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John Stahel
9 years ago

Mary Mildred Born June 11th 1916 in Concord The eldest child of Frank and Mildred Gillies Sister to Kathleen, Robert & Nance The endless stories Mum was able to recount about her childhood are testimony to her very happy childhood. It was, I’m sure, crucial to the development of her extraordinary optimism. It was a world of Sunday School picnics, corner shops, chooks and lots of laughter. It would come as no surprise to any of you to know that her father was a member of a laughing club’ and regularly encouraged the family to laugh out loud at the dinner table. She went to Concord Public School, she had the same teacher in Kindergarten as I had 35 years later. She was a bright child but her report cards consistently harped on about being a distraction to the other children. She apparently talked too much in class. She went to Fort Street Girls High. Again the school acknowledged that she was bright and capable but also remarked that she was a distraction to the other children. Apparently she was still talking too much in class. When she was a student at Fort Street, the building in Millers Point that is now the National Trust Gallery, the Harbour Bridge was being built. She was in the front row of the first school to cross it. The school and the bridge were to remain sources of endless stories throughout her life. She was a very proud old Fortian and was invited to the town hall for speech day every year. She attended often and was still doing so into her nineties as an honored guest. After leaving school she worked briefly, met Ted, they courted and saved for a house, They would walk home, so that they could spend more time together and so that they could save the threepenny tram fare. By the time they got married in October 1939 they had saved enough for their first house. Dad went to war and Mum went and bought a house in Bexley, She paid 750 pounds - Cash. They got together for precious moments during the war and their first child, Gwyneth was born in 1944. The enemy defeated, Dad returned from Darwin in a stolen 36 wheeled gun carrier and they started to build a family. Geoffrey in 1947 and I was added in 1952. They lived in Concord West, Concord again and then in 1957 we all moved to Beecroft. Mum became a member of this church starting a 54 year association that has been central to her life. She was involved with the life of the Church and made a huge contribution. She also put in all the energy and vivacity that we admired into her children’s schools and the famous Beecroft Childrens Library. In addition she had a very active social life with her friends and large extended family. She remained close to all her siblings and their children, her cousins, her aunts and uncles their children and their childrens children. While her own family were at the centre of her routine, the stage on which she performed was a large one so once her children left home there were always more than enough people in her life to fill the gaps. She was always glad to see us, but she was also glad to see everybody else. By 1972, her family grown up and as she already knew most people in Australia she needed to start collecting overseas friends. Mum and Dad went to Europe and met Germans, Americans, Britons and Danes. They all became friends and she maintained close friendships with people around the world. By the time she was into her nineties of course, a lot of friends had moved on, but Mum had a capacity to connect with people of all ages so her Christmas card list never seemed to get smaller. From Beecroft, Mum and Dad moved to Cherrybrook and built another robust series of friendships at Falcon Hill. She was actively involved with the Embroiders Guild, her grandchildren’s lives and any social event that was on offer. The bigger the better. I have never been able to construct an image in my head of her sitting quietly at home, lonely. Dad died in 1995 and she stepped up the pace. More travel and more time for friends. She happily moved to Yurana two years ago and quickly made friends and maintained her zest. She died last Saturday, peacefully, sitting in her favorite chair, dressed in purple. Men of Mum’s generation might be talked about in terms of service to their country or by their contribution to corporate life. Women of that era might perhaps be thought of as good mothers involved in charitable works. Mollie was a good mother. She was a good grandmother. She did exemplary work for her community. And that is a sort of description of her life. But we all know that wasn’t really her life. The number of people here today is testament that there was something much bigger going on. As I have described it here it appears her life was was defined by the places she lived, her homemaking skills or the church she belonged to. It’s true that she wasn’t someone whose life can be described by great physical achievements or huge creative enterprises. She didn’t find a cure for a disease, she didn’t win prizes for athletic success. She never climbed the Matterhorn, - …..but you can bet she knew someone who did and she knew their brother and she knew what school he went to. Mollie’s life can be defined much better by the relationships she made and maintained. She nurtured a constellation of friendships throughout her life. Everyone found her good company and that is a skill, an important skill that doesn’t win medals but plays a vital role in how society works. She not only connected with people herself, she connected thousands of us through her. My cousin Rosemary just told me a few days ago that her grandson Hamish was warned prior to a visit to Mollie that she is very old and that he would have to speak up because she was a little deaf. He thinks and then asks “ Can she talk ? Well, yes Hamish. She could talk. And I could amuse you all for some time with jokes about it at her expense. She didn’t mind people laughing at her and we all did it. We laughed in mock outrage that we couldn’t get a word in sideways But if you think carefully about Mum’s incessant chatter, and I must admit here that an early