By Kath Gannaway
Jeanne Wilcox was a champion for Australian wildlife.
For those who were fortunate to know and love her, she was more than that. Jeanne was a champion for life in all its glory – animals, people and the environment.
Jeanne had already lived a full life by the time the family moved to Yarra Ranges, opening an antique/second-hand shop in Monbulk in her fifties and then taking on a role of volunteer manager of the Judith Eardley Save Wildlife Centre in Healesville in 2003.
For locals and the thousands of visitors who found their way through the magical green doors of the wildlife centre, Jeanne was the pint-sized lady with the welcoming smile and authentic belief in the purpose of the not-for-profit book and second-hand shop.
The eldest daughter of Leonard and Dorothy Bretherton, Jeanne Affra Bretherton was born on 10 August, 1944.
She was a good student and won a scholarship at high school, but chose instead to start work in a bank in Melbourne.
The offer of a lift to work from a young man named Pat Wilcox sparked a romance and the couple were married on 15 February, 1962.
Moving to Deniliquin, Jeanne and Pat worked on a sheep farm and welcomed their family. Michael was their first-born, a year later came Christopher and a year after that Cathie.
On her 21st birthday, Jeanne had three littlies under three … and a clothesline constantly full of nappies. After some respite from toddlerdom, Danny, their youngest, arrived eight years later.
Life was happy and spontaneous with music, dancing, partying and impromptu holidays all part and parcel of family life.
With two children still at home, Pat and Jeanne returned to Melbourne and opened a number of garden centres with Jeanne at the same time studying horticulture.
Sadly, Pat passed away in 1994.
Gathered at Le Pine Funerals in Healesville on 14 June, family and friends paid tribute and heard of Jeanne’s passion for life and her penchant for living in the moment.
She loved the colour red, eschewed rules and regulations, and didn’t take herself too seriously. She was a carer by nature, and was free with her warm laughter, and infectious giggle.
Co-manager of the wildlife centre and close friend of Jeanne, Peter Hannaford, paid tribute saying she quickly made a big impact on the charity.
They discovered a deep and mutual passion for saving Australian wildlife, and worked together tirelessly to raise money to set up wildlife reserves for endangered animals and birds.
Jeanne’s favourite was the red-tailed black cockatoo – but she loved them all.
Peter said the impact Jeanne had on the charity was not surprising. “She usually made a big impact on whatever she undertook,” he said.
“At five feet tall, people who didn’t know Jeanne could make the mistake of underestimating her,” he said recalling how, on just her second day as a volunteer at the shop, she challenged a dealer who tried to tell her what he would pay for certain items he’d collected around the store.
“Jeanne raised herself up an extra inch to five foot one and told the would-be-opportunist exactly what he was going to pay …and why.
“He hurriedly paid the correct money and left somewhat shaken,” Peter said.
In her first year, the shop became a business and profits doubled.
“She loved the work and in many ways was the heart and soul of the shop,” Peter said.
He spoke with emotion of her warmth and flair, saying she always wore colourful, beautiful and artistic clothes.
An initiative of Jeanne’s was the “Dogs Welcome” sign.
“Dogs were especially welcome when Jeanne was at work,” Peter said, adding that dogs would drag their owners into the shop and search the shop for Jeanne if she wasn’t at the front desk.
“We at the wildlife centre found Jeanne to be a remarkable woman who had a fulfilled and wonderful life,” he said.
As much as Jeanne loved her work, family was her first priority, and her greatest love.
She was unstinting in her love for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Nonetheless, family members said no-one got away with anything. If you were in trouble with mum, you knew it!
Jeanne suffered a stroke in 2016 and having said goodbye to her family, passed away on 6 June, 2017 at Maroondah Hospital.
Jeanne is survived by Michael, Christopher, Cathie and Danny and their partners, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The wildlife centre is looking to fund a new $500,000 wildlife reserve which will be named the Jeanne Wilcox Reserve, and contributions can be made at the shop.