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Largest bequest in Wesley’s history

The gift of the late Rennie Coutts will be transformational to girls who are passionate about STEM

A number of years ago, the Foundation received a call from an elderly lady named Rennie Coutts, inquiring about our scholarships program. She had absolutely no connection with Wesley whatsoever but was seeking a school she could potentially endow scholarships for girls with a specific interest and aptitude for science. After her initial meeting with our Bequests Manager, Debra Stiebel, she was reassured that the College would respect and honour her wishes by establishing such a scholarship through a bequest in her Will. Rennie then met our CFO, Cameron Moroney and then Principal, Helen Drennen. So began our relationship with Rennie which grew and developed, providing comfort and support for her over the years. What we were not to know was that initial ‘cold call’ to the Foundation Office would result in the largest bequest in Wesley’s history of almost $4.5m.

Sadly, Rennie passed away last year, and the College has now established The Rennie Coutts Science Scholarships for Girls in recognition of her extraordinary benefaction in endowing an enduring scholarship for young women who are passionate about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Rennie was an advocate of women in the workforce and the pursuit of excellence in the fields of maths and science. She was also a passionate supporter of girls’ education in a co-educational environment.

Rennie was born in Tasmania, in the rural area of Kentish, the closest town being Sheffield. Her parents were Alan Frederick and Cecelia Maude Jones, and she had an older brother Ross (deceased). They lived on a small mixed farm about three kilometres from town, primarily working in the oldest apiary in Tasmania – established by Rennie’s grandfather in 1898 as H L Jones & Sons Barrington Apiary, and which continues today under the name Sheffield Honey farm.

She was one of the very few girls in the district at that time that was sent to the coastal town of Devonport to board and attend the secondary college. She moved to Melbourne, where she enrolled at the University of Melbourne attaining a Bachelor of Arts majoring in the social sciences. This was followed by professional training and certification in pre-school / kindergarten education at Kew Kindergarten Teachers Training College and as a teacher librarian. Some of the highlights of Rennie’s professional life included being the Director of Pre School Centres in Victoria. She established the Fawkner Park pre-school during WWII for returning soldiers and families.

Nicki close up

She was also Head of Research at the Victorian State Library with an interest in library information systems. Rennie was awarded a travel grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to pursue study of other library systems in Canada and the USA. She also introduced a new library and information system at the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads. Rennie died aged 95 years on 12 September 2020, knowing her gift to Wesley College would be transformational to the lives of young women for many years to come. The fact that she had absolutely no connection with Wesley, or anyone associated with the College, makes her gift even more extraordinary. Her named scholarship honours not only a woman who will always be remembered with enormous fondness and gratitude, but for her belief that education can transform lives and, in this instance, create opportunities for young women to truly make their mark in the wider world.

Image: Nicki Lefkovits (OW1990) launching Rennie’s scholarship

The Chair of the Wesley College Foundation’s Advisory Committee, Nicki Lefkovits (OW1990), formally launched this significant scholarship at our 13th Annual Business Breakfast on 26 May and paid tribute to Rennie for her extraordinary philanthropy. Guests then enjoyed watching the Foundation’s new Scholarships video which highlights how a Wesley scholarship can transform the lives of young men and women.

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