Ms Freda Jacob AM, 1919 – 2017
Ms Freda Jacob AM was a remarkable woman. Her significant contribution to the occupational therapy (OT) profession and her work with people with disability and those that are ageing is truly extraordinary.
Freda was the inspiration, founder and driving force behind the development of the Independent Living Centre WA.
As a daughter of wheat belt farmers, Freda was educated at Methodist Ladies College. After service in the Air Force, she trained as an OT in Sydney and returned to Perth in 1950 after completing her course. At that time the profession of occupational therapy was in its formative years.
Freda was employed as the sole occupational therapist at the Crippled Children’s Society and then opened the first Department of Occupational Therapy at Princess Margaret Hospital.
After gaining further experience overseas, Freda was involved in the establishment of the West Australian Registration Act for Occupational Therapists, a statutory authority responsible for the administration of the Occupational Therapists Act which ensured that every occupational therapist in WA was registered and appropriately qualified.
Freda then became Head of the Occupational Therapy Department at Royal Perth Hospital, from 1957 to 1980, during which time she expanded the service significantly.
She became a member of the first Occupational Therapy School Board in 1960, and assisted in the establishment of the first School of Occupational Therapy in Western Australia.
Additionally, she was a member of the delegate team representing Australia at the World Federation of Occupational Therapy from 1962 to 1978.
In 1970, Freda attended the World Federation of Occupational Therapists 5th International Congress in Switzerland where she heard Miss Barbara Stowe, the Director of the Disabled Living Foundation in London, advocate for the establishment of aids and equipment information centres in every country. The aim of the centres was to increase the independence of those with a disability.
Freda’s dedication, tenacity and commitment to improving the lives of those with a disability culminated in the declaration she made at this conference that “Western Australia should have such a centre”.
On her return to Perth, Freda began discussions with Barbara Stowe and relevant people of influence in the health sector in WA, but it was not until 1974 that a serious start was made to explore avenues to commence the service.
A visit to WA by Lady Hamilton, the Chairman of the Disability Living Foundation in the UK, provided the impetus to gather a large number of people together to hear her speak and commence a working group chaired by Freda to investigate setting up the service.
The Independent Living Centre WA was officially opened on 1st March 1978 by Lady Kyle, following years of planning and the endeavours of many, always with Freda leading the way.
The service offered to the community by the ILC today is a direct result of her determination, compassion and commitment to all people.
Freda retired in 1980 however she continued to contribute many years of service to the ILC. Following the enormous drive to secure funding and premises during which time Freda was the Chairman of the Steering Sub-committee from 1975, Freda continued her role with the ILC as Chairman of the first Board of Management from 1975 to 1985 and as Deputy Chairman from 1985 – 2002.
The First Honorary Life membership of ILC was conferred on Freda in 1986.
In 1981 Freda was the first occupational therapist in WA to receive the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of her service to the occupational therapy profession and community.
In 2011 a lecture theatre at Curtin University was named after Freda, The Freda Jacob Lecture Theatre, honouring her distinguished contribution to the field of occupational therapy.
In 2012 Freda was inducted into the WA Women’s Hall of Fame.
On 14 May 2017, at the age of 97, Freda passed away.
Freda dedicated her life to the community within which she lived and spread her zest for life and championed her causes to reach many people in Western Australia, Australia and internationally.
She has been a true inspiration to many.