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Sylvia’s gift

CERA is grateful to the late Sylvia Gelman AM MBE (1919 – 2018) – teacher, activist and philanthropist – for her generous bequest for eye research.


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A dedicated teacher, a women’s rights advocate, a lover of the arts and sports – Sylvia Gelman lived a full and passionate life and made a lasting impact on all those around her.

For 20 years, Sylvia taught at Mount Scopus Memorial College, where she became a deeply respected Headmistress. She served as president of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) and was made Life Governor of NCJWA in 1988.

“She taught so many of the Jewish community,” says Graham Solomon, Sylvia’s nephew. “She, along with her husband, helped Jewish refugees who migrated to Australia after fleeing the Holocaust in Europe.

“Whenever I come up against a problem, I think to myself, how would Aunt have solved this? I will always remember all the successful people who came up to Sylvia and said, ’Without you, I would not be where I am today.’”

Sylvia’s service to education, youth, the Jewish community and women’s rights has been recognised with honours including an Order of the British Empire (MBE), a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, induction into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women and the JCCV General Sir John Monash Award.

Beyond all these accomplishments, Sylvia’s loved ones will remember her as an extremely intelligent woman with a zest for life, a great sense of humour and boundless passion and generosity.

“Sylvia was incomparable, wise beyond wise,” says Caroline Heard, a close confidant of Sylvia’s.

A generous gift to eye research

Sylvia began to take an interest in eye health when her sister, Peggy Solomon, developed age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Later on, her nephew Graham was diagnosed with early stage glaucoma, and Sylvia herself developed AMD.

All this led to Sylvia’s decision to include a gift in her will to CERA among her many generous bequests.

“Her own failing eyesight was a constant annoyance to her, and she wanted to do anything and everything to find remedies for diseases of the eye,” Caroline says.

“Reading, films, opera and concerts were all very important in Auntie Syl’s life,” adds Suzanne Stopar, Sylvia’s niece. “She got so much enjoyment from these activities. Her macular degeneration made this very difficult.

“She never complained. I know that I would not be at ease to undergo all the treatments that Auntie Syl had. Her including a donation for eye research in her will may just help me and so many others in the future.”

Sylvia’s generous gift will enable the purchase of a new OCT scanner, which is critical for CERA researchers, in particular those researchers investigating AMD, its early diagnosis, causes and new treatments for AMD.

“The new OCT will enable us to replace a 10-year-old machine that is on its last legs, which is so important as the OCT scans are a vital part of each participant’s workup when they have a retinal disease,” says Professor Robyn Guymer AM, CERA’s Deputy Director (clinical).

On behalf of everyone at CERA, we are eternally grateful to Sylvia for leaving a gift in her will to CERA.

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