Gavin Paul Bennier was a larger-than-life character;
likeable, friendly and everyone’s mate.
He had a certain spark that made people want to be around him. Independent, strong, incredibly loyal and determined, Gavin succeeded at all he pursued through sheer grit and persistence. He loved his family, his girlfriend and his trusty border collie, Jill, with all his heart. His other great loves were a turtle named Spike, the Carlton Football Club and motor vehicles of all makes and models.
Gavin had a happy life, but it was a life that tragically ended all too soon.
On 18 May 2017, Gavin sadly passed away. He was only 45 and had experienced two strokes and numerous seizures.
With heavy hearts, David and Shirley Bennier would like to celebrate the life of their beloved son and create a lasting legacy in his memory – the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund. His strokes were caused by a rare, untreatable and deadly brain disorder called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA). Alarmingly, this disorder, most commonly associated with the elderly, is becoming more prevalent in younger people.
David and Shirley are determined to honour Gavin’s life and make a difference to young stroke survivors by establishing a research fund in his memory. David and Shirley also want the fund to help us better understand the impact of stroke on young people and help support them return to work, return to life.
The Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund will support a scholarship which will bolster research into the disorder which took his life. The ultimate goal is to contribute to breakthroughs in the early diagnosis of CAA, treatment, prevention and ultimately find a cure.
Help create breakthroughs in the early diagnosis of CAA, treatment, prevention and ultimately a cure to stop stroke from devastating more families.
About the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund
The Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund has been thoughtfully established by Gavin’s parents, David and Shirley Bennier.
They have created this Fund to commemorate the memory of their beloved son, Gavin. They are committed to seeking answers to why Gavin was affected cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), the disorder that caused his strokes. David and Shirley want to prevent other young people from losing their lives to CAA.
The Fund will support research which is focused towards;
- the early diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure of cerebral amyloid angiopathy induced stroke in young people;
- identifying a young person’s predisposition to cerebral amyloid angiopathy and CAA induced stroke;
- understanding factors and experiences common in young stroke survivors pre-stroke, during treatment and post stroke recovery;
- facilitating the return to work of young stroke survivors.
How will the Fund be managed?
The Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund will be administered as part of the Stroke Foundation’s Endowment Fund and has been established with a generous gift from David and Shirley Bennier. The family will be represented on the management committee of the Stroke Foundation’s Endowment Fund.
The Stroke Foundation is a national charity that partners with the community to prevent, treat and beat stroke. We stand alongside stroke survivors and their families, healthcare professionals and researchers. We build community awareness and foster new thinking. We support survivors on their journey to live the best possible life after stroke.
The goal is for the fund to continue benefiting research in CAA and stroke amongst young adults. The Bennier family hopes to continue raising funds from Gavin’s family, friends and the Australian public to build upon their initial gift.
How your support can help support stroke research
Stroke is largely preventable, it can be treated and we believe it can be beaten. Research holds the key.
Contributions to the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund will support research to deliver a deeper understanding of CAA and stroke among young people.
The results of this research will, over time, help lead to better diagnosis, treatment and support for young stroke survivors. Effective research takes time, perseverance and a great deal of funding. However, the rewards when those breakthroughs come will benefit generation after generation.
For more informationDownload the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund information booklet or get in touch.
Phone: 1300 194 196
Donations over $2 to the Stroke Foundation for the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund are tax deductible.
You can help support vital research to stop stroke from devastating more families.
Gavin Paul Bennier’s story
Gavin Paul Bennier was a larger-than-life character - likeable, friendly and everyone’s mate. He had a certain spark that made people want to be around him.
Independent, strong, incredibly loyal and determined - he succeeded at all he pursued through sheer grit and persistence.
He loved his family, his girlfriend and his trusty border collie, Jill, with all his heart. His other great loves were a turtle named Spike, the Carlton Football Club and motor vehicles of all makes and models. Gavin had a curiosity for how things worked.
Gavin was known for his signature look “the navy blue” - navy blue singlet, shorts and thongs. When he wasn’t at work, this was his uniform all year round in the tropics.
Gavin had a happy life, but it was a life that tragically ended all too soon.
On 18 May 2017, Gavin sadly passed away. He was only 45 and had suffered multiple strokes.
This is his story.
Gavin Paul Bennier was born on 20 September 1971. His parents, Shirley and David, loved him from the moment they set eyes on him. He completed their little family.
