There may be freshly baked slices and tea served in dainty, floral china mugs, but don't be fooled, Dot Hennessy is not a person who takes no for an answer.
On the day we sat down to tea with the 80-year-old great grandmother, who has a mop of dyed burgundy coloured hair, she was a whirlwind of busyness.
"No is not in her vocabulary," her devoted husband Bob chimes in from across the table.
Mrs Hennessy, a long-time Rotarian and PCYC NSW board member, has forged a path of her own, changed lives, and agrees she rarely takes no for an answer.
"I'll say no to other people if I think it won't work. But if somebody's saying no to me, it's about why. I do have a bad reputation [of not taking no for an answer] and it's funny," she said.
Her "dear friend" Shane Fitzsimmons, the then NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner who helped the state face unprecedented bushfires and subsequent loss and death during the summer 2019-20, even has trouble saying no to this determined Wollongong woman.
She has his number on speed dial and suspects he'd say "you never say no to Dot".
"When I ring him up he'll say 'Dot, what do you want?'," she laughed.
Mrs Hennessy joined Rotary in 1993, it was only a couple of years after women were finally allowed into what was had been a men's club.
She worked for years in vocational education and training at Tafe, and in her time off she forged change through voluneering.
In 2010 she created the Pride of the Illawarra Awards (now called Rotary Emergency Services Community Awards NSW) to recognise the outstanding work of emergency services personnel.
"We were making opportunities happen that we didn't already have in place for the emergency services," she said.
Her goals from day one were for the awards to go national; to fund a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) scholarship; and to fund a vocational training team to go to a developing country in the Asia Pacific to train in disaster preparedness. She achieved all of those goals.
She created the Rotary Inspiration Women's Awards, and is involved in the Illawarra Vocational Training Awards, and a polio vaccination program in India. She's also had scholarships named in her honour, and received an OAM in 2017.
Mrs Hennessy is one of only a handful of people in NSW to have received three sapphire pins as a Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary's highest honour.
Among all her work and volunteering commitments, she's also mother to Robert and has four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Her beloved husband Bob occasionally quips about how busy his wife is, and how her mobile phone's always ringing. But, it's all said in jest, he's her biggest supporter.
It's one of the most humbling honors to be able to do this.- Dot Hennessy
He's been to more Rotary events than he can remember, and he brims with joy about her achievements.
As she pours another cup of tea and explains the fruit in the slice she's served to us has been soaking in port for 12 months, Mrs Hennessy grabs a bundle of folders, certificates and brochures on the table to help explain her other passions and achievements.
As a PCYC NSW board member she helps represent managers of the state's 66 clubs. Lately, she's busy organising a Windeward Bound sailing voyage in September, it's a PCYC youth development program.
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"It's life changing, they do 10 days of working on the ship, it's not a holiday," she said.
"It's one of the most humbling honors to be able to do this."
So why do it all you may ask? That's easy, she said. It's the joy of meeting people, hearing their stories and getting to know them.
"You just do it because you love doing things to help other people and make a difference," she said.
"I'm very purpose driven, if you're going to do something, you've got to have outcomes. You've got to be able to make it happen and you've got to have your passion to see it through."
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