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Deb Rolfe: a woman with heart

Emma Macdonald

It would be enough for many of us to reach peak status in the legal fraternity—as a partner in a law firm—and then stop to take a breath.

But for Canberra lawyer Deb Rolfe, her partnership at Maliganis Edwards Johnson has been accompanied by an astounding level of commitment to local charities.

And if there are not enough hours in the day to fit it all in, she just gets up earlier than her usual 5.25 am starts.

Add the fact she has raised three sons (including a set of twins) and it may be a relief to learn that Deb is also refreshingly real.

She has felt the crushing weight of modern-day demands, she has fought to find work/life balance, and she relies on meticulous organisation and a never-ending list of tasks to complete in order to stay one step ahead of things.

And, just like the rest of us, Deb likes to unwind over a glass of wine and watch Outlander on Netflix with her husband.

Together, Deb and Richard have forged a path as one of the territory’s most high-profile and charitable couples—helping to raise millions of dollars over the past two decades for causes as varied as The Canberra Hospital Foundation to the Canberra Capitals.

“We are proudly Canberran and have benefited from the city’s services and feel really compelled to give back,” says Deb.

Richard had a heart attack at just 11 days old and has subsequently spent considerable time in the hospital system throughout his life.

Deb suffered complications with both pregnancies and needed assistance in those early months with her twin boys Jake and Tom.

When the twins were just one year old, Deb found herself pregnant with Zach.

Deb and her three sons.

It meant she took several years out of the career race to focus on her family. During those years she worried about how she would re-enter the workforce, but she was grateful to be able to spend the time caring for her boys.

“We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, I must admit, but it was a choice I am glad I could make.”

Her strapping lads are now in their twenties. Zach, who had serious health issues in utero, was earlier this year awarded a national bravery medal for rescuing a woman in torrential flooding during his first week as a Constable with the Northern Territory Police.

“My boys are my proudest achievement,” says Deb.

But there have been many to choose from.

After graduating in Law (Honours) and Economics from the Australian National University, Deb was accepted into the Sydney office of the largest international firm Baker & McKenzie and envisaged a life of work and travel. But her friendship with Richard, which started at the ANU, became more than that and she was lured back to Canberra where she worked for the then Dawson Waldron.

Deb was one of those children who recognised early her strengths in debating and public speaking. She knew from a young age she would reach for a law degree.

Her teachers at Belconnen High actively encouraged her, and a Legal Studies course at Hawker College confirmed her resolve to become a lawyer.

“I have always been concerned for the welfare of others when they are in a vulnerable position and I love going in to bat for them.”

Despite seven years out of the industry, Deb received a family-friendly offer from George Maliganis of work between the hours of 10-2 when Zach entered pre-school. It was a perfect alignment that allowed her to re-enter the law, and since 2000 she has practised in the personal injury litigation field—making Partner in 2007.

While juggling the demands of her career, Deb has never lost sight of the need to “cherish the special moments with my family along the way – or to make memories as we like to call it.”

And she has fought hard for the rights of other families—both in court, and through her charity work.

She has been a member of the ACT Society for the Physically Handicapped Committee, the ACT Heart Foundation, and in 2011 became a founding member of the Canberra Hospital Foundation, becoming Chair of the Foundation in 2012

In 2014 she was appointed Ambassador for the IGA East Row House—an initiative of the IGA Rooftop Foundation which raises funds to minimise financial hardship by providing quality, affordable or free accommodation to families visiting the national capital seeking medical treatment for a family member.

In 2016, she was appointed Ambassador for the Early Morning Centre which provides around 50 free breakfasts every morning for the homeless and disadvantaged in Canberra, from Monday to Friday, as well as providing medical, legal and counselling services.

Last year, Deb and Richard were both recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours Awards with each receiving the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for their tireless work.

“It was very humbling to receive that award, because it was so unexpected and for something that we both get a great deal of satisfaction from. I enjoy being part of some incredible organisations that are working hard to improve the lives of people in our community. I truly believe that I get back more than I give.”

This article is presented in partnership with Malaganis Edwards Johnson. You can read more about sponsored posts here.

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author