They lived in Brooklyn Park in Adelaide before moving to Loxton in the South Australian Riverland in the early 70s. The small country town proved to be a fabulous place to bring up young Gavin.
As a toddler, Gavin would tag along with mum to the sheltered workshop she and David had set up for people with disabilities. He would get involved with everything from helping out in the plant nursery, florist and egg farm, to packaging almonds and fruit picking.
He loved spending time with his mum picking grapes (mostly eating them!), watering the plants or having a paddle in the River Murray with his parents on a hot day. Life was carefree.
Gavin had a wonderful childhood. He was a popular kid at school – outgoing, energetic and happy. Gavin was able to make friends easily and maintained a close relationship with many of his childhood friends throughout his life.
He was an outstanding cook. Shirley recalls Gavin started early, joining her in the kitchen one day to help make a batch of scones when he could barely reach the bench. The scones won first prize at the primary school fair, which made him proud. He continued to dabble in the kitchen for the rest of his life – often baking-up a batch of those delicious lemonade scones.
Gavin was incredibly close and loyal to his parents David and Shirley. He cared for them deeply. Even as an adult he would call them every day to say hello. The only exception would be the odd Saturday night. They couldn’t have asked for a better son.
He was also loved dearly by his grandparents and his cousins. He adored spending time with all of his family.
When Gavin was six years old, he had a freak accident at school which could have claimed his life.
He had just sharpened a pencil and was returning to his desk, when he tripped over. Gavin fell on the floor, landing hard on the pencil. It stabbed him between his eye and nose and snapped off. It gave Gavin an abscess in the brain, which resulted in surgery.
It was a devastating day for David and Shirley. They did not know if they were going to lose their little boy. But young Gavin was very fortunate to have Professor Donald Simpson in his corner. Professor Simpson discovered graphite and timber from the pencil had been lodged into Gavin’s skull and performed the delicate operation needed to clear it.
To great relief, Gavin survived. There were fears the incident may bring on epilepsy or blindness, but the only lasting issue was a slight hesitation in speech. He was left with a big scar, but was extremely lucky to be alive!
The Bennier’s were so grateful. Gavin sent Professor Simpson a Christmas card every year, forging a lovely friendship. The cards essentially said “I’m here because of you - Merry Christmas”. David and Shirley fondly refer to the esteemed neurosurgeon as Gavin’s ‘adopted Grandfather’.
The Bennier family returned to Adelaide in 1979. Gavin went to primary school in Hallett Cove where he surrounded himself with a big group of friends again.
They would laugh and muck around together, as boys do. They’d play with cars, go to nippers (junior lifesaving) and were really into all types of sport, especially cricket, soccer and Australian rules football. Gavin’s team of choice in the South Australian competition was Sturt. Peter Motley and Rick Davies were his heroes - he idolised them. Both players would go on to play for iconic team Carlton in the national competition, and from that moment on Gavin was fanatical about the Carlton Football Club. He absolutely loved his “mighty Blues”.
As a teenager, Gavin was an enthusiastic and accomplished sportsman himself. He excelled at hockey and baseball in school and district competitions and represented the South Australia in both sports.
He also had an obsession with cars – especially older cars with history. He was fascinated by their story. As soon as Gavin was old enough to work, he got himself a casual job stacking shelves at his local supermarket to save up enough money to buy his first car, a rare Holden Monaro – his pride and joy.
Gavin didn’t read much, but he had a knack with figures and was able to beat a calculator. He loved popular music and had quite eclectic taste from ABBA to KISS, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and even heavy metal.
At 16, Gavin decided school was no longer right for him. He wasn’t the scholarly type and showed much more interest in subjects that involved using his hands like woodwork and sport. Determined to start an apprenticeship, the confident teen tirelessly knocked on doors and ended up with a choice of three trades – painter, carpenter or mechanic. He would have excelled at any of the options, but was proud to share the news with David and Shirley that he had chosen to accept the job as a “grease monkey” with the prospects of an apprenticeship.
Gavin loved the automotive industry and stuck with it for his working life, with various roles over the years including mechanic, foreman, car salesman, manager and finance broker.
