It was with sadness and an enormous sense of loss that the members of the Auckland Women’s Health Council learnt of the death of our friend and colleague, Jo Fitzpatrick, on the 15th of March, 2018. Although we knew she had experienced recent poor health, we were unaware of how serious this was, and her death has been a shock. It was not Jo’s intention to not communicate the seriousness of her illness to her friends and colleagues; she wanted to tell people personally, but she became too sick, too quickly, and the shock that is felt by many members of the wider women’s health community is felt by us all.
Jo’s association with the Auckland Women’s Health Council goes back to the days, when as Director of Women’s Health Action, she provided a place for AWHC to hold its meetings. Jo joined the AWHC committee in 2004, and she and her partner Alan also provided a meeting place in their home in Mangere for several years. Their hospitality was always warm and welcoming; we left nourished from Alan’s soups.
In talking among ourselves and with others close to Jo, as both friends and colleagues, what shines through was Jo’s sense of humour, her cheerfulness and vibrant dress sense, her loyalty as a friend and her warmth. Even those of us who had known her for shorter periods and had spent less time working with her, felt supported and welcomed into the women’s health community.
Jo was an astute judge of the political processes/dynamics that occurred at the various meetings or within the health system. She had integrity and stood firm on issues and in her values. She brought humour and scholarship to the table. Her ability to interpret information quickly and provide direction to us was invaluable to the AWHC.
Jo was a very loyal friend and was especially close to Lynda Williams, through good times (Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan concerts) and bad (supporting Lynda throughout her illness), and Jo’s sudden death has heightened our sense of loss in the last year. Jo helped care for Lynda at the end of her life and was so gentle and loving. Jo knitted a number of things for Lynda, including a beautiful pair of soft slippers for her, which she put on her and gently massaged her tiny sore body. We were so grateful for the care and love our dear friend Jo showed our dear friend Lynda and wish we could have returned to her a little of what she gave to Lynda.
Jo was a woman who lit up the room with personality, intelligence and humour. She will be deeply missed by us all, not only for her in-depth contribution and insight into issues but, also for her warm friendship.
Our thoughts are with Jo’s sister, Jill, partner Alan, and their families.
The eulogy for Jo Fitzpatrick presented by Ruth Bonita on behalf of many women in the women’s health movement in general, and the Cartwright Collective in particular, provides a glimpse into her remarkable life:
We are all deeply saddened, and deeply shocked, to be farewelling Jo Fitzpatrick today.
It is almost impossible to believe that someone as vital and alive as Jo, has died, especially so suddenly, and without an opportunity for each of us to say our goodbyes. It was not as she wished. As she said to Jill in the last few days of her life, the race ran faster than predicted.
Today – and in days, months, and years to come – we will remember the myriad ways in which Jo made a difference in so many fields and areas. She was a very principled woman who lived her life accordingly; she investigated issues fully, was always ethical and she never put herself before put the issue or the cause. She did things with a lot of grace and intelligence; she was warm, gentle and kind; and above all, Jo stood up for social justice and fairness and equal opportunities.
Jo’s strengths were that she networked widely and thought carefully about the big issues and then found her own niche through becoming actively involved as a consumer representative in high policy level working groups for many key health system-planning activities. She brought her formidable consumer lens to a wide range of issues including:
- organ donation, and assisted reproductive technology (ECART);
- internet connectivity across the health sector including electronic health records and patient portal developments, being on the Consumer Panel of the National IT Board;
- chairing the NGO-Ministry of Health Working Party on the Regional Shared Care Project Consumer Empowerment Group;
- being on the Board of Diabetes NZ and bringing her personal experience with diabetes and her professional expertise in Governance to the organisation.
It would be impossible to include all the tributes that have flowed in, but these comments from Diabetes NZ, are reflected in statements from many others:
“Jo was insightful, shrewd, perceptive, as well as understanding. And when she was fired up about something she would reveal those qualities that we remember her for – being strong, powerful and committed. Her passion and commitment were driven by her deep-seated values. No wonder she made such a compelling consumer advocate.”
She was a true watchdog on behalf of consumers, and voiced her opinions on issues ranging from direct to consumer advertising of drugs, the high cost of medicines and cosmetic surgery, to doctors’ professional standards. Jo was very positive about the recent progress being made in the development of the Northern Region’s Roadmap for their Information-Systems Strategic Plan. In the digital health area she set a high bar such that the acceptance of consumer participation in programmes of development will be the norm going forward.
As Craig Reid from the National Electronic Health Record said:
“Continuing this work with a consumer perspective as a key driver for change is one way we can acknowledge the huge effort Jo made over many years”.
This is, indeed, a lasting legacy.
So many groups, so many organisations, so many people thrilled to have Jo bring her significant experience and wisdom to the issues that she was most passionate about. Perhaps the best person to describe Jo’s abilities, qualities and values, is Jo herself! She described her key strengths as follows:
“I have,” she writes in her extensive CV:
“a strong commitment to the right to health and human rights for all people, and to protecting and promoting NGO participation in the health sector; a belief that inequality and discrimination are addressed by education and empowerment; the ability and stamina to achieve challenging goals in challenging environments.”
She certainly demonstrated the latter. The value of her wider contributions, especially to women’s health, were reflected in three NGOs in particular; as a long standing and highly valued member of Auckland Women’s Health Council committee, as director of Women’s Health Action, and as an integral member of the Cartwright Collective.
In her plenary address at a seminar on the Legacy of Cartwright marking the 25th anniversary of the Cartwright Report, Jo demonstrated her brilliant writing and oratory skills – the talk was called In the Valley of the Missing Link, quoting from her beloved Bob Dylan. She summed up this major presentation on progress in the consumer experience since the Cartwright Inquiry, by saying loud and clearly:
“There has been very little ceding of power to consumers in health in the last 25 years. We need more consumer advocates in many more places in health. Consumer representation is not a competitive sport, we can all bring our experiences and advocacy to the role”.
And she ended it this way –
“My first title for this presentation was The Consumer Experience: A Lifesaver. Why? – because lifesavers are the candy with the hole in the middle. And a life ring needs a consumer at its centre if we are to save lives. To fulfil the promise of Cartwright and save our lives, consumers need to fill that hole.”
She called for action, and in honour of Jo, it is up to us to respond. On behalf of the many people who have contributed to this tribute, may I extend our deepest sympathy to Jill and Alan, her dearly beloved.
Jo, it may seem to you as if we have been talking about you in the past tense. Be reassured this is not the case. We are talking with you. You are with us now. And will be with us into the future – those of us gathered here today [at her funeral] and the many, many others whose lives you have influenced. We will always carry you in our hearts. Go well, Jo.