John, a noun is a name of a place or a thing

1 Jan 2014

When John Ebsary looks back, it is easy to see the influence of his parents reflected in his values on research, philanthropy, education and making a difference. Mr Ebsary is passionate about many things - and the importance of each of them was instilled in him as a child.

His mother was a tireless advocate of education, and his father had a gift of invention, intuition and practicality. These elements are clear in Mr Ebsary’s work for the JEM Research Foundation, a private philanthropic organisation.

The foundation has provided postdoctoral researcher Dr Celena Heazlewood with funding for stem cell research at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), based at UQ. It allows Dr Heazlewood to continue work with amniotic membrane derived mesenchymal stem cells, in the lab of AIBN Associate Professor Christine Wells. Put simply, the cells can be steered to turn into different tissue types, specifically bone and cartilage. They show promise as a therapy for injured and inflamed areas of the human body.

This is just the type of project Mr Ebsary was seeking when he decided JEM Research Foundation would support stem cell research.

“I am quite interested in stem cell research being carried out in various institutions, and I found that this work was being conducted at UQ which was where my mother had studied - it was a good fit,” he said.

As a child, Mr Ebsary remembers pulling out weeds in the garden alongside his mother, Jessie Eleanor King. “John, a noun is a name of a place or a thing,” she told her young son. “Remember: a noun is a name.” It was part of the importance Mr Ebsary’s mother placed on the English language - a natural extension of her studies in English and History at UQ in the 1930s.

She graduated from UQ in 1938 with a Bachelor of Arts, one of 64 people to be conferred a BA in that year from a total of 133 graduands. The UQ Annual Report for 1938 records 379 men enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts and 168 women.

“She was very interested in education and made sure her children and children’s children were just as keen on education," Mr Ebsary said.

“If our children achieve their potential that is all I could ever ask." 

Mr Ebsary’s own interest in education has come to be connected with an enthusiasm for research, particularly in the field of medicine.

“I am particularly interested in stem cell research: I feel it is the way of the future for mankind. It has been a steep learning curve for me,” he said.

This interest in medicine can be traced to his father, Vivian Ebsary, a pump manufacturer who designed equipment used in early open-heart surgeries in the 1950s and 1960s.

“My father had an interest in medicine that stemmed from his mother who had been a matron in Western Australia. He also established the Ebsary family’s philanthropic culture when he contributed financial support for the first delegation of medicos from Sydney as they went abroad to study open-heart surgery," Mr Ebsary said.

His father became involved in manufacturing the first heart-lung machines in Australia, built and donated the first machine in Australia to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children.

“My father left school when he was still young, yet he was practical and intuitive. He worked with Standards Australia and CSIRO to write the standard for placing theatre staff; surgeons, anaesthetists, and other medical staff inside a pressure vessel - the standard is still in place today. What I learned from my father was that perfect is good enough.

“We always had something positive to do, we were always busy. I try to make a difference and if I have made a difference then I have achieved my goal," Mr Ebsary said.

For more information on the AIBN click here.