Fred Hollows lost his battle with cancer on February 10th, 1993, and this year we asked you, our supporters, for personal stories about Fred and his work. Thanks to all who contributed. We are delighted to have received so many beautiful memories and thoughts. While it’s not possible to publish them all, we invite you to read a selection so that you can join us in remembering Fred.
"'Fabio Zudich!' Fred's voice boomed out from the community hall as he emerged wiping his hands, sleeves rolled up. Even his gravelly voice could not disguise his genuine delight at seeing me alight from the panel van. We had parted company in desolate Balgo Mission some weeks ago – he heading the A team while I stuck with the B under Dr Hugh Taylor. Fred and I had an altercation on the tarmac regarding the unfortunate death of our tireless field secretary, Trish O'Sullivan and I wondered how Fred and I stood in the wake of that. My heart lifted as Fred gave me a warm embrace and slap on the back and we settled back into the usual blokey relaxed style of conversation which involved aboriginal politics and eye health. I was contented, knowing that I was back in his good book. Good book or not, I never lost my respect for Fred despite his occasional indiscretion; all of us in the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program felt that way. Gruff and direct, disdainful of bureaucrats and city ophthalmologists, friend of the little guy and the Aussie battler, compassionate and understanding of the plight of Australia's indigenous people, forceful and articulate fighter for their rightful share in Australia's wealth and health, we the devoted would work into the night and help each other pack up the tent clinic by torch and firelight, no matter that we had been working since "sparrow's fart" (sunrise) and had seen over 300 people that day. That's when Fred would offer each of us a capful of his Dimple whiskey by the fire as we settled into our sleeping bags and we knew that we had pleased him."
By Fabio Zudich
"I first met Fred Hollows when I was seven years old. His first words to me and my mum were “sit your f’n ass down there and don’t you f’n well bloody blink.” My mum thought at the time “what have I let my daughter in for?” Fred turned to mum and said don’t worry everything will be fine. When I was twelve years old, my lens dislocated anteriorly while we were down in Hobart and they wanted to operate then and there. We said no way – get in touch with Fred. Fred said do not operate, and, as you would, we followed his instructions. With a number of phone calls between Hobart and Sydney, Fred managed to get the lens to slip back into place. This happened again a few months down the track. Mum took me straight into the Prince Of Wales Hospital and Fred came out of the operating theatre to see me, but this time they could not do anything for me, so they had to operate. I was only home a day or two and the other eye went in sympathy. My pressure got to 58 and he told me that if the pressure got to 60 I would have been blind. Thanks to Fred I now have my eye sight which I am grateful for. I remember just before Fred passed away that I saw him in the Eye Clinic. I had my scrapbook and he signed it for me. He asked where had I got all those articles from and I told him “people who knew my connections with you, had collected them for me."
By Leanne Waddell
"Fred was an inspiring teacher, mentor and friend. His humanitarianism was manifest in his concern for inequity, the lottery of birth and the oppression of poverty. His commitment was to address this with the skills he had as an ophthalmologist to restore people’s vision. But he was also an earthy man who smoked and drank and swore and often railed against authority, especially when he perceived it maintaining its own self-interest. He was a great motivator but not necessarily a great organiser who challenged accepted wisdom and looked outside the box to help his fellow man."
By Dr Hugh Taylor
"I met Fred somewhere around 1990 when I was working in Parliament House (as a researcher on Foreign Affairs and Defence issues for Australia's first Greens Federal politician, Senator Jo Vallentine) and there was a support group for the Eritrean independence struggle which both Fred and I were part of, as they had a sort of ambassador for the movement in Canberra (Fessahaie Abraham). I had travelled in Eritrea, Vietnam and Nepal so I knew something of the health problems there and the work Fred and his teams did but I also admired Fred's persona – the gruff but humorous irreverence for power and authority, plus his deep compassion. I often think of Fred when I recommend a book to my students, 'Why Do Bad Things happen to Good People', but at least I know that his work goes on with the Foundation and his family."
By Peter Jones
"We came around to Fred's place in Randwick; Clarrie Grogan, Mick Miller and me. I had worked with them at The North Queensland Land Council; now they were in town planning for the up-coming political action and Fred and Gabi's place was like home. The kids were quite young. I think Gabi was carrying one. Those open conversations, problem solving, the sweet laughter. Never forget those times. Thanks Fred and Gabi."
By Juno Gemes
"I was privileged to work with Professor Hollows as a Field Microbiologist on the National Trachoma and Eye Health Project in 1978-80. Fred demanded 110% from his teams and put in twice as much work himself. However, when we had a chance to take a rest, Fred also knew how to give us the time off we needed to keep going. One of the many anecdotes I can relate is when we had just finished a very hard slog through the Western Australian outback and ended up in Kalgoorlie. Back then, I reckon Kalgoorlie had more pubs than streets and Fred decided that we were going to visit all of them. The last thing I remember from that night was Fred holding forth and reciting all 100 verses of Eskimo Nell, which is a feat difficult to accomplish even at the best of times. My memories of Fred are not only as an outstanding doctor, but also as a compassionate human being. He inspired all of us who worked with him to take it that one step further and really make a difference in the Trachoma disease plaguing Aboriginal Australia. To this day I still feel proud and honoured to have had that opportunity."
By Larry Tedesco
"Eyesight was not a strong feature in our family, and mum took my sister and me to see Fred in the mid-sixties at Randwick for appraisal with several appointments thereafter. He had a presence and awe about him and I remember him clearly to this day (and he always kept us waiting – so I figured he was pretty important and in big demand!). We have all spoken highly of him ever since and his international work is just incredible. I went on to complete a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture amongst other studies (with Fred's effective ophthalmology letting me do all that reading) and have applied my learning to help Australian producers improve their operations, hopefully in a similar vein. Wonderful human. Great example to everyone who would help another person."
By Chris Roach