Vale, Connie Johnson - Speech, Federation Chamber



On Wednesday, 10 May, this year, 5c pieces glittered in the autumn sun in Canberra as 25,000 Canberrans gathered to toss 5c pieces into a huge heart of coins on one of the netball courts. As Megan Doherty put it:

"By nightfall, the heart had become a big silver lake of hope and generosity."

In addition to the $300,000 raised in coins, there was an additional nearly $2 million raised for the purpose of 'cancer vanquishment'.

The woman who organised this was Connie Johnson. She had contracted cancer in 2009 and spent nearly 10 of her 40 years battling cancer. She launched the charity organisation Love Your Sister in 2012 to raise money for breast cancer research through the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. She worked with her brother, Logie-winning actor Samuel Johnson, who rode on a unicycle around Australia to raise money for cancer research. The heart on the Lyneham netball court was Connie Johnson's attempt to top her brother's extraordinary fundraising effort.

The coins were thrown in the air alongside Connie; Samuel; her sons, Willoughby and Hamilton; and her 'partner in life' Mike Johnson. Connie did a coin angel on the Lyneham netball courts.

She was a former disability support worker and manager. She was somebody who organised the Big Heart Project around her kitchen table in her Kaleen home. She packed the merchandise from there and organised the phone calls and the emails from that modest house in the Canberra suburbs.

She not only noted, occasionally, the unfairness of having to fight cancer but also was extraordinarily philosophical about it. She told Megan Doherty:

'In a way we're all terminal and we're all going to die. We have the now and we have to do something with it.'

She also said:

'I would like to say that I've never been as proud to be a Canberran as I am now. You guys, whether you helped out on the day, whether you helped leading up, whether you were on the committee or a sponsor, every single thing you did, … came together in that massive 80-metre heart.'

Connie died last Friday and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia at a hospice bed in Clare Holland House by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.

She said in her final days:

'If you haven't got a selfie yet, I'd suggest tonight might be the last to do it.'

Vale Connie Johnson, whose extraordinary efforts and sense of humour made us all better.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.