A loving wife and accomplished professor has died from asbestos-related cancer just days after pleading for Australians to ‘wake up’ to the dangers hidden in the home renovations craze which has taken off during the pandemic.
Gillian North, tragically passed away from mesothelioma in her Thirroul home at the age of 61 on Thursday morning, surrounded by her husband Martin North and twin sister Jocelyn Johnson.
The tireless Ms North, who had amazed palliative care workers by walking an hour a day until recently, devoted the last three years of her life to researching the dangers of asbestos to home renovators.
‘Half of my heart has gone with her,’ a tearful Ms Johnson told Daily Mail Australia, adding that her twin was ‘incredibly positive’ to the end and felt ‘a calling’ to try and save others from her fate.
Accomplished professor Gillian North has died from asbestos-related cancer just days after pleading for Australians to ‘wake up’ to the dangers hidden in the home renovations craze which has taken off during the pandemic
Gillian North (left) with her identical twin sister, Jocelyn, a Kiwi nurse on two of their recent ‘bucket-list’ outings south of Sydney. She died at home from asbestos-related mesothelioma on Thursday
Gillian North and Martin North at her Hampstead, London, home in 1994. It was one of the home renovation projects she fears may have exposed her to asbestos
Ms Johnson said her sister ‘astounded’ palliative care workers by walking an hour a day. Her favourite memory together was a five hour walk together in New Zealand on their shared 60th birthday – while Gill with stage four mesothelioma.
The asbestos reforms Gill North wants to see
- National public health campaigns to warn about the dangers of exposure to ‘legacy’ asbestos.
- Compulsory residential property asbestos assessments prior to sale, renovation, or lease.
- Legal requirements for residential property owners to have all asbestos removed by licensed professionals.
- The introduction of interest free loans (means tested) for residential property owners to support the removal of asbestos by licensed professionals.
- Urgent and firm commitments to eradicate asbestos from public, commercial and residential properties across Australia.
‘She was the gutsiest, most courageous woman. I admired her ability to stay positive instead of focusing on herself.
‘Her work gave her purpose, she told me “I feel called to do this”.’
Martin North told Daily Mail Australia that Gillian managed to ‘turn a pointless death into an amazing jumping off point to hopefully create change and save lives.’
He said her final hours were distressing and ‘enough to make anyone who heard her fighting to breathe want to avoid that.
‘Asbestos is a killer. It killed my wife.’
Mr North said he had ‘lost my best friend’.
‘I have had an amazing 27 years with her, she was a remarkable person in so many ways: very driven, very energetic and also amazing sense of social justice, which came through in her legal work.
‘We didn’t have enough years together, we were planning so much more, including travel which won’t happen now. I’m shattered but determined to keep her legacy and her fight alive.’
Ms North’s death comes just days after she is plead with renovators to pay for professionals to remove the deadly building material asbestos, instead of trying to do it themselves, which is found in one third of homes across Australia.
‘If I can save one life by raising awareness about this deadly material and how easy it is to die from contact with it then all my work is worth it,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘It is completely preventable, if only people knew.’
She used the final months of her life to passionately push for major reforms prevent others suffering the fate she did.
A leading academic who had a career in law, accounting and at Deakin University, Ms North had written an incredible 18 research papers about asbestos dangers and reforms.
She and Martin North also surveyed 40,000 Australian households – finding two thirds didn’t know how dangerous it is or how to recognise it.
Ms North was convinced she developed the fatal cancer after being exposed to asbestos while during home renovations in the United Kingdom 32 years ago and in Australia 25 years ago.
While working for a Japanese investment bank in the London, she renovated a house at Hampstead in 1990.
After she met her husband Martin in 1995 the couple moved to Sydney, where they bought a renovated a house at Cremorne.
‘I knew absolutely nothing… about the dangers of asbestos to health, took no precautions because I didn’t know,’ she said.
‘I didn’t use any professional asbestos assessments or professionals.’
Martin recalled: ‘She always wanted to do it herself. She wanted the pleasure of doing it herself and seeing it coming together.’
He said watching his wife die is ‘the most traumatic experience of my life’.
‘I feel completely out of control, I’m watching her being hollowed out from the inside,’ he said.