Vale Jeremy Ingall
1960 – 2016
By Philippa Quinn, Board Member, Plan International Australia
“Teamwork makes the dream work”
Channelling ‘the great Stevie Wonder’, Jeremy Ingall wrote these words to his mother, Janet, not long after he was diagnosed with cancer in early 2016.
“Let's get on the front foot and send POSITIVE energy my way. I'm here to enjoy life and the lives of those around me. From this moment on we have to smile and be thankful for what we have today and everyday.”
And Jeremy did exactly that right up until the day he died, on 20 October last year, just 11 days shy of his fifty-sixth birthday.
Jeremy had a globetrotting childhood that began not long after he was born in 1960, courtesy of his father David and the Royal Australian Air Force. His mother, Janet believes all the travel ‘made him a citizen of the world’ and set him up perfectly for a role in Plan International Australia.
“We lived in Malaysia from 1965–67 and even then he could see what it was like for those less fortunate,” said Janet.
“Our house on the base was right opposite the kampong, where the Malays lived. Jeremy was aware of poverty, he understood what it was to be poor.”
From Malaysia to America and nine schools later, it was a rather worldly young man that returned to Shore School in Sydney in 1972.
Jeremy relentlessly pursued a career in banking and finance after graduating from university in the early 1980’s. His own business ventures leaned toward engineering, science and education – projects that sought to deliver a human value along with a dollar one.
“He understood the value of money. Not money for money’s sake but what it could do to help people,” said Janet.
It was this commercial and entrepreneurial nouse that led former Chair and friend, Wendy McCarthy, to ask Jeremy to join the board of Plan International Australia in 2008.
CEO, Ian Wishart, says he made an immediate impact.
“Jeremy was a big imposing guy, but such a gregarious and happy chap, you easily warmed to him. He just fitted into the culture of the board really well,” said Mr Wishart.
At the time Plan International Australia was going through a transformation and the one-time banker challenged the organisation to think differently. To cast critical, commercial eyes over operations to help the business grow.
“Jeremy urged us to dream big rather than be incremental. He loved blue-sky ideas. How big could this be? It was never to make more money for ourselves - it was always about growing so we could help more children,” said Mr Wishart.
It was a field trip to Cambodia in 2009, to visit the programs and the children Plan International was helping, that transformed Jeremy from an interested supporter into a strong advocate for the organisation.
“My vivid memory is of Jeremy sitting cross-legged on the floor, in a makeshift shelter, surrounded by young smiling children,” recalls another former Chair, Anne Skipper.
“His laughter, smile and playful manner was so engaging and they were drawn to him like a magnet.”
“That night as we all sat around sharing memories of our day, Jeremy told us that until then, he hadn’t really got what Plan did. But now he could say with true understanding exactly how Plan could positively change the lives of children,” said Ms Skipper.
Jeremy worked hard to do this through the two committees he served on, Finance, and Marketing and Fundraising. It was with great reluctance that he resigned from the Board in 2012 for business reasons.
But according to Jeremy’s wife Nicky, the desire to enrich children’s lives continued.
With a close friend Jeremy co-founded Music Icon Inc. in 2014.
“They were developing a digital app that could help people, especially kids, who had no music in their lives, to learn how to play an instrument. They could then share that music with other children anywhere,” said Nicky.
“He was so excited about it, he moved to the US at the end of 2015 to follow it through. Music was his passion. He also loved helping children and loved the idea they could teach music. He loved to make a difference and he always believed he could, it’s such a shame he never saw it come to fruition.”
Returning home in early 2016, Jeremy crammed as much love and life into his final months as possible. On a beautiful April day last year, he married his soulmate, Nicky, with their children Nicholas, Cloudia, Milla and Arnaud looking on.
At Jeremy’s memorial service just six months later, his daughter, Cloudia aptly compared her father to the spectrum of colour.
“The past six months have been full of blacks and browns, but the amount of pinks, yellows and oranges that he has given us far exceeds this. Nobody could be pink and yellow, brighter than him," said Cloudia.
“You taught me how to be present, taught us to relish and enjoy these bright colours, to feel the hard reds and blacks and not be afraid of them. His magic was in his colour, and he taught us not to be afraid of being colourful. He had a life lived with courage, colour and dignity.”
One of my favourite stories about Jeremy partly explains where Jeremy’s courage and determination came from.
For a time, the Ingall family lived in a beach house in Penang during their posting to Malaysia in the sixties.
This particular day, five year-old Jeremy had been on the receiving end of a massive bollocking for playing with matches, setting fire to his bed and nearly burning the house down.
Deciding he was having none of that, Jeremy grabbed his sister Annabel’s wading pool and promptly launched it into the Malacca Strait, determined to sail back to Australia.
By the time it was discovered Jeremy was gone, he was over 100 metres out to sea. His father, David – resplendent in his RAAF dress uniform - swam out to retrieve his wayward son. Having spotted his father on his way to fetch him, Jeremy started paddling furiously, toward the horizon.
I love this story because it reminds me that this irrepressible man was always excited about going on the next adventure. Jeremy was forever looking for something new to discover. He excelled at making the possible, probable. But more than anything else, this story reminds me that Jeremy’s gaze was always up, he was always looking forward, looking for that next horizon, with hope in his heart.