Sister remembered for courage and commitment to justice
SISTER Jill Kennedy died peacefully in Lismore on May 25, 2019, aged 78 years after courageously managing a five-year cancer journey.
Jill was the second born of the five children of the late Jim and Pat Kennedy and was a much loved sister of Dorothy, Helen, Maria and Paul. She was born in Casino on December 12, 1940, and her first few years of life were spent on the family dairy farm at Bottle Creek. Jill attended Bottle Creek Primary School until her parents sold their farm in 1947 and moved to Lismore. Following this move Jill attended Our Lady Help of Christians School in South Lismore and St Carthage's Primary School. She completed her secondary education at St Mary's College in Lismore.
In 1955, at age 15, tennis became a new and all-embracing interest in Jill's life. She was selected twice to represent the NSW North Coast in selective coaching schools for talented high potential young tennis players. She was subsequently selected to represent the North Coast and play in several Country Week tournaments at White City in Sydney. With Averill Butler she won the Under 16 Country Girls Doubles Championship.
On completion of her secondary education in 1957, Jill received a Teachers' Scholarship to attend Teachers College in Armidale. However, by then she was serious about entering the Convent and decided not to take up the scholarship. For the next two years she worked at Carlton and Clarks Auctioneers and on February 2, 1960, she entered the Presentation Congregation in Lismore. She remained a loyal and committed Presentation Sister until her death.
In 1963, Jill began her teaching career in secondary schools in Murwillumbah, Tweed Heads and Lismore. She loved teaching and was very conscientious and determined to give her students every opportunity to learn. Her sense of humour came through to the students and many of them continued their relationships with her throughout her life. She was especially aware of disadvantaged families and provided practical support to them in an unassuming and private way. She was a strong advocate for the rights of women and promoted gender equality. Throughout her teaching career she helped many girls to believe that their gender was not a barrier to achieving success in life.
Jill was active in her local community and organised student volunteers over many years to doork-nock, complete walk-athons and participate in other activities to raise money for worthy causes. She was committed to helping her students understand and appreciate the sacrifices of service men and women and each year she trained over three hundred St Mary's College girls to march on Anzac Day in Lismore.
At the end of 1984, aged 44, she resigned from teaching and courageously made the decision to attend the University of Sydney and complete a Bachelor of Social Work degree. In 1989 Jill began her new career as a Social Worker at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. Her personality and skills were an excellent fit with crisis social work in a large public hospital and within a short time she was appointed as an emergency department social worker. She spent the next 17 years working in the emergency department supporting individuals and families dealing with unexpected emergencies, critical illness, dying and sudden death. Jill was always extremely generous to those in need and on many occasions was the only person at the graveside of a funeral for someone with no family.
At her farewell from Prince of Wales Hospital she was given an Outstanding Merit Award. This award acknowledged her outstanding contribution to the Social Work Department, her commitment to the provision of high quality care to patients, her team leadership, and her supervision of social work students and her valued membership of the leadership group. She was further acknowledged for her vital role in the coordination of the on-call service and as a domestic violence coordinator. Whatever she did, she gave her all to it with meticulous attention to detail.
Jill was a pragmatist and a down-to-earth and practical person. She loved organising and did it well. She held many positions of responsibility and leadership in schools, the hospital and the Presentation Congregation. She resigned from her social work role when she was elected to be the Presentation Congregational Leader in 2006 and returned to Lismore to live.
Jill was a forthright person who was never afraid to express her opinion even when that opinion was different from those around her. That took great courage and she used her voice to speak up for others and for justice. She was particularly committed to justice and equality for women.
At the end of 2011 Jill officially retired but she missed being busy and occupied and embarked on volunteer work. She sorted clothes at Lifeline, delivered meals for Meals on Wheels and spent many hours teaching two refugee women to drive and successfully obtain their driver's license.
In early 2014, Jill was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and she faced it with great courage and strength. She never complained about having cancer but lived life as fully as possible around the treatment and its side effects. She counted her blessings, calmly faced dying and talked about it openly. She inspired many people during this time and provided a great example of how to live with a terminal illness, to accept suffering and to face dying with courage and dignity.
In her final days Jill wrote that her favourite quote of Jesus was, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full" (John 10:10).
Jill Kennedy lived a very full and generous life of service and will be greatly missed by many.