Saturday, August 13, 2011

My hero

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Joan and Charlie ......................... .............. .................. ....... Sally!

Some 7 or 8 years ago – I met a lady. I took one look and realised she was something special.

First and foremost, she loves animals, in fact had a companion dog that went everywhere with her. Secondly, she volunteers at the Austin Hospital a minimum of 5 days a week and is there Christmas Day also, loving, and laughing with the patients. Thirdly, she endures the after-effects of polio, which means she relies on a ventilator for every life-giving breath. Thirdly she is confined to a wheelchair.

Every day of every week, she is lifted out of bed and every day she is thinking of someone other than herself.

Her name is Joan Gillespie and she is my hero. Joan was born in 1937 and in that same year contracted Polio. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that Joan left the numerous hospitals she called home and moved in with her partner John. Soon after full-time employment was no longer an option with the worsening effects of polio taking a toll on her body. About the same time technology caught up with Joan and allowed her to continue to work full-time in a voluntary capacity, with the provision of a portable ventilator.

Joan volunteers once a month at Inner FM (96.5FM) radio in Melbourne, along with her partner John. Joan is also a member of the Polio Advisory Committee, who meet once a month and discuss and advise on issues relating to Polio.

Joan goes shopping for patients at the Austin Hospital and the adjoining nursing home, because (as Joan says) ‘They can’t get out, like I can.”

As we have both have a love of animals, Joan asked me to do her a favour. Joan knew that her dog Sally was struggling to keep up with her and she asked if I could perhaps find a dog that might replace Sally when her time was near.

I asked around my network and was offered two brothers, little Chihuahua Crosses. I couldn’t make the choice for Joan. So I organised for the dogs to be bought to the Austin Hospital for Joan to see if she liked either dog. After much debate and what ifs and maybes, Joan settled on the less dominant of the pair. This little boy had been abandoned and was a little timid, but had a lovely temperament. I organised for this little guy to come home with me on the weekend.

He spent a week at my place, where I tried so hard to stay remote from him, but alas 6 years later it appears that I failed.

He was named Charlie and helped Joan with the loss of her Sally and is trying hard to fill the space that Sally left.

Today Joan and I were laughing at his antics, and I realised that Charlie helps Joan and Joan helps Charlie. The two are a match made in heaven.

Joan is my hero. If you are ever at the Austin Hospital and you see a lady in a wheelchair with a little dog walking beside her. Say hello and remember that without people like Joan, the world would be a sadder place.

Thank-you Joan for giving me permission to publish this.


  1. Hail to Joan - she really is a saint.

    Hail to you for introducing us to Joan and all the other Joan's of this world


  2. joan sadly die last saturday july 14 2012, aged 75 year . i the brief time i knew her i found she was an outstanding and most of all, a beautiful person. she was duely honoured last year by being awarded senior victorian of the year nominated by the veteran community. i had the fortunate to be in attendance when she received her award from the governor of victoria. what a joyful day it was! vale joan. she now soars with the angels. condolences to john, her loving husband. ray jordan and all the vet community, especially OVPS group repat melbourne.

  3. Oh Ray - you were privileged to know Joan and to have been at the awards ceremony, WOW.

    Joan does soar with the angels and no doubt will receive her wings in a very short time. I believe those that knew Joan, were better for it.

    I have followed up on this post after I John advised me of Joans passing.

    I will be at the memorial ceremony on Monday. A fitting tribute, for such a giving, beautiful, loving person who is now at peace.

    Thank-you for leaving your memories of Joan.

    Thank-you Ray