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Fantastic daughter who was such a fighter

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: January 13, 2009

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JANE McGrath was a fighter right to the end. Even as she stared death in the face, she was able to summon enough courage and strength to say one, final goodbye to her dad.

It was a moment which will stay with retired Paignton businessman Roy Steele for the rest of his life.

Jane was no ordinary daughter. She was well known as the wife of Australian cricketing legend Glenn McGrath.

But she had also made a name for herself as she fought battle after battle against cancer over 11 long years, and dedicated the last few years of her life helping others stricken by the illness.

It did eventually claim her life. And Roy, speaking for the first time since she died, remembers the strength she was able to show as she fought for the last time.

It was one day towards the end of June last year when Roy, 73, received a phone call from his son, John, who also lives in Australia, to say he should get to Sydney as soon as possible.

Roy remembers: "My son rang me to say I needed to be there.

"I knew Jane would not survive but I did not realise it would be so quick."

John picked him up from the airport in Sydney and they drove down to the home Jane shared with Glenn and their two children, James, eight, and Holly, seven.

"Jane was in bed in the lounge," Roy recalls.

"I looked at her. It was not my Jane who was lying there.

"I went by the side of her and touched her arm. She was in a half coma and I said 'Jane, I love you so much'.

"Ten seconds later she said: 'Dad, I love you, too'.

"That moment will be with me for the rest of my life."

Jane died at 8am on Sunday June 22. She was just 42.

"She wanted to be at home where she was," said Roy.

He and Pat Marshall, his partner for the past 20 years, visited the McGraths every year, staying with them for two or three months at a time.

The last time Roy was in Australia was for Jane's funeral, at the same church she and Glenn wed in nine years earlier.

Roy remembers: "When we got to the church in Sydney for her funeral it was untrue.

"The police were holding the crowds back. There were TV cameras and reporters outside. When we got into the church we sat at the front and Jane's coffin was there. Ten feet above us were two giant TV screens. They kept showing pictures of Jane throughout the service. It was unbelievable.

"When I came out of the church this man came up to me and said he was Kevin Rudd.

"I had a general conversation with him for about 10 minutes. My son then came up to me and asked me if I knew who I had been talking to. It was the Australian Prime Minister.

"We were just talking normally. He was just a normal bloke with no airs and graces."

Other famous mourners included Australian cricketing superstars Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.

A famous talk show star was also among the congregation as the service was broadcast live across the country.

These were the kind of people Glenn and Jane had got to know over the years, obviously much of the time through cricket.

The couple, however, were also never far from the spotlight as they first set up and then promoted a special foundation to help victims of cancer.

The McGrath Foundation was formed after Jane received help from a breast care nurse during her battle against the disease.

She found the care and support priceless.

The proceeds of a book about the couple's life living with cancer were donated to get the foundation off the ground. As well as various awareness campaigns, the foundation now finances hospitals and other health bodies to train and supply breast cancer nurses throughout Australia.

The couple were recognised for their charity work last year when they were appointed Members of the Order of Australia.

Jane worked for Roy as an 18-year-old in what was the former Tides Restaurant on Preston seafront in 1984/85.

He moved to Torbay in the early 80s from Lichfield in the Midlands.

He had a newsagents at Manor Corner in Preston before buying the Tides Inn. He ran that for two years before going into 'semi-retirement' and buying the Crusty Loaf bakery in Barton, Torquay, in 1986. He sold it in 1996 and then opened a small newsagent's kiosk at the Crossway shopping arcade in Paignton in 1997. He retired five years ago.

Jane moved to the Cotswolds when she landed an air stewardess's job with Virgin Atlantic. It was during a flight that Jane met Glenn.

Roy says: "The Australians were on the plane. Their manager told Jane they were having a function and invited her and the other girls. It was in Hong Kong. She said their eyes met over the bar and that was it."

Roy says he was 'pleasantly surprised' when he met his future son-in-law for the first time after Jane moved Down Under with him in 1997.

Glenn, standing at around 6ft 6in, was renowned for being a fierce, no holds-barred bowler in true brash Aussie style.

"He is not the person off the field that he is on the field," says Roy.

"He is a real gentleman, a gentle giant. On the field he is just out to win.

"I thought 'God he is a big bloke'. But I was pleasantly surprised. He is a very nice bloke."

Avid cricket fan Roy couldn't believe his luck when Jane announced she was seeing one of the world's biggest names in the game.

He was able to meet — and form friendships — with cricketing legends.

He was also afforded the luxury of tickets to some of the best Test matches — including some of the games during England's Ashes triumph in 2005.

And he was given access to places of which the most ardent cricket aficionado could only dream.

Roy recalls: "We were at a children's Christmas party two years ago. I sat with Matthew Hayden and had a drink with Justin Langer.

"I don't mean to name drop, but these are the kind of people I have been so lucky to meet.

"I have met Shane Warne several times. Let's just say he is a character.

"I still keep in touch with Steve Waugh. Whenever I am over in Australia his wife will always say you must come and visit."

He also remembers being invited to the Australian's dressing room at Lords during one Test.

"Women were not allowed but they made sure Pat had a bottle of wine and a glass and she sat out in front of the dressing room," says Roy.

"That's the difference with the Australians. When you talk to them they are nice, normal blokes."

That's probably why he now gets behind the Aussies rather than the English when the two old enemies clash.

"The Aussies are just very social people," he says.

Roy keeps in regular contact with Glenn.

"At Christmas he put James and Holly on the phone," says Roy.

"We are always on the phone."

Glenn and the children are also planning a visit to the Bay when the Aussies visit England for this year's Ashes battle in June/July.

Some of them may be wearing pink ribbons and using pink grips on their bats — to represent the McGrath Foundation.

The Aussie cricket authorities showed their support for the foundation only last week during the Test against South Africa when they made the traditional third 'ladies' day the Jane McGrath Day and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the foundation.

Roy reveals: "I would like to see the foundation come to England. I would love to become involved with it and I am planning to mention it to Glenn."

Roy has seen Paignton change over the years.

"Woolies gone and Rossiters about to close. What is left for people in Paignton?" he asks.

"There are so many empty shops."

He has been tempted to emigrate Down Under, but his partner Pat is happy to stay put. He is quick to pay tribute to her for her support.

"Pat has been behind me 110 per cent," says Roy.

He still has his memories of a fantastic daughter.

"I cannot believe the high regard and esteem she was held in," he says.

"She just wanted to give people back what they had given her.

"Jane was just such a fighter. She would never give up. She will always be with me.

"Sometimes I sit at home with a small gin and tonic, look at her pictures and wonder how a father could have had a daughter like that. I look at those pictures and still say 'Hallo' to her in the mornings. She will never go away."

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