Jill Ruzbacky – a tireless warrior for social justice

jill ruzbacky

28/1/1970 – 9/4/2018

It is a testimony to synod social justice advocate Jill Ruzbacky’s profound impact on so many that there was an outpouring of tributes and grief from across the world at the news of her death at the age of 48 after eight months of illness in hospital.

Hundreds of social media messages remembered and affirmed the courage and conviction that was the stamp of Jill’s energetic personality:

“Around the country and in far-off lands (especially the Philippines), Jill will be remembered and missed”. “A social justice warrior.” “A strong, joyful and generous spirit who lived and served for the common good.” “A true friend of the marginalised.”

Jill was born and spent her early years in Tasmania before moving to Melbourne to do postgraduate study in 1997. She worked for several years in the Philippines with NGOs. Returning to Australia, she worked as a Community Health and Development worker with newly-arrived migrants, asylum seekers and refugees for over 15 years.

When she joined the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit as a Social Justice Officer in 2008, Jill focused on education and advocacy.

Dr Mark Zirnsak, Senior Social Justice Advocate for eLM (equipping Leadership for Mission), led the JIM unit and worked closely with Jill for 10 years. He said that Jill was a tireless worker and campaigner for the better treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, human rights issues in the Philippines, promotion of international mission relationships with partner churches and for Covenanting and Reconciliation.

“Jill had an amazing ability to make connections with people,” Mark said.

“She seemed to know so many people across the churches and this proved to be very helpful to the work of the JIM unit in mobilising people to take action in support of the social justice mission of the synod.”

As part of her work with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Jill ran the AboutFACE program which places UC members in First People communities. She also represented the Uniting Church in a leadership role on the National Council of Churches in Australia.

Often it was the detail of care that set Jill apart. In the lead-up to Mother’s Day 2015 she wrote to colleagues about a local group she belonged to that was planning to take flowers to the women in detention centres in the hope that it “will lift the spirits of those currently in detention”.

In next-to-no-time she raised $500 which went towards flowers put in boxes to navigate the ‘no vases rule’ and one bouquet went to each woman at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation in Broadmeadows.        

Amid all her other work for social justice, Jill supported her work colleagues as the Australian Services Union delegate for over a decade. She left a legacy of improved conditions and pay that she fought for on behalf of synod staff.

ASU organiser Luke Cherry said that she will be sorely missed.

“There is no doubt that every person working at the synod is better off as a result of Jill’s actions and passion, not to mention the many others she supported as a worker and activist in the community,” he said. 

Jill was a passionate AFL supporter and at her funeral in Glen Waverley UC the North Melbourne team song rang out loud and proud at the conclusion. She was also a keen gardener and loved to cook.

Moderator Sharon Hollis expressed what many felt about Jill that “the best tribute we can offer Jill is to live our lives with the same joy and deep commitment to creating a kinder, more compassionate world”.

Jill is survived by her husband Robert.   

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