Collarenebri mourns the loss of Jane Willis
Words: Bill Poulos
Image: Janian McMillan
BUSH racing communities across western NSW are mourning the loss of Collarenebri stalwart Jane Willis.
She was 80 years of age and leaves behind a country-racing legacy spanning more than six decades.
Jane, a Collarenebri Jockey Club life member and wife of western districts training legend Joe Willis, passed away on Sunday at Tamworth Hospital, where her husband had been admitted only days earlier.
Joe, 84, has been diagnosed with liver cancer.
Their grandson Luke Lawler said Joe had been taken to hospital after “feeling a bit crook”.
“I was out at Colly doing a bit of work and brought Joe back to Tamworth because he was wasn’t feeling well,” Luke said.
“It was discovered that he’d had a little bleed on the liver and the cancer showed up when a scan was done – and it’s pretty bad.
“That’s when Jane got pretty crook. We put her in hospital on Friday and on Saturday night she got worse,” he said.
“We still don’t know why . . . it’s as if she just shut down. She had all the best care, but it seems she’d just had enough, couldn’t cope.”
Joe, also a Collarenebri Jockey Club life member, returned home today.
“He’s pretty shook up and his cancer is pretty bad,” Luke said.
“It’s only a matter of time, more or less, but he’ll have all the help and everything he needs out at Colly.”
Joe and Jane last year celebrated 60 years of marriage and, during all those years, there was always a horse or two.
And there were some good ones, including Shar in the 1960s and Willdell in the 1980s.
“From memory, Shar won 32 races and Willdell won 31,” Luke said.
Those halcyon days were revisited when unheralded gelding Welsh Edition burst on to the country racing scene 15 years ago.
Welsh Edition went on to win 13 times from 47 starts, including the Narrabri, Moree and Barraba Cups in 2002 and the Nyngan and Collarenebri Cups two years later.
Collarenebri Jockey Club secretary-manager Sharon Girling said that Jane had worked tirelessly for the club over many years.
“Each day Jane could be found at the racecourse watering the lawn and keeping Joe company,” Sharon said.
“Jane was a huge help to me in the office and to all those that came before me. Her passing is a huge loss to Collarenebri Jockey Club and our thoughts are with Joe and their daughter Kate, our club president, and their families.”
Jane is survived by Joe, daughter Kate and sons Patrick, Peter and Michael. She leaves behind seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Her funeral service will be held at her beloved Collarenebri racecourse at 11am on Friday, April 15.