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A touching Christmas tribute

Wednesday 21 November, 2018


Photo caption: Joanne Gunnersen, Joanne’s Christmas Cakes and Helen Fazzino, PwC

“Isn’t it interesting how life takes its twists and turns...” – Helen Fazzino. 

Joanne loves to cook. Her passion for baking has been passed on by her mother and grandmother, along with the family recipe for their delicious boiled Christmas cake.

Eight years ago, this led to her own social enterprise, Joanne’s handmade traditional boiled Christmas cakes. Since that time, Joanne has generously donated all profits to Cancer Council Victoria for cancer research, which remarkably totals $100,000.

Business has been so good that Joanne now needs help and is working with genU, an Australian disability enterprise to do the cooking for her, helping to kick start the career of people living with a disability.

“It’s absolutely amazing what Joanne has achieved,” said Todd Harper, CEO, Cancer Council Victoria.

“Her generosity is matched only by her energy and dedication to helping others, which makes it so fitting what’s come next.”

It’s just as well Joanne loves cooking, as eight weeks before Christmas, she’s received an order of 8,500 cakes for staff at professional services firm, PwC Australia. To best understand the scale of the order and what it means to Joanne, her regular orders are usually in the hundreds.

“You’ll hear the yell when I get outside,” Joanne said, grinning from ear to ear when told the good news.

However, this story doesn’t actually start nor end here, as it’s had more twists and turns than her cakes have fruit.

For Joanne, it all began with a conversation at a charity event with John Feely, a partner at PwC.

“I’d been invited to the event by close friends as a show of support several months after I lost my husband,” Joanne said.

“John had a kind heart. He put in a verbal order on the spot for Christmas cakes for all PwC staff, gave me his card and asked me to call him in a couple of weeks, which I did.”

However, Joanne couldn’t get through.

“When finally, John’s executive assistant answered the phone, she told me the terrible news,” Joanne said.

Sadly just a few weeks after meeting, John passed away in his sleep suddenly and without warning, leaving family, friends and colleagues shocked and saddened.

Helen Fazzino, partner at PwC said John had been a partner at the company for about 25 years, having started at the firm as a graduate. 

“It was a terrible shock to his family and the thousands of people he worked with at PwC,” she said.

“John was well-known for providing coaching and mentoring to so many of our employees and his charitable work was a big part of his life.”

When Helen and several of the partners heard about the outstanding Christmas cake order they decided it would be a fitting tribute to John to complete the order.

“It’s been really important for us to think of ways that we can remember and honour all the things that John stood for; his values, his leadership, the person that he was and what he meant to people,” Helen said.

“We want to send the message out across our organisation that this was something that John believed in and wanted to do for our people.”

Joanne said the first call she’d be making on leaving the meeting would be to genU to get them to start baking. The next would be to her suppliers and then to her army of volunteers to help her with the packing, based out of her home.

“Joanne is an extraordinary woman,” Helen said. “She should be really proud, it was her personality and her connection to John that made this possible.”

We couldn’t agree more. The benefits to families impacted by cancer and people with a disability will continue beyond this Christmas and for generations to come.

A safe and happy holiday to you and your loved ones.

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