“It’s always nice to be in the company of Chris Hemsworth.’’
With the type of gag that would have cracked-up the public bar back in the days when she worked in her parents’ pub, Sarah Kelly has received the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to Tertiary Education and Sport.
That mixture of humility and humour has served the Lions well since Kelly became a director in 2014 at the end of a messy board spill that had threatened to tear the Club apart.
Since 2017 Kelly has served as deputy to Chairman Andrew Wellington who says her boundless enthusiasm and positivity, coupled with a peerless insight into sport marketing and law, had made a profound impact on the Lions.
“She has made a fantastic contribution to the Lions,’’ he said.
“She came on the board at a really challenging time and was really instrumental in helping the Club get back on its feet.
“She is passionate about our entire football club, but I think in particular she was a really strong and passionate supporter of our AFLW program.’’
The former commercial lawyer fills her days as an Associate Professor in Law and Marketing at the University of Queensland and co-leads a research hub at UQ in Trust, Ethics and Governance. She is also a visiting fellow at Loughborough University Institute of Sport, London.
Any spare time is taken up with a variety of board positions with Tourism and Events Queensland, Events Management Queensland, The Gregory Terrace Foundation and the Wandering Warriors. She was recently appointed to the role of Queensland Chapter Leader for the Minerva Network, a national social enterprise concerned with providing mentoring by C-suite women to professional sportswomen.
On paper she reads as a turbo-charged high-achiever who can now add the OAM to a list of post-nominals longer than a Daniel Rich drop-punt.
In person, she’s warm, laid back and funny.
Declan Kelly doesn’t know how she does it.
As a prominent QC with Chambers in Australia and Singapore, he is at home in high pressure environments and no stranger to burning the midnight oil.
But he readily admits he can’t hold a candle to his wife. He recalls the early days of their marriage when she would work long into the night on her PhD thesis so there would be no intrusion on family time with their four toddlers.
In the following years he marveled as Sarah appeared to effortlessly juggle the demands of her blossoming career with an even greater passion - boundary barracker at countless kids sporting events.
“She’s quite remarkable,’’ he said with justifiable pride.
“Her time management is exceptional, but she also has so much passion and a great interest in people and she just manages to fit everything in without ever appearing to be flustered.
“Kids sport, parent teacher interviews that sort of thing, she never missed one and even with her role at University she will always find the time to take a call and talk to a student.
“Fundamentally she is a people person, her mum and dad owned pubs and she has that easy manner that helps her relate to people.
“I know she has made a major difference in the lives of a lot of her students just with the support she offers them or the bit of advice at the right time that has a really positive impact on their careers.
“I think she gets great satisfaction from that.’’
Rather than a round of well-deserved back slapping when the letter from the Governor general arrived last week, he said Sarah met the news of her Queen’s Birthday Honour with gratitude to the various academics and colleagues she credits with helping her throughout her career.
“I think she was genuinely surprised and humbled, but I think she would also see it as reflecting on the people she has worked with at University and the culture at the Brisbane Lions,’’ he said.
“She feels like she has had the opportunity to be mentored by some exceptional people at the Lions, especially Mick Power and Leigh Matthews.
“They gave her the opportunity to become involved in the Lions, which has become a passion for her, and I know she is incredibly grateful.’’
For Sarah Kelly, discussing education, sport and in particular opportunities for female athletes is as natural as eating a pie at the footy.
But asking her to expand on her achievements? Let’s just say Grand Final MVP. Kate Lutkins’ opponents would find it easier to get a kick.
“It just didn’t seem real to get a letter from the Governor General, the thought flashed through my mind that someone might have been playing a joke on me’’ she admits.
“It was overwhelming, and I was really humbled to be in the company of Australians who work really hard to make our community a getter place.
“How on earth am I on the list with such company?
“My entire career, post being a commercial lawyer, has been around sport and education because I see them as two critical platforms for our society, I honestly believe that.
“I suppose I didn’t see this recognition coming because I’m not driven by that, which I think is like most Australians.
“There is a lot of energy I give each day to what I do, and I absolutely would not stop because the role education and sport plays in helping people really resonates with me, that’s what drives me.’’