On one day each year, Jon Steele lights a candle – a touching tribute to the sister he loved and lost.
‘We were always there for each other,’ Jon recalls of his sibling Jane McGrath, whose battle with breast cancer moved the world.
The English-born campaigner and wife of former Australian cricket fast-bowler, Glenn McGrath, succumbed to the disease after a courageous 11-year fight on June 22, 2008. She was aged just 42.
Now, as Jon and his mother, Jen, commemorate the 10th anniversary of Jane’s death, they share precious memories of a woman they treasured.
‘A particularly fond memory I have of Jane was her phoning me up and asking me what I was doing for my birthday,’ Jon tells New Idea from his mother’s home in the UK, as he prepared to fly to Sydney for the anniversary.
At the time, Jane was working as a flight attendant for Virgin Atlantic – a job she was doing when she met her futurehusband Glenn in a Hong Kong nightclub in 1995. She later made the move from England to Sydney to be with him.
But on this occasion, Jane surprised her brother – who was just 14 months her junior – with a special trip.
‘She asked if I wanted to come to New York with her,’ recalls Jon, of his sister’s birthday surprise. ‘We had a wonderful few days together.’
And while much has changed since then, Jon insists not a day goes by that he doesn’t remember her generosity and sense of adventure.
‘Jane and Jon were very happy growing up together,’ Jane’s mother Jen adds. ‘It was very rare for them to argue. In fact, I’m struggling to recall one occasion... ’
The bond Jon had with his sister never faded and it wasn’t long before he followed her to Australia, spending precious time with Jane, Glenn and the couple’s children – James and Holly – before cancer took hold.
‘I miss her every single day. It’s very, very difficult not to have her here,’ Jon previously said. ‘She was the reason I was in Australia... After Jane died, my instinct was go home to England, but I didn’t. It was right that I stayed...to be with the kids and Glenn.’
Jane’s battle wasn’t in vain.
In the last three years before her death, she made a difference to women living with breast cancer. Every year, Jane’s memory is celebrated in the cricket stands with the annual Jane McGrath Day – with fans and cricketers alike donning pink to raise awareness.
But Jon – who is now based in Spain – reveals he honours the day of her passing with some quiet reflection.
‘I generally tend to spend the day on my own,’ he tells New Idea. ‘On the day, I light a candle and look at old photographs. I like to spend the day reflecting on what a lovely sister I have.’
Since the passing of her husband Roy in 2015, Jen also prefers to spend the day in solitary reflection, returning to Jane’s old neighbourhood in the UK to reminisce.
With a tinge of sadness, Jen shares the traditions she’s created to mark the anniversary.
‘I like to do something Jane would have done herself,’ she says, mulling over happier times.
‘Sometimes I go back to The Cotswolds, have a cream tea and I know she would be with me.
‘A fond memory, of which there are many to choose from, was when Jane bought her cottage in The Cotswolds. The day Jane moved into the house, she was just so thrilled and we enjoyed many happy times there together,’ Jen adds.
In 2005, Glenn and Jane created the McGrath Foundation, a charitable organisation dedicated to raising money to fund more breast care nurses in rural and regional Australia.
Glenn – who is now married to wife Sara – remains president of the foundation, which has raised millions and supported 60,000 families. This achievement is one that makes Jen and Jon beam.
‘Jane’s legacy is amazing,’ Jon reflects. ‘She would be so thrilled with the foundation and the help it gives to so many women.
‘She would also be incredibly grateful to all the team at the foundation for their hard work over the past years.’
‘Jane really did care about other women dealing with breast cancer, her vision was to create a foundation to help others,’ Jen adds. ‘The foundation’s great success in achieving exactly what it was meant to do is something I’m very proud of – Jane would be so grateful.’
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