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‘High-flyers’ with a passion for eye research

CERA is grateful to late siblings Joan and John Garden for their generous bequest to support vision research.


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Joan Garden knew what it was like to experience vision problems, although that didn’t prevent her from living a full life.

The popular flight attendant, who later trained staff at Myer’s CBD store, lived with a benign brain tumour for many years.

It affected the sight in her left eye, so Joan, who also had issues with her other eye, wanted to support research to help others. After she died in August 2018, aged 79, her brother John ensured her wishes were carried out.

Both had attended CERA community information forums to learn about our programs.

When John, who also worked for an airline (TAA) died in September 2020, aged 88, he left a significant donation to CERA on behalf of Joan. It was a generous gesture from siblings who lived full and rich lives during the heyday of air travel.

Both were born and grew up in Kew, in Melbourne’s leafy east. Their older sister, Mary, was the only sibling who married. Sadly, Mary and her husband, Gordon Morris, both died relatively young.

Instilling good values

John worked for TAA and spent many years preparing staff rosters in Papua New Guinea, before returning to Melbourne.

As a QANTAS flight attendant, Joan saw the world and chaperoned children who travelled alone. She loved it and her penchant for manners and etiquette made her ideal for a later training role with the airline.

After being diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, Joan had the first of two operations – its position made it impossible to fully remove.

She continued to work part-time as a staff trainer at Myer in Melbourne’s CBD, and enjoyed instilling her values and knowledge in the next generation.

Eventually Joan’s sight deteriorated, and she suffered from double vision. This sparked an interest in CERA’s development of treatments for a range of eye conditions.

Two lives well-lived

When their parents died about 40 years ago, Joan and John moved to Deepdene. Neither drove a car, so they walked or relied on taxis or lifts with close friends Phillip and Michele Russell.

Phillip’s older sister, Josie Gayther, was close friends with Joan and another primary school classmate, Bev Speed. Their lifelong friendship included Joan being Phillip’s godmother, as both families were Catholic.

Phillip remembers that Joan was always immaculately presented and wore nice jewellery. “She got on well with people and everyone liked her,” he says.

Despite having access to discount air fares with TAA, John liked nothing more than travelling on cargo ships, which allow a small number of paying passengers.

He’d have his own room and the run of the ship as it headed to Asia, Africa, or the Americas.

The siblings were also known for their elaborate Christmas Day spreads. Joan would cook a five-course meal and prepare a written menu for the guests, which she kept in an album with a photo from the day.

John didn’t cook much but when Joan went into care, he soon began whipping up gourmet meals for himself and cakes for Joan and others. “He used to make these cakes and they were delicious,” Phillip says.

A young Joan Garden holding Phillip Russell when he was a baby.
A lasting legacy

While Joan’s health declined in later years, she and John stayed active in their community and enjoyed gardening at their unit.

John was known to walk five kilometres to Bunnings in Hawthorn if he needed something. “John walked everywhere,” Phillip says. “And I mean everywhere and, at a great pace!”

Despite living with prostate cancer and his own eye problems for many years, John continued to care for Joan. When Joan said she wanted to provide for CERA and other charities in her will, John carried her wishes out in his.

Among other things they also supported the Mission to Seafarers, St Vincent de Paul’s homelessness program, the Catholic Priests Retirement Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) and Mercy Ships.

Both will be remembered for their generosity and community spirit.

If you’re considering leaving a gift in your will to advance CERA’s research, please call our Donor Relations Advisor, Elaine Levine, on 03 9929 8360 for a confidential discussion.

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