Gavin left Adelaide at the tender age of 22 years old with his good friend Andrew Knights. They travelled north to Cairns together, looking for adventure and fortune. Shirley recalls she was doing a load of washing on the day Gavin set-off and she almost filled the washing machine tub with tears, testament to the pair’s close bond. Shirley and David both missed Gavin terribly, but were certain he would find his feet. It didn’t take long. Gavin and Andrew started working at a thriving local family car dealership, beginning long, accomplished careers. The dealership specialised in the Nissan, Mazda, BMW and Volkswagen brands. It was heaven for Gavin!
He was a great communicator with a beautiful, caring nature. He was a straight shooter, but there was never any malice in his words. Gavin had a kind heart and he liked to see his loved ones happy. Despite the geographical distance, David and Shirley never felt like they weren’t on his mind.
David and Shirley would look forward to visiting Gavin in tropical Cairns every year in June. It was a welcome break from the winter in Adelaide. He had established himself well and those visits have a special place in their hearts. After David retired, they eventually bought their own place in Cairns and would spend six months of the year there and six months in Adelaide.
Jill the dog became a major part of Gavin’s life in 1997. His beloved border collie would remain loyally by his side for 15 years. They were the best of mates and they were inseparable. She was a beautiful dog with a gentle nature and easily won the hearts of all who knew her.
The following year, Gavin bought his own home. It was his pride and joy (besides Jill). He was excellent with his hands and would spend most of his spare time renovating. Gavin would thoroughly research how to do each project properly. He was a perfectionist. It showed in the quality of his workmanship. David says each room looked like it belonged on the pages of a fancy design magazine. Gavin even had space dedicated to his extensive Carlton Footy Club collection, which included navy blue and white football jumpers, scarves, teddy bears, watches and rugs!
Even though Gavin was a sociable guy, he was content in his own company and enjoyed hanging out in the home he had created. He liked a laugh and was obsessed with the television show M*A*S*H. He was able to recite almost every episode word for word. David and Shirley knew his routine well. The phone would ring for Gavin’s daily chat as soon as M*A*S*H was over.
Gavin also devoured documentaries about people, science and the environment. He watched just about everything David Attenborough ever made and had a true appreciation for people who had achieved great things like physicists Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox. Documentaries appealed to his curiosity and thirst for understanding how things worked.
Then at 7am on Friday 5 February 2016 everything changed. It began just like any normal day. Gavin was at home, getting ready for work as a car salesman as he had done so many times before, when he suffered a stroke.
Luckily Gavin’s friend dropped in on her way to a fitness class and discovered him, collapsed in the bathroom. She called for an ambulance straight away, while Gavin’s neighbour contacted David and Shirley.
Gavin’s world fell apart when he suffered a stroke. Physically, he was paralysed down one side and emotionally, he was gob smacked. Stroke was not something a strong and vibrant man in his early 40s, like Gavin, would ever expect.
David and Shirley dropped everything to support Gavin. They would do anything for their son. He was their one and only. They were by his side in the stroke ward in Cairns every day. No words can explain the anguish the couple felt.
Gavin’s extensive friendship circle was shocked by his stroke. His girlfriend, Maree, and his mates rallied around him and would visit him every day in hospital to support him and cheer him on. He also made new friends with the staff and other stroke survivors in the ward who were drawn to him by his enthusiasm. Everyone wanted to see Gavin do well in his recovery. They would applaud him as he reached each stroke recovery milestone like talking, walking and climbing steps again.
While all of this encouragement was welcome and much appreciated, most of the motivation came from Gavin himself. His inner strength and determination kicked into overdrive. He was incredibly dedicated to recovering from his stroke. He desperately wanted to get back to work and to live his life, but he was extremely frustrated with his left arm paralysis. He not only relied on his arm and hands for work, but for the activities he enjoyed in his own time.
Doctors believed Gavin would remain in the stroke unit for around eight months and was likely to leave in a wheelchair, but they didn’t account for Gavin’s fighting spirit. Gavin simply said “no way”. He threw everything into his recovery and walked out of hospital after just three months.
In every possible way, Gavin’s independence shone through. One of the key reasons he was discharged was because he could cook for himself. All that time in the kitchen over the years had paid off. He was a better cook with one arm than some people are with two. He could crack an egg cleanly with just one hand.
Returning home after his stroke had its challenges. But Gavin had his parents, Maree and team of visiting occupational therapists and physios dedicated to supporting his recovery. He needed help with showering, and some domestic chores, but he endeared himself to that team through his fun-loving personality, sheer determination and his spark.
