Vale Joan Yeo

Today I pay tribute to the life of Joan Yeo, who died in the early hours of 9 October, of motor neurone disease, at her house in Bowral. She was 72. She was surrounded by her husband, Phil, and daughters, Claire and Fleur, joined shortly thereafter by her son, John, who flew home from London.

Joan was a stalwart and much-loved member of the Southern Highlands branch of the Labor Party for over 40 years. She was a dedicated member throughout the seventies and eighties, and, even when the numbers were small and the finances were thin, Joan was always there to do her bit. She was a strong woman and she was passionate: passionate about her politics and passionate about the rights of women. She did not just talk the talk; she walked the walk. She was involved in everything over her life.

She joined the Labor Party in 1972, inspired, like so many of her generation, by the Whitlam revolution. When the Whitlam education reforms gave her a second chance at education, she studied by remote education to finish a degree in French at the University of New England. She achieved high distinctions and was awarded the 'most outstanding external student' in her graduating year. They were certainly right. Joan was an extraordinary woman, an outstanding woman.

Through her life she worked as a teacher, she worked as a court officer in the Bowral and Moss Vale courts and she worked for over 13 years as the assistant coroner in the Southern Highlands. She was the first female president and secretary of the combined Southern Highlands branches of the Labor Party. She gained a place on merit on the hospital board and established the Southern Highlands branch of the Women's Electoral Lobby, where she met her dear friend Kerry Murray, who sadly passed away last year.

After being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in May 2012, Joan knew she did not have much time left with us, but she was not going to waste a moment. With her husband, Phil, Joan used her time to learn all that she could about the disease, and she was going to ensure that the over 1,900 people who are diagnosed with motor neurone disease living in Australia, and close to half a million people worldwide, could actually benefit from her energy. For them, the cause is unknown and the treatment is currently minimal. Joan knew that it did not have to be that way, so she participated in various research trials, awareness activities and support groups.

Joan's memorial service was held at the Bradman Museum in Bowral. It was attended by over 100 people. It is a great tribute to Joan that she was able to form and maintain many friendships over her long life. I want to pay particular tribute to Joan's dear friend Jan Merriman and to Joan's husband, Phil, who helped me in the preparation of this tribute.