HE WOULD HAVE BEEN 18 THIS YEARHere at The Beast, we are constantly astounded by the strength and generosity of those in our local community. Like this month’s cover star Sophie Smith, Mal Ward has gone through one of the toughest things that anyone can go through: losing a child. Mal’s son Johnno passed away in July 2008, aged nine, after a long battle with childhood liver disease. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Mal started his charity, Forever Johnno, to help raise money for sick kids in the Liver Transplant Unit at Westmead Children’s Hospital.
Every year Mal organises the Forever Johnno Christmas Present For Sick Kids appeal and hosts the Forever Johnno Monster Raffle and Charity Auction, and this year’s Monster Raffle is fast approaching, set to take place on Friday, May 19 from 7pm at the Coogee Bay Hotel sports bar.
While every event that Forever Johnno has put on has existed to celebrate and remember Johnno, and to make sure that his legacy helps other kids in need, this year’s charity raffle and auction is particularly poignant: were he still alive, Johnno would have turned eighteen on March 23 this year.
As ever, Mal stressed to The Beast that while the fundraising aspect of his events is obviously incredibly important, remembering Johnno’s life is at the core of why he continues to do what he does.
“What we raise is not the priority,” Mal said “It’s a night to remember John and, this year, to celebrate his 18th birthday.
“I know Johnno would be very proud of what is being done in his name; he told me so when he was still alive.
“After one of the events he asked me all about it, and wondered who was there.
“After I told him, he had a big beaming smile on his face and said, incredulously, ‘Were they all there just for me, Dad?’
“I still have people ringing up saying ‘When’s your Johnno do on?’ and they’re saying his name to me without any kind of silence.
“There’s none of that ‘don’t mention his son because his son died and that might make him sad’ silence. It’s about John’s name being out there.”
This year’s raffle will continue in this celebratory vein, with Alby Talarico from Steele Sports as MC and Nick Andrews & Friends all set to rock the crowd. There will be over 30 prizes to win and four fabulous auction items to bid for.
“It’s a great night with a real feel good atmosphere,” Mal said.
“This is its 17th year and we only raised about $5,000 in the early days, but we broke the record last year and raised $14,265 thanks largely to The Beast Magazine putting my mug on the front cover and making it the feature story.
“This year we hope to raise around $10,000 on the night.”
There will be a scattering of local celebrities there on the night, but, according to Mal, “the real VIPs will be the nurses from Clancy Ward at Westmead Children’s Hospital – at least a dozen of them come along each year and get a chance to let their hair down.”