Vale Johanna Mary Visser

   Posted by: Kevin Herbert   in News, NSW Branch News

Johanna was a long-time member of the committee of the NSW Branch of the Richard III Society from the first day she joined in the mid-1990s. She and I connected straight away at that first meeting held at the Don Bank Museum, North Sydney. At this meeting Sue Habgood, who had moved to Coffs Harbour, gave notice that she could no longer continue in the role of editor of the Affinity newsletter, so we had find a replacement.

When no-one else stepped up, Johanna offered to “do the deed” as she put it, and indeed continued, as well as producing the first edition of our journal The Chronicles of the White Rose in 2007. Those who wrote articles for Affinity knew Johanna would carefully edit them using her skills and extensive research, resulting in some very professional final features. She used to say editing my copy was not easy as I tended to deliver a tome not only about a character but his or her family and friends that might cover two years’worth of Affinities. She said it was as well I didn’t decide to cover Noah and the Ark as I’d probably include the life stories of each animal on board as well as Noah and his family. The message got through and I learned not to go off in tangents.

One article I researched on the Percy family (the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland) held so much information that Johanna printed it in three consecutive issues even with her clever editing. Then to my dismay a book called The Kings of the North by Alan Rose was published covering all my work in detail. Johanna encouragingly said, “No harm done – you did it first and it didn’t take a book to cover it!”

Her people skills were many. When a former member, keeper of the archives, had to withdraw through illness and had kept all the articles in question, Johanna tactfully approached her, found a willing helper, and before long all the files were in great order – and stored in many containers in the garage of my home. Her positive can-do approach was encouraging. She had a strong sense of justice, could state her case clearly, but was able to concede opposing and superior points of views and agree to differ. But she was no doormat.

Our Branch had taken part in the annual Brit Fest held at Blacktown Showground, promoting the Society and its cause, provoking a lot of interest. Accepting the invitation for the second year Julia and Johanna galvanised us into a great production, with a roster for manning the stall. Carol, Christena, Elaine, Reg Herbert were among those handing out brochures, answering questions, giving children blue, white and murrey balloons inscribed with Richard’s motto. Screens provided Ricardian information and stalls held goodies provided by the needles and ovens of Johanna and Julia, and Tom and Julie Potts handed out small glasses of mead or malmsey that they had provided. Julia had found a large map of Medieval England, and visiting Poms were invited to place a flag with their name on it near the place from which they had come. The winner would go home with a beautiful basket of food and wine if their home was nearest the place we had deemed most relevant to our cause.

The success of the day was marred when both Johanna and Julia who had arrived at 7am to set up had soldiered on throughout the excessive heat in a huge and open venue unshaded by trees, collapsed from heat exhaustion. Organisers couldn’t help or find a St John’s Ambulance officer on duty but, thanks to Christena, they slowly revived, although it was a close thing and we decided not to repeat the experience until there was better support provided- and maybe a more suitable venue.

In 2005 it was our Branch’s turn to host the biennial Australasian Branches Ricardian convention. Unforeseen circumstances led to a small committee preparing the event – Nancy, Carol, Julia and myself, but Johanna played a great role in finding the venue at the Women’s College at Sydney University, a delightful nearby restaurant “The Peasant’s Feast” for an opening night dinner, and – thanks to her professional work in the tourism business – a reasonably priced motel nearby for overseas and interstate guests not staying at the university. And for those who stayed on after the conference she drew up a great list of things to do in Sydney.

Johanna finally reduced her contribution to the Branch when she moved to her dream home in Bowral, with its beautiful conservatory and gardens (worthy of many magazine pages) which of course she shared with her beloved dogs. Her wonderful dinner parties given in her various homes in Sydney continued there – I’ll never know how she and Julie organised a surprise 60th birthday party for me, but her magic must have done it.

Her talents were many and creative, especially the beautiful dolls she made and dressed so superbly. My plans to attend the Sydney convention banquet as Richard’s cousin Cardinal Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, meant my costume was in the hands of Julie and Johanna. However the best-laid plans … Julie fell ill, Johanna fell and broke her arm and could no longer attend the conference. But my cousin Kay, visiting from Tasmania, completed Johanna’s work. I appeared as the Archbishop – and what happened when after, the banquet, we made a visit to Star Casino is another story!

Her work away from Sydney, life in the Southern Highlands and, sadly, her later illness prevented her attendance at many of the Branch meetings and events. She visited our day-long conferences held in Bundanoon and Mittagong, and was a welcome delegate to the recent 2013 Ricardian Convention in Sydney. Julia recalls her joy in learning that she had won the raffle prize of the Looking for Richard mug from Leicester University. Her interest would never fade.

Vale Johanna. You will be sorely missed by those of us who were lucky enough to be blessed with your friendship, warmth and example.



This entry was posted on Monday, July 6th, 2015 at 12:08 and is filed under News, NSW Branch News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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