Canberra Girls Grammar School was sent into shock when its chaplain, the Reverend Dr David Willsher, died suddenly on July 20 last year, suffering a heart attack at home. He was 62.
A much-loved member of the school community, Dr Willsher was also a religion and philosophy teacher at the school.
His wife, the Reverend Jenny Willsher ("Rev Jen" to the kids), is now chaplain at Girls Grammar.
Jenny said her husband's parents had both suffered from heart disease but he had shown no symptoms of it.
"He just dropped dead. He'd never been sick. When they did the autopsy, there was evidence of other heart attacks but he didn't even realise he'd had them," she said.
"[The night he died], he'd just sat down to have some supper and just said, 'I feel dizzy'. I yelled out to my son and he was resuscitating him and they worked on him for too long, because he was gone straight way. And that was the way he wanted to go. Everything is terrible in many ways but there's good that came out of it. The last thing he ever wanted [in old age] was to have endless hospital visits or get dementia. He was too active and too get-up-and-go."
The couple had been married for 38 years. Their son Joshua is studying for a master of archaeological science at ANU. The first anniversary of her husband's death would not be easy.
"I have my moments but we've both worked in ministry nearly all our lives so death's not something we shy away from," Jenny said.
A former parish priest at Woden, Jenny said the chance to become the chaplain at the junior school had been a positive step forward.
"We both loved working with young people, so it just sort of came out of the blue and something that seemed really good to do," she said.
The Heart Foundation says heart disease is the second leading cause of death in the ACT, after dementia. On average, one person in Canberra dies from heart disease every single day.
The Girls Grammar students have, in their own way, been quietly supporting the work of the Heart Foundation to ensure fewer deaths from heart disease.
The junior campus of Girls Grammar has raised more than $50,000 over the last six years for the Heart Foundation through its Jump Rope for Heart program. Year 5 students raised $11,000 this year and gave a showcase of their skipping at school on Friday.
Year 5 teacher Richard Bond said it was a great effort as Jump Rope started this year when children were studying remotely from home during the coronavirus shutdown.
"Even with this weird term of 'we're here and we're not', they just always manage to rise to the occasion," Mr Bond said. "We didn't want to put the emphasis on fundraising in the current climate, it was more about fitness. But they still all got behind it."
Including children such as year 5 student Felicity Peppinick, 10, whose grandfather recovered from heart disease in 2018.
"It's very important to me as there are probably lots of good, healthy people out there who don't realise anything is wrong," she said.
"Rev Jen" was very moved by the effort.
"This school, the generosity of the kids and the enthusiasm of the kids, is amazing," Jenny said. "They just love doing things for other people."
Her message to others is simple. "I think just recognising that life's a gift. Being aware of your risk factors. I mean, to me, the biggest thing is raising money for research. You know, the more research we do, especially in regards to genetics, we'll be able to deal with it better. David wouldn't have got tested, he hated doctors."
The Heart Foundation says in relation to heart disease risk factors:
- Around 29 per cent of Canberrans have high blood pressure;
- About 40 per cent have high cholesterol;
- 64 per cent are overweight or obese;
- 11 per cent smoke; and
- 79 per cent of Canberra's adults do not meet Australia's physical activity guidelines.
Meg Ryan from the Heart Foundation said events such as Jump Rope kept people such as Dr Willsher front of mind and the funds for research continuing to flow.
"We hear these stories all too often," she said.