UOW is deeply saddened to announce the passing of John Lajoie, who for 20 years lived and breathed his job as caretaker of the then Teachers’ College/Institute of Education grounds and buildings.
Mr Lajoie was born in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel, near the French coast. It’s known for beach resorts and beautiful coastal-cliff scenery. Mr Lajoie was always quick to tell anyone he definitely wasn’t a Pom, but a proud Guernseyman, boasting a GBG sticker on his car and proudly carrying his French surname!
He came to Australia with his wife Eileen (who also worked at the College) and their son David, in 1957. He embraced Australia and all it had to offer, especially the outdoor lifestyle and warm weather.
Mr Lajoie’s first job in Australia was as a carpenter on a building site in Sydney – he lasted 3 weeks because he didn’t like the poor workmanship. He then went on to work as a guide at Wombeyan Caves for two and half years. He absolutely loved it there, however his wife Eileen found it very isolated. He spent the next eight years in Katoomba, where he was the caretaker of the local high school, living on site. In the late 1960’s Mr Lajoie moved the family to Wollongong. He loved Wollongong, and in particular, its proximity to the beach.
From 1967 – 1987 Mr Lajoie was the caretaker of the Teachers’ College/Institute of Education, and he and his family also lived on the grounds. Mr Lajoie was a hard worker with a great work ethic, and always saw that everything was just right – all without fuss. He was famous for his uniform of shorts and long socks, with a tie his only addition in the cooler, winter months!
Mr Lajoie’s daughter, Elizabeth Mulligan, recounts that he was on the job 24/7, with many a weekend knock on the door from a lecturer who had forgotten their keys and a “could you just let me in please, John?” During their time living on campus, the Lajoie family experienced a range of unusual situations. There were bushfires, escaped cattle, a riderless horse that appeared out of nowhere (rider injured), lots of learner drivers and people picnicking in the grounds (who were politely asked to leave), and university students stealing the family’s washing for O Week!
Emeritus Professor Peter Rousch AM, retired UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor and former Director of the Institute of Education, described the grounds as being idyllic, with a magnificent rose garden at the Principal’s house, which Mr Lajoir and his wife proudly tended. Professor Rousch recalled that people would often take their wedding photos in the grounds with the roses as the backdrop.
In his retirement, Mr Lajoie spent time on his hobbies of lapidary (the practice of shaping stone, minerals, or gemstones) and silver work, winning many prizes in competitions and selling his wares at local markets. He indulged his love of anything that flew by spending many hours at Albion Park Airport. He also enjoyed spending time with his daughter Elizabeth and son David, his grandchildren and of course his wife, Eileen.
Mr Lajoie was a master storyteller and always ready for a chat, to share a joke and have a laugh.
Mr Lajoie passed away on 16 August 2021 at age 94. He will be beautifully remembered and sadly missed.