The ties that bind

Allan Myers has never forgotten the start in life he received from Melbourne Law School and his generous support has helped change the lives of countless students and academics.

Sitting in his office on a hot summer morning, Allan Myers shares his absolute belief in the benefits of education.

"An education is second to having good parents, I suppose. It is the second best opportunity you can have for a good start in life," he says.

It is that philosophy that has driven Myers and his wife, Maria, to become philanthropists, and much of their generosity has been directed to education. For more than a decade, Melbourne Law School has been one of several recipients. A better library, more research and an exchange program have been made possible because of the couple.

Myers says he gives to Melbourne because he wants one really outstanding institution in Australia that represents best values.

He was a student at Melbourne Law School between 1964 and 1969. He was also a member of the faculty for 20 years.

As a graduate, he went to Oxford University in 1971, where he did his BCL. In 1973, he went back to Oxford for a term as a Visiting Fellow.

The ties he established between the two universities gave Myers the idea to start and fund a student and academic exchange between Melbourne and Oxford. This program is now being replicated around the world.

"I did it because Oxford approached me and asked me to be on a committee to raise funds for the Oxford Law School. And I said I wasn't prepared to give no-strings-attached money to Oxford," he says.

"The idea of the Melbourne–Oxford thing is not so much to help Oxford as to provide opportunities for young Australians to go to Oxford to study law and also to provide exchanges for academics."

Myers says he gives money to the Law School because it is the right thing to do, and it produces results that are worthwhile because it benefits others.

Allan Myers is now well off, though it wasn't always that way.

He grew up in the country, in the town of Dunkeld in western Victoria during the 1950s and 1960s. As the son of a butcher, his father told him there was no future in the country and suggested the young Allan should stay at school and go to university. His father also planted the seed that he should become a lawyer.

Myers was able to do so through a generous Commonwealth Scholarship, becoming the first in his family to get a tertiary degree.

He says at Melbourne he had teachers who gave him a great start. His career as a lawyer has provided him with a very good living, and a "respectable position in society".

Now he is returning the favour, although he is quick to point out he is not 'giving back'.

"I didn't take anything. Giving back sounds as if you are paying a debt."

Instead, he prefers to think of his philanthropy as giving opportunities, and he hopes other people, younger generations, will follow his example.

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 1, March 2009.