Jack Cooney was nominated as our first Local Hero for generously giving his time to other residents at his aged care home. His story also features in the August issue of News for You.
Can you tell us how you came to be a room visitor at your aged care home?
My wife lived in the same aged care home before I did. When she passed away two years ago, I was faced with dealing with grief in the midst of the first pandemic lockdowns. My daughters decided that I needed some help so they approached management. Management requested that I circulate amongst the residents, the men mainly, get to know them and pass on any concerns they might have.
Staff believed if men have a problem, often they won’t go to a woman and speak to her about it. And all the staff in my home are women. So, I took on the role and reached out to the men and now we have a men’s shed every couple of weeks. Most of the guys come and you can have a chat with them. I also go round to their rooms on a regular basis and say hello. I see if they’ve got any problems or if they want me to do anything for them. I’ve had one enquiry about a wheelchair. And one of the men didn’t like the room that he was in. I pass those comments on to the staff so that they can help.
What you do sounds a lot like what we at OPAN call ‘peer advocacy’. Do you see yourself as an advocate?
I’m someone who has been alert to public affairs for most of my life, and I’ve reared seven kids. Through all that, my attitude has always been if you can help somebody, do so. And in the older part of my life, which I’m now in, I can render a service to others which may be helpful.
I am in frequent contact with one lady in management. She’s sort of an intermediary. I take my comments to her and discuss any matter with her, she activates it from there.
What do you think you offer to other residents that professional advocates and carers don’t?
My own life experience gives me the opportunity to talk to them in a way that they understand, and that I understand also. I’m not a highbrow kind of person. I’m just your average guy that grows up and rears a family and grows old and dies. And that’s how I see myself now, I don’t see myself as a great troubadour for change. I’m happy to listen to them, help where I can and transfer their problems to people that can do something about it. I take the view that it’s a worthwhile exercise.
“I don’t see myself as a great troubadour for change. I’m happy to listen to them, help where I can and transfer their problems to people who can do something about it.”
What do you get out of helping others?
I get a fair bit of satisfaction out of it, it’s nice to see someone who you might have helped and they’re a bit better off for it and you’re better off because of it.
I do believe that I’m a little bit better of a person for going to the trouble, though I don’t really think it’s trouble. It’s just going to the effort of making contact and listening to people. And there is a satisfaction factor. I just enjoy doing it and I’ve got the time to do it, and the two things come together quite well.
Tell us a little bit about your life before you were in aged care.
I’m 92 now. I had my first job when I was 7, back in the Depression days. I came from Ballarat and grew up in Footscray where I met my wife. I ran a store and a licensed bottle shop out near Sunshine until I was about 40 years old. I stood for the Council here in Essendon in 1964. I didn’t get in but that didn’t bother me too much. At that stage I sold the store and got a job as a supervisor on the waterfront where I worked for the rest of my working life.
My wife and I had 4 sons and 3 daughters. Five of them have got university degrees. And the next one’s a plumber because that’s what he wanted to be. And the baby girl, who’s in her fifties now, went into the hospitality industry. We watched them grow and helped them achieve their aims. I used to be involved with the Boy Scouts and I was president of the local football club where my boys played. They weren’t jobs that were highly paid or had great notoriety. They were just things that had to be done so I just got in and did the job.
We’ve also got 24 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. I’m not in constant contact with all of them, but I know where they are, what they’re doing, how old they are and their names. That’s a bit of a feat in itself.
How do you maintain your positive attitude?
I don’t get up in the morning and work myself into a frenzy about what’s going to be done today. If something needs to be done, I just see what I can do to help. If you show an interest in what’s going on around you, it eventually draws people who think you can be of some assistance and that has been the case throughout my life in many ways.
As I said, I started out at 7 getting a job and it was only carting fruit around Footscray. But my father was unemployed, and it got my mother all the green grocery and fruit that she wanted for a week for six kids. So, when I think about it, I think I saw a need and I saw an opportunity and I took it. And that period of my life – working the fruit cart on a Saturday morning – I think that gave me an outlook on life that has stayed with me forever.
I learned independence, honesty, consideration and helpful attitudes, and these were all going to play a part in my life. A lot of these things develop and are acted on without you really having an awareness that it’s happening.
And that period of my life – working the fruit cart on a Saturday morning – I think that gave me an outlook on life that has stayed
with me forever.
Send us a nomination for your local hero for the next issue of News for You and go into a draw to win hampers for your local hero and your aged care home.
For more details view the competition page.