Words of remembrance

This is Mirinda’s eulogy for Claire, which she read at the funeral today
As a mother we couldn’t have asked for a better or a kinder one. Mum believed in us unfailingly – and always supported our activities and plans with enthusiasm. Fiona was the most talented piano player for her age in the whole of the Sydney metropolitan area, I was the best at drama, and as for Jesus Christ Superstar – a show I was in at school and that some of you here today will remember – well there still hasn’t been a live show to beat it. One of Mum’s great traits was her optimism – and as Ann Hassell said after hearing of Mum’s passing “You must keep an eye out for those rosy coloured glasses your mother has there somewhere. I’d like to borrow them”. As a mother she gave Fiona and me three great gifts: Love, confidence and freedom. These gifts have been the bedrock for our lives.

Mum made sure our childhood was wonderful – Easter egg hunts in the garden – she’d make a trail of yellow daises leading to the eggs because I was short sighted and needed help finding them (Fi had to pretend she couldn’t see them); big trees with lots of decorations at Christmas; and one of our most enduring memories is all the birthday parties we had every year, ice cream cake and too much green cordial and kids running everywhere. These parties went on for half the day at least and looking back they must have been exhausting!

But Mum always enjoyed entertaining. Whether it was a bunch of 5 year olds at a birthday party, or the many dinner parties I remember at Dundas with great friends (especially Geoff and Gwenda, Margaret and Colin and Ronnie and Judy ), or entertaining international friends met through Rotary, or bigger events like hosting the wedding of one of my best friends from school, Sharon. She loved to entertain, and to take care of people.

Some of Claire's flowers
Some of Claire’s flowers

Her generosity of spirit can be seen in many parts of her life. There were the numerous charities she supported – I think ones especially close to her heart are the RSPCA, the Sydney eisteddfod (she sponsored the under 14s duologues for over 50 years), and Mogo Zoo where she sponsored Rosco the tiger. And very proud of Rosco she was too – he was the best tiger anywhere in Australia! Actually the zoo rang Mum about 6 months ago to say new baby tiger cubs had been born and as an honoured sponsor she could come down and pat them – but it had to be soon before they got much older! Unfortunately she wasn’t well enough to go down but not many people can say they have had such a cool invitation.

She was involved in Inner Wheel and Rotary for many years – and this was a really important part of her life. She had many, many friends from there, she was on the board at Granville Rotary Club for some years and was President of Inner Wheel twice. It was wonderful to see her confidence grow through all this, as she was rather shy when she was younger. I remember how proud I was of her when she managed her first public speaking – a prayer at inner wheel and she was very nervous– but in time she got used to having to make the occasional short speech. As anyone from inner wheel or rotary will tell you, she made a big contribution to many of their activities. I’d be surprised if anyone hosted more exchange students than Mum – we counted up 11 that each stayed at least 3 months with us over the years, and many more who came for much shorter periods. Mum utterly loved hosting exchange students- and she was the youth counsellor for area. Many of them became like members of the family and she remained in contact with most of them for the rest of her life. The sadness at her death spreads all over the world. The importance of what she meant to rotary and inner wheel, and the depth of friendship she had with so many members is expressed in the poem on the back of the order of service – written by Maisie Grady last Tuesday on hearing of Mum’s passing.

Of course it is impossible to talk about Mum without talking about her love of animals. She always taught us to be kind to people – but even more so to animals. Dogs, especially wire haired terriers, but all sorts of dogs were part of her life always. The first one I remember is Billy, a scruffy wire haired. He was really a type of rescue dog. But when I say rescue dog I mean Mum rescued him – from a brothel (being Mum she asked permission of the brothel ladies and tied him to a bit of string and rang Bob to fetch them home). Then there were the 2 joey kangaroos mum rescued after their mother was shot, spiders always had to be scooped up in glasses and deposited outside, and Mum brought home Kimba, a dog of very dubious parentage, from Paddy’s Market – she thought he needed rescuing because he was undernourished with rickets and bad breath. In fact she kept him hidden at home for three days before Dad finally realised we had another dog! This trait was passed on to her daughters – Fiona brought home a rat from school to escape dissection (but it was Mum who provided the rescue basket), and I arrived home one day from a school trip with two baby chickens. Unfortunately they grew up into roosters, and mum would rush out each morning before sunrise and hang on to their beaks to stop their crowing annoying the neighbours!! But Mum’s pride and joy was her Arabian stallion Cyran. She rode him when she was younger, and for a long time he was a stud horse at Angledool, before retiring to our property at Dural. She really loved Cyran – every bit as much as her dogs and he was a great source of joy for her.

So we had a complete menagerie: dogs, birds, fish, guinea pigs, horse, cows, rabbits, kangaroos, mice, and I’m not kidding but she even fed slugs on the back verandah (they like carrots apparently). But there was one animal that never made it into Mum’s good books. The cat. One visited once – a wild feral tabby was hanging about 100 foot up in a tree in the bushland at Dural. Mum had lots of animals and birds visiting the garden pond so she wasn’t too happy about it. She tried yelling at it to no avail – so she marched inside, looked under the sofa, and grabbed Bob’s 22 rifle. She always insisted the plan was to scare the cat – but the fact is she shot him straight out of the tree from a 150 feet away. No cats have tried visiting our garden pond since then. I like to think that in some way she has now joined all the many animals she loved in her life, and they will all be so happy to see her – though not the cats.

