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A life-changing year

In January 2014 John, as Managing Partner of Donaldson Walsh, was looking forward to continuing to guide his firm through the challenges of the rapidly evolving legal industry. Donaldson Walsh had, for the previous 18 years, been a proudly South Australian based law firm providing the South Australian business community with expert legal services.

A chance meeting in December the previous year led to John being invited by Joe De Ruvo to catch up for a coffee in January to discuss the prospects of a merger with Joe’s firm, Fox Tucker.

Initially hesitant about the proposal, John quickly saw the benefits that the merger would bring.

“Both firms exhibited similar cultures and practice areas. Importantly, I was heartened that a merger would allow greater opportunities for the progression of the young people at Donaldson Walsh and indeed the merged firm.”

The initial talks gave way to the planning necessary to effect the merger and John was extremely busy supervising the planning as well as maintaining his own busy workers compensation and employment practice. And then it all came crashing down. In September 2014, a month before the planned merger date, John’s loving wife, Janet, was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Starting again

Losing his wife was devastating, but with the love and support of family, friends and clients, John began to slowly rebuild his life.

At work, John stepped back from managing the business. His focus became the development of the workplace practice he had been immersed in since the early ’90s and particularly his passion for self-insurance in the workers compensation scheme.

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Personally, he made more time for family; enjoying family holidays, simple family catch-ups, watching his sons get married, and most of all, spending time with his much-adored grandchildren, Sean and Matthew. He renewed old friendships, and through his passion for the arts and (eclectic) music developed new ones. But, one constant in his life has been the unconditional love and devotion of his little dog, Digger. His companionship brings tremendous joy, keeps John fit with long walks and evokes happy memories of times shared with his loving wife, who adored Digger.

Port Adelaide Football Club and new horizons

John has supported the Port Adelaide Football Club all his life. He was a player advocate for the Club through most of the ’90s and has been a proud Chairman’s Club member for some time. Janet too was a passionate supporter and knowing how much she would have loved to have been part of the first historic game in Shanghai played a significant role in John’s decision to travel to Shanghai for the game. That journey reignited John’s passion for travel first experienced in 1977 when he backpacked through much of Asia, India and the Middle East to London, Eastern Europe, Spain and Italy. Since that first trip to Shanghai, John has gone on to visit the tribal areas of the northern and central highlands of Vietnam and other places like Beijing, Xian, Southern China and Shangri La, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia and Luang Prabang in Laos.

All of these experiences have contributed to John developing a certain calmness, positivity and empathy, which is now evident in John’s role as the head of workers compensation at DW Fox Tucker.

Love of the law

John’s love for his job, his close-knit team, most of whom have been with him for five years or more, and his clients, together with a reputation for no airs, graces or ego and a no-nonsense commercial approach has resulted in John being recognised as pre-eminent in his field.

Throughout his career, there have been some enormous changes in workers compensation:

“The biggest change has seen mental health claims overtake physical claims. In the first half of my career and, through the 1990s, I was mostly dealing with claims for physical injuries from physical repetitive tasks, labouring and the like. Now, it is mental health issues with depression and anxiety resulting from the impact of physical injuries or an inability to cope with the demands of the job.”

John has also seen the impact of the terrible increase in illicit drug use and the increased use of prescription opioid medication to treat symptoms of pain:

“Research over nearly 20 years shows there is a crisis with more and more people suffering effects of long‑term opioid-based painkiller abuse. People are becoming addicted and not considering the secondary effects which give rise to their own associated health problems. It makes a return to work very problematic and, at worst, destroys lives.”

Away from the challenges of workers compensation in legal practice, John is rediscovering a new love of exploring other countries and engaging with different people, understanding their culture and experiencing humanity on its most humble level.

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The kindness of strangers

Throughout his travels, John has experienced the very best of humanity, and he recounts two special moments:

“One of the best experiences of my life was wandering through Baghdad back in 1977 in over 50-degree heat looking for the National Museum. No one else was stupid enough to be out, apart from myself and my mate Craig. As we walked past a cottage, a door opened, and a bloke beckoned us inside. He took us down a long hallway into his kitchen and sat us down. He spoke no English, and we spoke no Arabic, but he took a jug of iced water out of the refrigerator and insisted that we drink it all before allowing us to go on our way again.”

The other:

“One night in October last year I was wandering around Buon Ma Thout in the central highlands of Vietnam when I came across a large family group sitting on a rug on the footpath outside their home. A little girl was singing karaoke and everybody looked as if they were having a fantastic time. I asked if I could take a photo and the next thing I knew, I was being pulled down onto the rug, given a can of beer and some chicken and asked to join the party. I don’t speak Vietnamese, and they didn’t speak English, but it was a beautiful moment I’ll never forget.”

Experiencing humble acts of kindness of complete strangers has left an indelible mark on John. It is a trait that he has adopted and embraced and now brings to the table – be it in Asia while travelling or at work with a client. It’s a trait he encourages us all to embrace!

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John Walsh

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