David and Shirley moved-in with Gavin to offer further help for the first three months. It was difficult for them to see their son relying on other people to pull up his shorts or tie his shoe laces. They struggled to know their place at times and would question whether they were doing too much or not enough for him.
Gavin’s stroke took a huge emotional toll on his parents. In hindsight, they have realised they needed psychological support at the time to help them deal with the gravity of the situation and what it meant for Gavin’s future. But they were focused on him and his recovery and not on their own needs.
However, Gavin continued to surge forward in his recovery with remarkable gusto. Six months after the stroke, he was making outstanding progress physically. His mindset was positive and he was walking up to 80 kilometres a week. He bought himself an activity tracker and was using it to motivate himself to walk further and further each day.
Gavin hoped to return to work selling cars. He just needed to keep making gains in the movement of his hand. He was also desperate to drive again and bought a new car, an automatic, as an incentive to push on with his rehab.
He adjusted to life after stroke. He enjoyed spending time at home, where he’d cook Sunday lunches for family and friends. Gavin was a real whiz on the barbecue. Life really was looking up.
Then he suffered a major setback - he had the first of many seizures.
It was the day before he was due to take his driving test to get back behind the wheel. This was an important day. The test would re-open doors that had been closed since his stroke. He had been looking forward to it.
The seizure sent Gavin spiraling backwards. All of that positive progress he’d made in recovery came to a sudden halt. He was full of anxiety. He worried that he’d have another seizure while out walking, so it went to the wayside.
The seizure also had a huge impact on Gavin’s mood. A dark cloud and depression moved in. This usually upbeat and strong-willed guy with a lust for life had been rocked to his core. He was scared.
Gavin continued to have seizures, but the doctors didn’t know why or whether he would continue to have them. There was no explanation for what was happening inside of Gavin’s brain.
Gavin tried his best to keep-up his spirits, but he was frustrated.
Less than a year after his first seizure, he suffered a second stroke. It was catastrophic. Gavin battled hard to stay alive in intensive care, but his determination was not enough this time. His body could no longer cope.
Gavin’s spark had burnt out way too soon.
In a true display of friendship and loyalty, Gavin’s mates combined their skills after his death and completed the final renovation needed on his home – the master bedroom and ensuite. They did the work from the heart because Gavin had made their lives richer. It was a kind and generous gesture which meant the world to David and Shirley.
Since Gavin’s death, his heartbroken parents have learnt he had a rare, untreatable and deadly brain disorder called Cerebral Amyloid Angiopathy (CAA). It is most commonly associated with dementia and people much older than Gavin.
David and Shirley have learnt all they can about CAA, but there are many unanswered questions. The disorder is almost impossible to diagnose, it is currently untreatable and it is fatal.
With heavy hearts, but full conviction, the Bennier’s are determined to honour their darling Gavin and make a difference to young stroke survivors by establishing a research fund in his memory.
The Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund will support a scholarship which will bolster research into the disorder which took his life. The ultimate goal would be to create breakthroughs in the early diagnosis of CAA, treatment, prevention and ultimately a cure.
David and Shirley also want the fund to help us better understand the impact of stroke on young people and help support them return to work, return to life.
The Bennier’s don’t want other young people to go through the same devastating experience that Gavin did. They also want to spare other parents the anguish of losing a child.
Losing Gavin has been the most tragic event in David and Shirley’s life. His spark touched so many lives. He was greatly admired and well respected, ‘full of beans’, pragmatic, dependable and caring. The daily phone calls are greatly missed.
Whilst Gavin’s light may have been lost to the world, within hours of his death he had transformed the lives of two other Australians through organ donation.
David and Shirley take comfort from Gavin’s final act of generosity. The greatest gift that anyone could give.
David and Shirley have vowed to make a difference.
They say “we do not have control over many things in life, but we do have control over the meaning we give it,” and they are determined to have a positive impact and create a lasting legacy in Gavin’s memory.
Donate to the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund to support a scholarship which will bolster research into the disorder which took Gavin's life.
If you’d like to talk to someone about the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund and the work of the Stroke Foundation to prevent, treat and beat stroke, please contact a member of the Individual Philanthropy Team
Phone: 1300 194 196
Donations over $2 to the Stroke Foundation for the Gavin Paul Bennier Memorial Research Fund are tax deductible.