Royal honour

By Simon Ruppert

For most people growing up in Benalla I’m sure an invitation from Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen is perhaps the last thing you might expect.

However, that is exactly what happened to former resident Anne-Maree Keenan, who even picked up an OBE along the way.

An OBE, or Order of the British Empire, is one of the highest honours a person in the UK can receive.

It is a title bestowed upon a person to honour their contribution to the arts or science, or to recognise outstanding work with a charity or welfare organisation.

Ms Keenan, the eldest daughter of Benalla’s Bill Keenan and Marg Mackerell, grew up locally before moving to Melbourne to attend university.

After qualifying as a podiatrist, Ms Keenan worked in public and private sector positions, while also teaching at La Trobe University and then the University of Western Sydney.

She left Australia and moved to Leeds in 2002 where she has lived ever since, and is now a Professor of Applied Health Research.

A former student of St Joseph’s Primary School and FCJ College, Ms Keenan still describes Benalla as home, and visits regularly.

‘‘My mum and her family still live here and I come back at least once a year to see them,’’ Ms Keenan said. ‘‘Much to my husband’s concern, Benalla is still home and always will be and I come back as often as I can.’’

Ms Keenan said when she received a letter from the Cabinet Office in May she was initially alarmed.

‘‘As an Australian citizen who has a permanent residence visa, I thought there must have been something wrong with my visa and they were about to kick me out of the UK,’’ Ms Keenan said.

‘‘So when I read the letter and it was asking if I would accept an OBE for services to podiatry it was a total shock.

‘‘The letter came completely out of the blue.

‘‘And I was told that I was not allowed to tell anyone until the Queen’s Birthday, when the list was published.’’

Her biggest task at that point was keeping it a secret as she excitedly planned a trip down to London to meet the Queen.

‘‘It was such an honour to receive the OBE from Her Majesty, particularly given that she has reduced the number of investitures that she attends,’’ Ms Keenan said.

‘‘You are not informed of who will present the OBE until the day, and given Her Majesty’s stature as such an influential and highly respected figure over so many years, it was an absolute honour.

‘‘Her Majesty was not only well informed, but interested in what I did, what motivated me and importantly, where I was from, noting the Australian accent.

‘‘I only wished I had thought to let her know that she had previously visited Benalla.’’

On top of her services to podiatry Ms Keenan is also a passionate champion of supporting women in her industry.

She is co-founder of the Leeds Female Leaders Network, an 800-strong organisation that brings together men and women to support developing female leaders across the city’s health sector.

For her investiture, Ms Keenan was joined by her sister Carmel, who came over from Maryborough for the occasion, her husband Tony Redmond and step-daughter Lowri.