Beautiful hand-crafted Mother’s Day cards have become synonymous with the School’s Kirsten Jack Memorial Leukaemia Committee (KJMLC). Each year as we approach Mother’s Day, members of the School community begin to ask when they might be available. The cards are consciously left empty so each student can fill them with their own unique, handwritten sentiments. The messages of love and gratitude shared in these cards reflect the core values of the committee.
Kirsten Jack—a beloved Girls Grammar student—was diagnosed with leukaemia just before Christmas in 1976 and, on 5 June 1977, she died. It was Kirsten’s joy for life and love for her friends that ultimately inspired the formation of the Kirsten Jack Memorial Leukaemia Committee. At that time, her BGGS friends rallied together to support and care for each other. Kirsten’s father reflected that:
Familial love apart, there is no closer relationship than that of a friend and Kirsten had many. During the course of her education … she came in close contact with three girls of similar age and outlook who became her special friends. These four young ladies lived a happy and healthy existence in each other’s company. They were a sparkling and vivacious quartet, full of promise for the future (Jack, 2001).
One member of that quartet, Clare Florence (1978), spoke at a Year 11 Assembly many years later, about the strength of the girls’ friendship, their love for each other, and the feeling that together they had to do something to make sense of what had happened to Kirsten.
Finding a cure for leukaemia was paramount in our minds. We started thinking of fundraising ideas to channel money into much needed research (Florence, 2009).
In 1977, Kirsten’s friends raffled ‘George’, an enormous stuffed dog, and held an Informal Dress Day to raise money for research into childhood leukaemia. In 1978, the committee met for the first time with Clare Florence (1978) as founding president and Mrs Mary Hukins as the first staff coordinator. In her 1978 School Magazine report, Clare offered a challenge to future Grammar girls:
Kirsten would have been in this year’s sixth form and when we have gone, perhaps another form will carry on Informal Dress Day for us, because leukaemia lives on … (Florence, 1978)
For 43 years, the committee has responded to Clare’s challenge, through raising funds for the Leukaemia Foundation, Queensland Cancer Council, Canteen, Childhood Cancer Support, and contributing to the work of various researchers.
As the Committee Coordinator from 2009 to 2020, I saw Kirsten’s legacy not only in terms of fundraising but also in relationships built and opportunities gained for girls to demonstrate their passion and leadership. At the beginning of each year, I watched girls design cards that would one day hold messages of love and appreciation. Some girls already knew one another, others made new friends and built bonds that, like those Kirsten and her friends shared, would last throughout their time at school and beyond.
I saw senior students welcome Year 7 students, creating a valued connection between some of our newest members of the School community. The oldest surviving Service club in the School not only preserves Kirsten’s memory and raises valuable funds, it creates valuable opportunities for mentoring and leadership.
The committee is now fondly referred to by many as simply ‘KJ’—an indication that the close bonds between Kirsten Jack and her friends are the reason it has endured for so long, an essence that Anna Blocksidge (1978) beautifully defined in her Year 11 Assembly speech in 2009:
It makes me very proud as an Old Girl to know that her journey might lead you to continue to help those who need it. But more importantly, remember to love dearly those friends who are dear—they make your life so full and rich (Blocksidge, 2009).
Dr Ann Farley
KJMLC Coordinator (2009 to 2020) and former staff member
Anderson, M. Griffiths, C. (2012). Magic moments in memory of Kirsten. Brisbane Girls Grammar School, School Magazine.
Blocksidge, A. (2009, August 4). Year 11 Assembly Address. Presented at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Brisbane.
Florence, C. (2009, August 4). Year 11 Assembly Address. Presented at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Brisbane
Florence, C. (1978). Informal Day 1978. Brisbane Girls Grammar School, School Magazine.
Jack, A. (2001). The Travelling Companion. Self-published Memoir Presented to the Beanland Memorial Library.