Salvation Army's Jayne Wilson: Legacy of words, deeds

Earlier this year, while the Salvation Army’s Jayne Wilson was on a hospital bed getting chemotherapy for her cancer, she saved someone’s life.

It’s an example of how Mrs Wilson, who died of cancer in Wollongong Hospital on Christmas afternoon, would happily give her time to help others, whether it be through her work with the Salvation Army in Wollongong, as the police chaplain for Lake Illawarra or as a celebrant.

One day in August, when she was about to start a session of chemotherapy, she received a call on her mobile phone from a woman on Bulli Tops who was contemplating ending her life.

While treatment to try and save her own life began, Mrs Wilson stayed on the phone and talked the woman out of jumping then arranged for her to see other people who could help.

That woman who was on the phone is still alive and had met Mrs Wilson to thank her.

‘‘That’s the kind of woman she was,’’ said Salvation Army spokesman Bill Simpson.

‘‘In that circumstance, she had every right to say: ‘Look, I can’t do this. I’m about to have chemotherapy’, but she didn’t, she still spoke to the woman and did what had to be done.

‘‘We regarded her as a saint; she was quite remarkable.’’

That woman was one of many people touched by Mrs Wilson’s gentle heart, most of whom she helped through her work at the Salvation Army.

With a hospitality background, she first joined the Salvation Army shortly after it moved into the old Cleo’s Nightclub in Burelli Street.

There was a working bistro and kitchen and Mrs Wilson came on board to run a hospitality training program for unemployed people.

She noticed that many of those people had addiction issues and soon started an addiction counselling service to help them – but she didn’t stop there.

‘‘She noticed there was a lot of assistance for people with addiction issues but little for the families of the people who were in addiction,’’ Mr Simpson said.

‘‘So she started something that was quite new at the time. She started running support programs for the children of people in addiction, the partners and the parents, and the grandparents.’’

That was the known as the First Floor Restoration Program, which has since been replicated by the Salvation Army in Sydney, Canberra and Canada.

Salvation Army Wollongong Captain Ray Lotty said Mrs Wilson felt helping others was very important.

‘‘She was certainly a modest person but she did realise that the work that she was doing was work that was given to her by God and therefore was very important,’’ Captain Lotty said.

‘‘I can remember quite vividly Jayne saying that, for every person that is trapped in the cycle of addiction, there are 46 others that are also affected, and we’re here for all of them.’’

Mrs Wilson had been fighting cancer for nearly two years but had finished her treatment several months ago and returned to work.

She was on long-service leave and had just returned from a holiday with her husband, Vince, last week when she was feeling unwell and went back into hospital.

Captain Lotty said that Mrs Wilson’s death had come as quite a shock to those who knew her.

‘‘The people I’ve spoken to, that’s the words they’ve used – absolutely shocked,’’ Captain Lotty said.

‘‘I only spoke with her and prayed with her the evening before and Jayne is a real fighter – so it was quite a shock.’’

He said she would be remembered as ‘‘a lady that encouraged not only people with her words but with her life’’ and that her work would live on at the Salvos.

He said in one way she had left a hole but in another way her legacy would live on in the lives of her team through the encouragement and training she gave.

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