Not all superheroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear tutus, wigs, trans-gender makeup and fishnet stockings. And sometimes they turn out to be real life superheroes, like Judy.

Unsung Hero Nomination: It would be great to nominate my sister Judy Swaney. Sadly, after a very long cancer battle she is entering the last stage of this. She is so very brave and accepting of this, and is continuing every day with her amazing outlook, including her volunteer work for the elderly. This is her passion.  Starting with paid work for 13 years at Rosebank she has been so involved, with cooking, activities organizer, followed by becoming a trained diversional therapist. She then worked at Park St Day care (now Elizabeth St), only leaving due to health problems, but even through her battles she continued her contact and care for the oldies by volunteering – something she is still managing now. Judy has so much to give, and that special knack of knowing exactly what each elderly client needs to brighten their day. Some of her photos and stories are so much fun, and show just how much time, care, and love that she gives so freely. As a wife, mother, nana, sister, aunt, daughter, she brings love and fun to us all, and we love her dearly for that. It would be fantastic to see her work and care recognized.  Thanks, from her sister, Sue Heney

Firstly, read the letter alongside, and you’ll understand why I’ve made an exception and have paid a visit to this month’s Unsung Hero. A truly amazing, inspiring woman!

She’s knitting beanies for the City Mission as I arrive and has baked earlier in the morning so she can take afternoon tea to the Elizabeth St Day Centre.

As her husband Dennis chips in, “It’s not only what she does there, but also what she does outside there that is incredible.”

About 13 years ago, while working at Rosebank, Judy was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney. Her kidney and spleen were removed, and when she was ready to return to work, she began two days a week at the Daycentre.

Five years ago, the cancer returned, this time breast cancer, requiring chemotherapy and radiation, and another six months of recovery. It was time to retire, but she then returned to work as a volunteer! “It’s really difficult after being a staff member because I do have a bossy nature, but when you’re a volunteer you can say and do whatever you want.”

“The Day Centre is my happy place,” she beams. “If I’m not feeling well, if I need a cuddle, it always cheers me up. And there’s always chocolate!” she laughs. “Chocaholic Week is coming up, so my spare room is full of chocolate!  We have tasting competitions, a chocolate wheel and quizzes, lots of choc things happening.” It’s an idea Judy came up with years ago and has remained popular. “I’m a chocaholic, I will admit it,” she laughs.

Through lockdown last year, Judy carried on, staying in touch with people, dropping in home baking, word games and quizzes. One lady who was not coping well with lockdown, Judy helped move into Rosebank, and now enjoys going back there as a regular visitor.

Stories flow, one in particular involving a friend who was visiting for a few days, and was roped into joining Judy wearing a tutu, long gloves, fishnet stockings, a wig and trans-gender makeup and then gate-crashing ‘Happy Hour’. “Oh, that was fun! When you’re organising activities, you have to be prepared to make a twit of yourself regularly.”

Reading is another pleasure she loves to share. She says finding books to entertain – especially the men is not easy, and sometimes, they can be a bit ‘colourful.’ “It pays to read a book before you read aloud, so you know what’s coming and can substitute certain words if you need to!” she laughs. She recalls reading a particularly colourful one by Bill Kearns, the Ozzie bush poet. “His poem about the men wearing stubbies (very short shorts) at a music festival, sitting on plastic stacka chairs and the ‘crown jewels’ slipping between the slits in the chairs – that one caused a standing ovation! We all had a great laugh.”

Sadly, in 2018, on a regular check-up, Judy learned that the cancer had metastasized and is now in other places. A while back, when she was feeling well, she and Dennis took some time out and went back to Gisborne, where they had lived for a while, and also visited all the people and places they wanted to see. Then it was home and back to ‘business as usual’ volunteering at the Day Centre.

“None of us know what life will deal to us, or how long we’ll be here,” she says. “You have to make the most of every day. I’m lucky to have had a wonderful family and a good life, and my volunteering gives me a reason to get out of bed every day and enjoy every moment.”

Every month we recognise an Unsung Hero. Do you know someone who deserves recognition?

Mid Canterbury is full of wonderful people who are dedicated to helping others in the community. They devote their free time to help with everything from grassroots sports coaching to baking for a new mum, visiting the sick and elderly, working in non-profit community organisations, animal shelters, food banks, Cancer Society, Girl Guides – there are so many individuals and clubs and organisations that simply could not survive without them.

If you know someone who deserves recognition, let us know so we can celebrate the significant contribution they make to the community.  Thanks to Real Estate New Zealand, we’ll also reward them with a $100 Prezzie Card – a token of appreciation for all they do. Send your entries to: office@spiritmagazine.co.nz    

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.