Through her work with The Foundation, Gabi has been awarded an Advance Australia Award for Community Service, a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International and has been named as one of Australia's 100 Living National Treasures.
Gabi Hollows grew up on a 25 acre orchard just outside Gosford on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Her interest in health goes back a long way. As a teenager she worked every Saturday morning as receptionist for a local GP.
'I became interested (in medicine) at a very early age. I was quite cross-eyed when I was about three years old. After visiting doctors and having an operation to correct my eyes I decided that I wanted to help people with eye problems,' says Gabi.
Gabi graduated as an Orthoptist in 1972 and it was during her training that she first met Fred Hollows.
Working with Fred
After initially working in Newcastle and Gosford, Gabi took up a position at The Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick, NSW. In 1976 she joined the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program which was initiated and led by Fred Hollows and sponsored by the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists and the Australian Government.
For three years, Gabi and Fred visited over 465 remote Indigenous communities with a team of people, treating Indigenous Australians for trachoma and other painful eye conditions. This was a life-changing experience for Gabi, who previously knew little about Indigenous Australia.
'It was a tremendous honour and privilege as a middle-class Australian woman to work on this program…It was a shocking, long and hard few years on the road. My passion to walk alongside Indigenous Australians as they tackle health problems is as strong today as it was then,' says Gabi.
Gabi Hollows (nee O'Sullivan) and Fred Hollows were married in 1980 and have five children: Cam, Emma, Anna-Louise and twins Ruth and Rosa.
'I discovered what an unusual person Gabi was early on, when I worked with her in a black’s camp in the Territory. I was examining eyes and grading for trachoma; Gabi was taking visual fields and I can tell you which is the harder job - hers.
'You have to deal with linguistic and cultural differentials and be patient and pleasant if you hope to achieve anything. Gabi must have examined two hundred people that day, and she was as soothing and agreeable to the two hundredth as she had been to the first.
'I noticed something else: Gabi's tone of voice, manner and body language didn’t change, whether she was dealing with the station manager or the oldest, most withered Aborigine in the camp. That kind of innate goodness is rare.'
Life after Fred
When Fred became sick with cancer, Gabi exuded Fred's vibrant spirit to help build The Fred Hollows Foundation, while still running a household of young children and taking care of her husband.
Since Fred Hollows' death on 10 February 1993, Gabi has continued to work tirelessly for The Foundation. Gabi is a Founding Director, Patron of The Miracle Club and the public face of The Foundation.
Just five weeks after Fred's death Gabi travelled to Vietnam to reassure Vietnamese ophthalmologists that The Foundation would continue Fred’s work there. 'Fred understood 'right and wrong' and hated bureaucracy. He did not like to waste time. His nickname was 'fearless Fred',' says Gabi.
Following her earlier work in the field, Gabi remains passionate about and committed to The Foundation’s Indigenous Health Program. 'If he's (Fred) looking down on us from heaven up top he'd be so excited that we've kept our promise.'
In 2013 she was named among the 40 Most Inspiring Women Over 40 in Australia by Prevention Magazine.
In 2003, she was awarded a Centenary Medal by the Australian Government and received a District Toastmasters Award. Gabi is also Patron of other organisations, including Blenheim House, (the oldest house in Randwick), Cottage Hospital at Lightning Ridge and The LifeForce Foundation.
Gabi is particularly passionate about children and education and has a close association with Rotary. In 1996 Gabi married lawyer and friend John Balazs. Gabi is still known as Gabi Hollows.