Just over two years ago, Bridget Sakr’s 11-year-old daughter Veronique was killed along with her three cousins by a drunk and drugged driver at Oatlands.
The business leader and mother of two says she will never stop grieving but the tragedy has inspired her to “give back” to the community that enfolded her family in love and support.
Faith and service have been the common threads throughout Bridget’s life, and underpin her current run for parliament in next weekend’s Strathfield by-election.
“I feel that as broken-hearted, as wounded as I am, I still have got that courage to keep going” – Bridget Sakr
As the Liberal Party candidate for former Opposition Leader Jodi McKay’s hotly-contested seat, she believes she is answering a call to serve wherever her unique blend of personal skills, expertise and experience can best help people in need in her community.
Taking a short break at Picnic Café in Burwood Park this week, Bridget told The Catholic Weekly she had always followed politics but never aspired to be a politician until she was invited to consider it.
“Our family tragedy was so public and the support provided was incredible but I am very aware that so many people suffer in silence without receiving anything like that level of support that we did,” she said. “So I see this as an opportunity to give back, to embrace their needs and challenges and be a strong voice for them in government.
“I was taught always to serve, my Christian upbringing taught me to act on the needs of others. It’s a calling and as I walk around to talk to people they have just opened their hearts to me.”
The culturally diverse electorate includes the Strathfield and Burwood local government areas and parts of Canterbury-Bankstown and Inner West LGA’s.
In Strathfield, more than 65 per cent of residents were born overseas and speak a language other than English at home, many of Chinese heritage, followed by Indian and Korean. Known for its many schools, education is a priority in the suburb. Nearly 37 percent of the adult population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with just over 23 percent across the state.
Bridget’s competition includes Labor candidate Jason Yatsen-Li, Independent Elizabeth Farrelly and Ellie Robertson of the Sustainable Australia Party.
Bridget’s focus is on safer and less congested roads, support for local businesses, appropriate development and home ownership. She says she is also driven to improve mental health services, particularly for people living with grief and the effects of trauma.
One of four siblings born to Maronite Catholic mother and Roman Catholic father, Mary and Edward Jajou, Bridget has always lived in Sydney’s inner west and attended St Vincent’s Catholic Primary School and Bethlehem College, both in Ashfield. She moved to Strathfield around five years ago to be close to her children’s schools, Santa Sabina College for Veronique and St Patrick’s College for 15-year-old Michael.
When the tragedy struck Bridget, she had already built a successful career in financial services and co-founded a mortgage company with her husband Craig Mackenzie to assist people to purchase their own homes.
In November 2020 she created an online grief support network she called heartFELT (standing for Families Experiencing Loss and Trauma), which has now been extended into Sydney Catholic Schools. She also joined the Legion of Mary apostolate in Homebush West, volunteering every week, with a focus on apostolic work to support people in the community in need.
A Christian model of service
Everyone on her campaign team prominently wears a large miraculous medal, on which the figure of Our Lady is embossed against a deep blue background, her own signature colour, Veronique’s favourite colour and the heartFELT theme colour.
“My faith underpins everything I do, and I grieve the loss of Veronique every day,” Bridget said. “I have a cross to carry and I will carry it and continue to serve where I can, which is what Christ did, with the support of my husband Craig, Michael my son and God.
“I feel that as broken-hearted, as wounded as I am, I still have got that courage to keep going, and my daughter gives me that strength, as does Our Lady.”
Bridget and Craig married earlier this month in an intimate and bittersweet occasion attended by family and close friends, and in lieu of a honeymoon, it is 4.30am wake ups to prepare to hit the daily campaign trail.
“At the moment this is our 110 percent focus and in a week’s time we’ll stop and see what life looks like after that,” Craig smiled. “The one thing I will say about Bridget is that we are used to hearing politicians say that they are here to serve their constituents.
“But Bridget in her corporate career served her customers with a fierce passion, building amazing relationships and friendships with them. She’s served in nursing homes, in Meals on Wheels, in her churches and parishes, and caring for her own mother. It’s just who she is.”
Announcing Bridget as the new candidate for Strathfield, Premier Dominic Perrottet said she had shown “immense courage and fortitude in the face of unspeakable tragedy”. “As a candidate, she embodies all of the values we want in our elected leaders, particularly her commitment to giving voice to those who struggle to be heard,” he said on social media.
Campaign leader Noel George Whelan told The Catholic Weekly that his biggest headache is that “everyone wants to hug her”.
“She’s a natural leader, and she has the essence of a mother, a matriarch, that everyone can relate to,” he said. “People are drawn to her and can see that she’s a person genuinely devoted to service, along with her husband and it’s beautiful to see.”