She taught me everything

My heart is hurting – I lost a good friend over the weekend.

Her name was Lorrae Joy Willox.

She was only 68 years old when she passed away, which is far too young to be gone.

I didn’t know her middle name was Joy until yesterday and I cried when I found out because it was so appropriate.

When I told her it was so unfair to be dying during COVID-19 because she couldn’t tick things off her bucket list, her cheerful response was that she’d already done them all.

Lorrae was unfailingly delighted by her family and friends, she was always there for those who needed her, she never stopped learning and exploring, and she stood up for her beliefs. Most recently, she fought to save a local reserve being threatened by a new freeway.

I’ve written about Lorrae before, while reminiscing about my time in weekly magazines. I wrote: “I knew nothing about weekly magazines when I arrived at Woman’s Day, but I had the most awesome mentor to teach me. Lorrae Willox is one of the great, unsung heroes of weekly magazines. And she taught me everything she knew.”

By the time I met her, Lorrae had been everything from the Adelaide Advertiser’s first female sports cadet (pictured above) to the editor of New Idea.

I was working in Singapore when I was appointed editor of Woman’s Day. Lorrae was deputy editor and she called me one day, firing questions down the phone line. I was a little frightened by how stern she sounded. She didn’t suffer fools working in weekly magazines and I sensed she wasn’t happy to have some monthly magazine flibbertigibbet thrust upon her.

But I quickly proved I was a hard worker with a passion for weeklies, so she took me under her wing and we became great friends and professional collaborators.

When she retired, I cried as I gave her farewell speech. I couldn’t imagine editing Woman’s Day without her.

It was Lorrae who gave the magazine its highest selling issue during my reign. I was at a conference when Princess Mary married Frederik, leaving her to produce cover that sold more than 560,000 copies on the newsstands. Those were the days!

We stayed in touch after she left Woman’s Day, meetIng for lunches and dinners over the years. The main photo was taken during a lunch we enjoyed last year, which I described like this: “Lunch with Lorrae was like chicken soup for my soul except it was pasta with eggplant and zucchini.”

She sent my children birthday and Christmas gifts every year. In March, she was too ill to send the youngest’s card, so she tasked a nephew with putting it in the post for her.

I was lucky enough to see Lorrae one last time, a week before she passed away. She looked so frail and ethereal that I didn’t recognise her until she spoke – her bubbly Scottish voice was still strong and familiar. We had two precious hours together, chatting the whole time. She’d warned me that she might fall asleep, but reminiscing about the magazine industry kept her awake and energised for the whole visit.

Lorrae worked with some of the weekly magazine greats over the years, including Dulcie Boling and Nene King, who both remained her friends (despite being each other’s mortal enemies) to the end. She arranged for me to have coffee with Nene one memorable day, so the two former red headed editors of Woman’s Day could share war stories.

Over the years, Lorrae endured the poor behaviour of various players in the magazine industry. She wasn’t a prima donna or a sociopath, which sometimes seemed to be part of the job description in the magazine world. She wryly noted as she lay in the hospital bed that she might have gone further if she had been one.

But Lorrae had too much heart for that. As we talked on that final visit, she was so thrilled and relieved that her dog had found a new home. She excitedly showed me photos and videos of how happy the dog looked.

When it was time to leave, it was hard to know what to do. How do you say goodbye for the last time?

I held her hand, kissed her cheek and told her that I loved her. My one regret is that I didn’t thank her.

I hope she knew how grateful I was for everything she did for me.

I will miss her very much.

As I stood in the doorway of her hospital room, she called out final questions about how my children were going and whether DD and I were happy together. I assured her that the kids were going well and DD and I were very happy. She smiled. I told her I loved her one last time. I walked into the corridor and wept.

When I stepped outside into the sunshine I wished I could go back inside and sit with her again. I didn’t want it to be over, for her to be gone.

So many people loved Lorrae, so many will miss her.

She was adamant she didn’t want a funeral, so we will mourn among ourselves.

RIP Lorrae Joy Willox.




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