Media icon Ita Buttrose’s most passionate causes are her role as patron of The Priceline Sisterhood Foundation, a charity inspired by Sir Bob Geldof’s speech at a Priceline conference and Alzheimer’s Australia, for which she is a National Ambassador.
Since the Sisterhood began in 2011, it’s raised more than $3 million for its five partners –– Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), Children First Foundation, Look Good Feel Better, Hear To Listen and Alzheimer’s Australia.
The latter is particularly dear to Ita’s heart; she watched her beloved father Charles, a former editor of the Daily Mirror in Sydney, succumb to the heart-breaking effects of vascular dementia.
In an exclusive interview in Game Changers, Ita, who is a national ambassador for Alzheimer’s Australia, which advocates and raises awareness for the most common cause of dementia, talked movingly about her father Charles Buttrose’s fight with dementia.
Charles Buttrose passed away in 1999. He was diagnosed with vascular dementia, which affects circulation of blood to the brain. Ita revealed that she and her brothers – Julian, Will, and Charles – were determined to fulfil their father’s wish to stay in his own home.
“We did manage to do that for him,’ Ita told fellow Studio 10 panellist Sarah Harris during an interview for our GameChangers.com.au series.
“Sometimes he seemed quite okay. And other times he clearly wasn’t,” she said.
Death has a presence, it’s hard to describe.
“One day I went around and dad was out the front, well into his 80s by now, and I said “G’day dad how are you?”, and he said, “If you must know, I’m feeling depressed”‘.
“It breaks your heart because you realise he knows, of course he knows everything is not quite right. And you think, I can’t even help my dad whose depressed.”
Ita, who said her father never forgot who she was, recalled one day when he had a long conversation with his son Jules.
As Jules got into his car to leave, Charles called out: ‘Bye Craig!’
“You do have to laugh,’ Ita said as she shared a giggle with Sarah. ‘You do have these funny moments when somebody has dementia. And if you didn’t laugh when these things happened, you’d spend your whole time crying, so you do have to laugh sometimes because there are funny moments.”
Ita was with Charles when he passed away, and said she is glad she was there to hold his father’s hand on his final day.
“Death has a presence, it’s hard to describe,” she said.
“You just suddenly realise that something has happened. It’s just a presence. Then you realise they’re gone.”
Ita said the feeling wasn’t ‘frightening’, but rather ‘peaceful’.
Now Ita is hoping to find a cure or treatment for the very disease that took her father’s life.
And she’s hoping to reach out to others who are also caring for family members who are going through the exact same thing.
“I’m really happy to help because I understand the journey, I saw what happened to my father,” she said.
“I know the emotions, I know what happens to the person who gets a diagnosis. I know what it’s like for the family. If we could find a way to slow this down, I would be so happy.”