Almost a heart
Almost a heart

All this shows her kindness, her quirkiness, but also her strong independent spirit. She needed that strength and optimism at the end. I don’t want to dwell on her death, I didn’t want to start or finish with it which is why I have put it in the middle, but there is no doubt that the way she handled the last two years of illness and dwindling hope was amazing. She was so courageous, so tenacious, and still managed to find many patches of happiness and optimism in her life. But it was a tough gig – a really tough gig – and those who love her can be truly glad that she is now at peace and not suffering any more, and died with Bob and both Fiona and me with her.

As we grew older Mum was very supportive and encouraging of our university studies and our careers. She always really wanted us to be independent and to have a career. She left school at 14, which was quite normal then, and worked for about 8 years at the local council, but automatically resigned at 22 when she got married. Again perfectly normal then, but the idea really irritated her when she got older. She was really pleased to see how women’s rights improved over her life time. She worked at Stockwell’s Joinery throughout much of her married life and was a company director, and she really enjoyed being a part of that; but she told me she got a real glimpse of what it was like to have an independent career only about six years ago when she was selected for jury duty (despite deliberately wearing a Rotary badge on her jacket which she thought would get her eliminated). This was a high profile murder case, and she had to commute into Sydney every day for over 2 months. Now Mum was not a commuter – she was strictly a Mercedes Benz kind of girl, so none of us were sure how she’d go. But actually she loved it, and together with the other jurors she had to sift the evidence, listen to the arguments, and discuss and debate the decision. In the end they found the three men guilty of murder, and who knows what awfulness they averted as a result.

Another highlight of her later years was her travelling – she made 16 overseas trips altogether, with half of them being in the last decade when I moved to the UK. She saw many parts of England and the UK, plus Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hawaii, The Czech Republic, Hong Kong, New Guinea, Lichtenstein, New York, New Zealand, and Canada. Many of the trips were with me and Gary – with our favourite probably being Christmas in a tiny village in the Dolomites that had fabulous hot chocolate shops and where it snowed on Christmas eve, and the worst being Tuscany where Dad’s retina detached and we had to rush him to a hospital in Pisa and Mum and Dad had to stay for over a week while he had an operation. Mum talked of her despair on new year’s eve in Pisa when they realised they had no food and all the restaurants were full – when suddenly she remembered the Christmas cake that Gary had made that was still in their luggage. So they ate that and a sad story became a happy one!

I read from this point on (as planned) which is why it’s suddenly in the third person
One of the real highlights for Claire on her travels was not seeing the great sights, nor even the many excellent tea shops we found all over Europe, but rather it was visiting the Isle of Man and finding some long lost Manx cousins. This shows how important family and friends were to Claire. She could make friends anywhere, within 10 minutes of chat, I think because she was genuinely interested in people and such a good listener. And she could also keep friendships over a long time. Her dearest and oldest friend was Jeanette, who she met in her teens, at the same time that she met Bob, when they all joined a tennis group; and her oldest married couple friends were Rodney and Annette, who Mum and Dad met on their honeymoon on the gold coast. Rodney and Annette were on their honeymoon too. These were friendships that lasted for the rest of her life, and these relationships along with the many other people she befriended were very important to her and gave her much fun and laughter, and overwhelming support during the difficult last two years.

It is difficult to express how much her family meant to Claire. Her little sister Diane and her mother Edna, she loved very, very much, as I’m sure they know. A great support throughout her life was her step-father Jack. He passed away some years ago, and it is of some comfort to think that she is now with him. Claire had an exceptionally close relationship with her daughters Mirinda and Fiona, even though they lived a long way apart in recent years. Distance did not stop them from being part of each others daily lives through phone calls, emails and numerous visits. A source of particular joy over the past 13 years was Mum’s grandchildren, Jason and Lauren. She was very proud of them and I think her one regret would have been not seeing them grow up some more. And finally there is her husband Bob. They met when they were only 14, and started dating at 17 when Bob partnered Mum at her debut. So they are literally childhood sweethearts, and quite simply they have had almost 52 years of the happiest marriage I know.

So Claire was fortunate, and she would have been the first to say how very lucky she had been. But all of us here today were even luckier to have had Claire as part of our lives.

This is the Animoto film that Mirinda made, shown after the eulogy:

[UPDATE: Unfortunately, the link no longer works because of the end of Flash.]

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4 Responses to Words of remembrance

  1. Josephine Cook says:

    Very interesting and well written she would have been delighted hearing her life read out.
    love mum x

  2. Ina says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us: The wonderful speech and the film full of her photos. Claire would have enjoyed it all – and I am sure she will from above.

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