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Published: 9 February 2017

Vale Joan Faoagali

The following is an edited version of a self-written eulogy distributed to mourners at Joan Faoagali’s funeral in Brisbane on 7 January 2017, plus additional personal comments from David Paterson.

Joan Faoagali is remembered by many microbiologists as a Director of Microbiology at Royal Brisbane Hospital from 1985 to 2006 and then Princess Alexandra Hospital from 2006. Born in New Zealand in 1940 as Joan Wilson, Joan married her first husband, Malaki Faoagali in 1964. After graduating with her medical degree from Otago University and then undertaking her junior training in Invercargill, in 1968 her young family travelled to Samoa by ‘banana boat’. Joan soon realised that an unmet need in Samoa was pathology so she returned to New Zealand in 1969 to undertake pathology/microbiology training. By 1974, Joan had been appointed as Director of Microbiology at Christchurch Hospital.

Unfortunately Joan’s husband, Malaki, developed a malignant paravertebral tumour and he died in 1978. In 1985, Joan and her second husband Jim Gwynne travelled with her family to take up an appointment as Director of Microbiology at Royal Brisbane Hospital. Here Joan was responsible for a busy department in a hospital with a large population of immunocompromised patients creating an endless supply of interesting microbiology. Additionally, the hospital had a steady stream of antibiotic resistant organisms, including MRSA, which was the subject of a memorable expose by ‘60 Minutes’. Joan was filmed rubbing her finger along a dusty hospital surface saying ‘and this will grow MRSA’. Fortunately one of Joan’s key loves was infection control and she developed and published several key interventions against resistant bacteria.

Joan had a great love of education and training. She spent 6 years as examiner in Microbiology for the RCPA. She was also Queensland representative for the RCPA for close to a decade. At her funeral, RCPA President Michael Harrison gave a glowing tribute to Joan’s huge voluntary workload for the college. Additionally, Michael Nolan (formerly Chief Scientist at RBH) gave a heartfelt eulogy representing the feelings shared by a large number of scientists with whom Joan worked.

Joan was the first successful ‘multitasker’ I ever met. In the days when microbiology ‘sign-outs’ were initials on a printed report, Joan would bring a swathe of reports to Grand Rounds where she would sign-out plus make insightful comments during the meeting. She had 7 children so it was no wonder that her Saturday morning ‘desk clean-up’/research time was accompanied by a child or two. Joan published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and as recently as November 2016 attended scientific meetings (despite having breast cancer metastasised to bone and liver). Her funeral was standing room only, and a wonderful mix of Samoan spirit, family emotion and reflection by more than 50 professional colleagues.

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