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Over 60 years of drive for change

MS is a complex autoimmune condition that’s historically been poorly understood.

MS Plus was first known as the MS Society of Australia. The MS Society of Australia was founded in 1956 to drive public awareness and find the cause of and cure for MS. It was the first MS society in Australia and the fourth in the world – only eight years after the first society started in New York, USA.

In its first decade, the organisation was run from the home of founder Ron Phillips. Through the tireless efforts of many, public awareness of MS increased, and fundraising paved the way for new offices and treatment facilities.

Fast forward to today and MS Plus has become a leading source of information, advice and support for people affected by MS and other neurological conditions. Now a combined entity of the ACT, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, we offer vital support and services including allied health, employment support, NDIS services, expert advice, wellbeing programs and peer support. We also fundraise for research into better treatments and ultimately one-day a cure for MS

About our pioneer: Ron Phillips

Ronald Alfred Phillips’ remarkable life was marked by two primary interests. The first was the Australian Navy, which he joined at the age of 13. The second was the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, which he helped form in 1956, and where he worked strenuously until his death ten years later.

After entering the navy as a cadet in 1922 and studying engineering, Phillips trained as an engineer in England, where he met his wife, Florence Beatrice Lyle. Here, he would also be appointed as a Sub-Lieutenant. Upon returning to Australia, he joined HMAS Canberra, spent three years at the Flinders Naval Depot, and did a tour on duty on the cruiser HMAS Sydney.

Phillips’ journey with MS

Phillips first experienced symptoms of MS when little was known about the condition. At the outbreak of war in 1939, he was engaged in Sydney dockyard duties as a Lieutenant and Third Assistant to the Engineer Manager. He worked night and day, converting merchant ships to fighting ships and doing repairs and alterations to warships. It was under this enormous pressure that Phillips first experienced double vision – a common symptom of MS.

Assuming it was due to overwork, Phillips ignored this symptom and continued dedicating himself to his duties. In July 1940, he joined the HMAS Australia as Lieutenant-Commander – a ship he actively served on until 1944. He was then appointed to HMAS Adelaide as Acting Commander, before shortly being promoted to Commander a few short months later. Phillips was reportedly the youngest in the Navy at the time. At the end of 1945, he was Base Engineer Officer in Darwin.

While his episodes of double vision increased, other alarming symptoms appeared, causing distress and misunderstanding. With the loss of balance and muscle spasms in his legs, rumours circulated about his sobriety, revealing the lack of understanding around this condition at the time. In spite of his symptoms, Phillips continued to serve in the Navy.

From diagnosis to establishing the MS Society of Australia

It wasn’t until late 1956 when Phillips was formally diagnosed with MS. In January 1957, he was invalided out of the Navy.

“It now seems certain that the earlier attack of double vision was followed by a remission that lasted until the war was over. He may have been worried about other early MS symptoms but if he was, he kept his concern to himself and continued to go about his duties quietly and efficiently."

Ron’s wife speaking in 1971.

Right from the MS Society’s first years, Phillips focused on providing world-class facilities and funding research into the cause and cure of MS. In fact, the society’s first fundraising appeal funded the first research grant to Professor Lance Prince Henry Hospital’s neurological science unit in 1963. He was also instrumental in establishing a physiotherapy treatment unit and hostel in Cammeray, where he also received treatment.

Ron Phillips passed away in 1966, leaving behind a legacy that continues today.

Key milestones over the years 

MS Plus was founded in Sydney (known as the Australian Multiple Sclerosis Society Inc at the time).

  • The first general meeting of the Australian Multiple Sclerosis Society Inc is held. The board comprised of:
    • President: The Reverend S.A. McDonald OBE
    • Vice Presidents: Commander S.T.M. Gower RAN and James Godfrey
    • Honorary Treasurer: Mr Neville Harding
    • Honorary Secretary (and effectively the Chief Executive): Ron Phillips
  • The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Victoria (MSSV) forms.
    • President: Mr C. Nicholls
    • Honorary Secretary: Mrs Kathy Fitzgerald.
  • The treatment centre, physiotherapy treatment unit and hostel open in Cammeray, NSW.
  • Paddy Phillips establishes the Society’s Women’s Auxiliary (now fundraising branches) in NSW.
  • The Tasmanian MS Society forms.
  • The National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia (now MSA) is formed by all the state MS societies.
  • President: Simon Resch (VIC) and the Secretary and the Executive Director of MSNSW: Ken Donahue
  • The Australian MS Society changes its name to the MS Society of New South Wales.
  • The R.A. Phillips Rehabilitation Unit in NSW is purchased.
  • Multiple Sclerosis Society of the ACT forms (formally named in 1983).
  • The MS Society is granted 6.5 hectares of land at Lidcombe, NSW to construct a 50-bed nursing home, activity therapy centre and hostel.
  • Led by Chairman John Studdy, the Western Region Project at Lidcombe is officially opened in October.
  • MS ACT opens its headquarters in Deakin, named Gloria McKerrow House after its principal donor.
  • MSNSW locates its head office in Kent St, Sydney.
  • Lidcombe facility is renamed the MS Studdy Centre in honour of John Studdy, recognising his tireless work for people affected by MS at a state and national level
  • The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Victoria (MSSV) sells its Camberwell property and purchases its current headquarters in Blackburn.
  • The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Victoria’s (MSSV) Lifestyle Planning Service begins operations.
  • MSNSW and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Victoria (MSSV) merge and become known as Multiple Sclerosis Limited (MSL).
  • MS ACT merges with MSL.
  • MS Tasmania merges with MSL.
  • The National Disability Insurance Scheme is introduced in Australia and MSL begins offering NDIS services.
  • MSL changes its name to MS Plus and expands its service offering beyond multiple sclerosis to include people living with other neurological conditions.
  • MS Plus acquires Nursing Port Stephens Pty Ltd and extends its services to My Aged Care recipients.

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