10 May 2023

Tributes flow for Cook Shire's top citizen

| Sarah Martin
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Jean Stephan with her children Christopher, Catherine and Michael.

COOKTOWN farewelled quiet achiever and lifelong volunteer Jean Stephan on Monday.

Ms Stephan, who was awarded Citizen of the Year at Cook Shire’s 2023 Australia Day event in January, was remembered as a selfless volunteer and much-loved mother and grandmother.

She also contributed content for this tribute in a document written for her children Christopher, Catherine and Michael.

“I find there is always something of beauty to observe every day if one has the eyes to see, and there is always someone else who needs a smile to lift their day,” Ms Stephan wrote.

“These two simple principles, as well as my 15m radius rule of doing my personal best, environmentally and socially, within that imaginary area, have become a modest philosophy to help me through the rougher times.”

Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott, who spoke at the service, said Ms Stephan would be remembered as “wholly beautiful”.

“She was such a wonderful, generous beautiful lady,” he said.

“She was always gracious and she will be sadly missed in our community. My sincere condolences to her family.”

Gunter and Jean Stephan were a well-travelled couple.

Ms Stephan grew up in Sydney, starting her working life as a secretary and saving every penny to fulfil her dream of travelling.

At age 19, she set sail for England aboard the liner Oriana, travelling throughout Europe before returning to Australia via the Panama Canal.

“My appetite for travel was irretrievably whetted,” she wrote.

“Not long after returning, trips to Central Australia including Darwin, through desert areas where opals are mined and eventually a camping trip around Australia helped to satisfy my addiction.”

Soon after, she met German communications technician Gunter Stephan while working at the Hamersley Iron mine in the Pilbara, and the pair were married in 1970.

The couple moved many times, with their first two children born in Cairns, while they were living at Weipa, and their final child born in 1978 in Sydney.

In 1983, they headed to the Phillipines as part of an Australian Aid project, where Ms Stephan’s daughter Catherine remembers her mum organising medical missions.

Jean Stephan loved to travel, holidaying, living and working around Australia and the world.

“She made us kids visit all the medical universities in Manila recruiting trainee surgeons and doctors and convincing them to come to Catarman, the remote island where we lived,” she said.

“They resurrected the operating theatres and performed hundreds of life-changing surgeries.

“She also convinced several pharmaceutical companies to donate their almost-out-of-date medications for the next two years.

“This was all her doing, not part of the Australia Aid project.”

Amid political tension, the family was evacuated from the Phillipines and moved to Darwin where Mr and Mrs Stephan worked on the Amadeus Basin gas project, before heading to Singapore where they would spend the next 17 years.

“Initially I wasn’t permitted to work as the spouse of an employed expatriate,” Ms Stephan wrote.

“So I enrolled in an off-campus degree with Deakin University, eventually graduating with first class honours in History and winning the university prize for my thesis.”

The couple returned to Australia and soon after Mr Stephan retired and they moved to their property in Cooktown in around 2008.

Ms Stephan received first class honours for her history degree through Deakin University.

Sadly, their retirement dreams did not come to fruition when Mr Stephan was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease which led to his passing in 2016.

Ms Stephan threw herself into volunteer work during her time in Cooktown, supporting the Cooktown Historical Society and as president of the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association.

She also continued to travel, visiting Canada, Alaska, China, Kyrgyzstan, Jordan, Venice, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and New Zealand.

Ms Stephan was the first person to choose voluntary assisted dying in Cooktown and passed away on March 28.

Ms Stephan is survived by her brother Gary Bartlett and his children Lisa and Anthony, sons Christopher and Michael and daughter Catherine, and grandchildren Matilda, Cooper, Kiri and Kloe.

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