy. Katie’s diagnosis was the catalyst for Marelle becoming one of Australia’s leading and most well-respected advocates for people with a disability and their families.

In addition to her voluntary work with Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Marelle is also a past Vice-President of the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association, and a past President of the Asian and Pacific Cerebral Palsy Association.

She was appointed to Membership of the Order of Australia (AM) on Australia Day 1996, in recognition of her most significant contribution and voluntary service to people with disabilities, their families and carers. In 2001, she was awarded Australia’s Centenary Medal for outstanding Australians. Marelle was also recently named a NSW finalist for 2015 Senior Australian of the Year.

Just some of Marelle’s outstanding achievements whilst President of Cerebral Palsy Alliance include:

  • extending Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s services throughout rural NSW and the ACT
  • establishing the Cerebral Palsy Institute to pursue the best interventions, the causes and ultimately the cure for cerebral palsy
  • engaging positively with government in the trial of the NDIS
  • changing our organisation’s name from The Spastic Centre of NSW

‘Marelle has never shied away from the challenges and tough decisions required to effectively lead an organisation like Cerebral Palsy Alliance’, Rob White said.

‘She has always kept front of mind the interests and well-being of children and adults with cerebral palsy and their families, whilst at the same time working tirelessly to help shape our organisation into the world-class disability service provider it is today.’

‘Marelle’s contribution is second to none. She epitomises the old Aussie adage of rolling up your sleeves and helping a mate in need, albeit on a much larger scale and over more than 30 years.

‘She is a remarkable Australian.’

Marelle’s retirement will be effective following Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 19th November.

Attention media: Marelle Thornton is available for media interviews and photos. To organise, please contact Jennifer Durante on 0419 802 602 or

Released on 31 Oct 2014