Joeys celebrates respect, equality and recognition of women

Posted on March 9, 2020

Gail O’Brien shares her uplifting story of spiritual discovery on International Women’s Day

 “Like every woman and girl, I do have my own story – it is a story of love and family, of resilience, and finding your purpose in the world …”

The Joeys community celebrated International Women’s Day today with an inspirational address to the boys from Gail O’Brien AO, board member and patient advocate at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

Mrs O’Brien, wife of the late and celebrated cancer surgeon Professor Chris O’Brien, talked about the devastating loss of her husband in 2009 to a brain tumour and, two years later, her son Adam to a seizure in his sleep.

“I am not telling you this as a story of grief, though it certainly is that; rather I want to tell you what I gained, as well as what I lost. It’s not a story of falling down; it’s one of falling up,” she told Headmaster’s Assembly.

Mrs O’Brien said the Franciscan author Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, wrote that life-changing events such as those she had experienced feel like rocky terrain, but in fact are stepping stones towards a deeper understanding of your own soul.

Following her husband’s death, Mrs O’Brien was instrumental in realising his dream of a comprehensive cancer hospital, the Lifehouse, now in its seventh year.

“After 20 years focused on my family and my husband’s brilliant career, I re-entered the workforce and returned to physiotherapy, and accepted a position on the board of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse,” she said.

“I walk the wards of the Lifehouse every day as the patient advocate, grateful to use my gifts of experience and insight to help create a health system that is more compassionate, holistic and hopeful.”

She told the boys that everyone must face disappointments and setbacks. “We will make mistakes, we will lose control, our hearts will be broken, sometimes we will fail, sometimes we will fall, but remember, every time that you fall down, it is an opportunity to fall upwards,” she said.

“In everything you do, you can ask yourself, what can I learn from this, what am I missing? And if we take our cue from International Women’s Day, we can ask, what wrong can I right, what can I change? Remember that [International Women’s Day] theme, ‘Each for Equal’, challenging each of us to do our bit to create a better world.”

Oliver Scott in Year 12 thanked Mrs O’Brien on behalf of the Joeys boys. “As a community of young men, we are ever mindful that we are the generation that can implement change for the future around respect, equality and recognition of women.”