survival skill, learned by all three of her children, learned at our father’s knee,was the ability to just tune out. But we do her an injustice if we just label her a talker. If you think about how much she knew about the lives of her family, friends and acquaintances, she must have been listening too. She did listen. None of us are sure how she did it. She was interested in other people and others peoples lives. She very rarely talked about herself. She was always telling you about someone else’s accomplishments. As I said, she was the point where thousand of lives intersected. Because we all knew Mollie we all knew each other. She knew us all well and passed on the minutia of our lives. Not as gossip. She passed on our achievements our hopes and our dreams. She must have been listening more often than we gave her credit for because on any visit or during any call she would ask questions about earlier news. Did you sort out that problem? Did he do well on Saturday? How did the Jamboree go? A first day of school would be investigated. She would ask about a party or reunion she knew you had attended and follow up when you started a new job. She knew where everybody was, following all our travels on a map and asking for all the details when you returned. She passed on the good news and sometimes the sad news. She passed on the triumphs and tragedies in all our lives and added her own special wit to the telling. We all have friends. Most of us consider ourselves pretty fortunate if we have a few close friends. Too often, most of us exclude the possibility of friendship because we stick to our own age group or too often, to like minded people. But Mum just made friends with anybody and she could do it because she just accepted people as they are. For most of us, that is sometimes hard to do. That person annoys us and we let it get under our skin. But for Mollie it just seemed to be effortless. People were just people. She loved people and she believed that was the secret of happiness. We know she was right and we should all take a lesson from it Of course there were people she didn’t care for particularly, but mostly she just let them drift out of her life without a thought. Often, when it was clear to us that someone did not care for her she was blissfully unaware. But when she liked someone, when someone was a friend, she worked at it. She kept in touch. She wrote and phoned and visited. She prayed for her friends and family, not herself. She gave her friendship as a wonderful gift and most people responded. That gave her the happiness she enjoyed for 95 years. So how do we describe her then ? She was funny. She had a cheeky wit. She had a way of telling you something wrapped in a nugget of laughter. She grew to love Yurana as her home but when she first got there she was asked how she found it. Well, it’s a bit lifeless, she said. I’m the only one that wears eye shadow ! I think she left it a livelier place She always had a joke ready. Sometimes the same one admittedly but she still could raise a laugh. Who hasn’t heard about the obstetrician doing his car service through the exhaust pipe, the deaf husband discovering he’s having chicken for dinner, the surveyor who pegged out and the hairdresser who curled up and dyed. Mum and I often laughed ourselves silly. Uncontrollable infectious laughter that could fill a room. A very big room. Even when things were serious she managed usually to make one laugh. Years ago after some ill health, she told me she had been thinking about the hereafter. ‘”Really Mum?” I said “Yes” she continued. “I often go into a room and wonder, what was I here after?” But after the laughter had died away I pursued the question and she said in the a manner of a quotable quote Grieve not that she is gone, but be glad that she was here. “Who said that?” I asked “I did. Just then” “That’s quite good Mum” I said. “I’m sure that’s how we will feel” “Well for God’s sake don’t put something corny like that in the paper ! Yes, she was funny but she was no clown. She had a deep knowledge of history and literature. Like many of her contemporaries she could recite long passages of poetry. She didn’t just talk. She loved the language. She loved the words . She knew the powerful ideas and emotions they could hold and command. To the very end her word skills were razor sharp. Typical of her nature and the ability to laugh at herself was the way she took on the mantle of an unofficial poet laureate at Yurana. She wrote silly doggerel verse about the events of the day, keeping her mind sharp while amusing others. She knew it wasn’t great poetry. But she knew how it amused and lifted spirits. She did it for a laugh. And we all laughed. She was rarely negative about anything. She was constantly positive and optimistic. I think one of the wonderful demonstrations of this is the way she could let the small and annoying frustrations of the day pass her by. She didn’t let the pettiness of others affect her. Her long stories were never about how someone had cut her off in traffic or how she had spent hours on the phone to the complaints department over some anomaly. She didn’t complain about the service in the supermarket or the bureaucratic hurdles we all have to negotiate. She was much more likely to tell you about the nice girl on the checkout who is doing a PhD, who has just had a birthday and her brother is coming out from Mumbai to celebrate with her. A shopkeeper was a person to her. A waiter was a person. She was interested in the lives that the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker led She just saw good in everybody and the unique thing was that she didn’t have to work at it. It just came naturally. It was inspiring. She was great company. I miss her.

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peter kitchingman
10 years ago

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peter kitchingman
10 years ago

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peter kitchingman
10 years ago

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peter kitchingman
10 years ago

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