Eulogy for Gwladys May Cheel – departed this life 27 December 2000 (87 Years)
We are here today to acknowledge and celebrate, each in our own way, the life of an extraordinary woman, Gwladys May Cheel, a devoted wife, a loving mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, aunt, great aunt, a friend to so many, a tireless volunteer, a pioneer, a builder of this city and this community. She was very much a part of the history of Canberra and of this community of Ainslie, where she lived of 50 years.
My mother was born Gwladys May Rogers in Coburg, Victoria, in 1913. She and her late sister Phyl lost both parents through early deaths, before Mum and Phyl were in their twenties, and as Mum often said “I had to look after myself very early” and so family and friends became very important to her. Her father had been Mayor-elect for Coburg when he died and had been very involved in community work, something that Glad was to continue in her time in Canberra through the many and varied organisations she was involved with in the past 60 years.
Her interest and involvement in her community never ceased, even when she could have reasonably retired – something friends of hers have commented on to me in these past few days – they were amazed that she continued her interest and involvement right until her last days.
And of course she maintained her circle of Melbourne friends over all the years and met up with them on occasional visits to her sister Phyl and for various family events. A special event last year was to attend a family wedding in Melbourne and friends have told me she spoke of this event often in the time since then. As a special treat, we stayed in luxury, something my mother really enjoyed, but this was when I realised how tired she was, so we got a wheelchair and we shared a great time in Melbourne having coffee, going to a gallery, looking at old buildings, talking, doing things she love doing. She had such a love of life
Glad first came to Canberra as a secretary in the public service in the late 1930s where she lived at Gorman House and made friendships there hat have lasted through her life. Friendship was of great importance to Glad: she was a great letter writer and used the phone system to great effect, maintaining contact with people both here and around the world, that she met through the various walks of her life.
Her public service career took her to the United States in wartime, just after she and my father Jack were married here in Canberra. She often spoke happily of her time in the States and travelling to Canada – she loved New York and San Francisco and the great redwood forests of California, and of course still has friends in North America. Then after the war she worked for the then Prime Minister Ben Chifley. Glad was never overwhelmed by politicians but always spoke of “Chif” with great respect and affection.
So in this postwar period, Mum and Dad established their family in Canberra and they recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary here in the same city. So much has changed in that time and my mother could tell you many of the stories. I know there are several people here today who are now wishing they had had that tape recorder there when Glad was recalling stories of her early days in Canberra.
For her family, we could not have asked for a more dedicated, loving mother. She was truly always there for us. From an early age I remember Mum taking part in some aspect of whatever Roger and I were doing, from school tuckshop rosters and P & C committees, to Scouts and Guides and sporting activities. She and my father made sure we were given a very full and rich childhood, with family outings, picnics, and regular holidays at Werri Beach and other places. In recent years when sharing childhood experiences with friends, I have come to realise what a loving and very privileged childhood I had.
And as adults Roger and I have always had two great supporters, Mum and Dad. She was very proud of what Roger and Gabby have achieved in business and she took great pleasure in my work as an artist. And she was proud too of the achievements of her grandchildren, Melanie and Jessica.
I want to say a bit more about her involvement in the community. Where to begin? Glad’s involvement and contribution were so wide and varied, as were her skills and talents, although I believe she never saw this as being extraordinary: this was just what you did. Ten years ago, when she was put forward for the Order of Australia, to acknowledge her contribution to the community, she chose not to accept this. So typical! Glad was always humble in accepting praise or acknowledgement for what she had done, but was quick to sing the praises of others, whether it be praise for her own family, or for friends and their children and their achievements.
Her involvement with the Canberra Mothercraft Society dates back to 1949. She was the secretary for 16 years, which was a major part of her life and an involvement she never retired from. Right to the end she was still the Mothercraft Delegate to the National Council of Women and a Life Member of both organisations. She was also instrumental in the establishment of the first QE2 Centre for mothers and babies and her interest and involvement there has continued. She has recently been part of a small group, Craft of the Mothers, that met monthly, making patchwork pieces to hang in the babies’ rooms at the QE2 home. Her skills in sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery were excellent: I remember Mum making clothes for both Roger & myself, and knitting for Dad and us – Mum always had something on the go, she rarely just sat while watching TV, listening to music, talking with family and friends, without clicking away with those needles. There is still her work in progress in the basket beside her chair at home, with knitting and embroidery yet to be completed.
In the 80s she became a member of the Embroiderers’ Guild, and contributed to the New Parliament House embroidery, something she was very proud to be involved with. Of course, she didn’t just become a member of the Guild: as seemed typical of Glad she always got more involved than just being a member, she went on the committee and took on a role with the newsletter.
Another special involvement of my mother’s was the Canberra Community Hospital at Acton where both Roger & I were born, and where my mother was a great visitor, with me as a patient after a near death accident as a teenager, and also to my grandmother and friends when they were patients. Of course, being Mum, she was actively involved in the hospital Auxiliary, where she would take the trolley around on Saturdays or be on canteen duty. Sometimes I went with her: in later years I know she took her granddaughters on her rounds.
Mum was an active participant in the View Club and recently received a certificate, in recognition of 30 years of friendship and service.
Something I almost forgot, was her baking – the cupboards were always full of cakes, biscuits, slices, and that special meat pie. My friends lusted after those cakes and slices.
What about her other interests? Well, for one, Glad had a great love of flowers and her garden: she was known for her floral arrangements, both for the church and for the QE2 centre; these were usually flowers from her own garden that Dad so lovingly tended. Often these were hydrangeas in blues and her favourite colour, pink. And this wonderful display of flowers here today has come from friends from Ebden St, the family home for 50 years, and others from her new home, Ridgecrest Village.
Glad was also a golfer for many years and was still a social member of Yowani. She often mentioned she had been to a lunch with her golfing friends. In her early days she played tennis at Braddon and she and Dad were badminton players, and I remember them going to the Snowy Mountains to play when we were young. We were both encouraged to play sport and participate in team sports and Roger is still a very keen golfer.
Glad also loved theatre, music, ballet, art galleries and films. I remember from an early age being taken to Rep and as children were were taken to musicals on visits to Sydney. When clearing out the house at 3 Ebden St two years ago, I found a collection of theatre programs and art catalogues dating back 30 odd years, that she had kept.
And of course Glad was very involved with this church, All Saints. She was an active and long serving member of the parish community, and together with the other parishioners of the time she contributed enormously in time, money and energy to make the relocation of the Rookwood mortuary railway station to here, now this wonderful church in Ainslie, a reality. I found this reference to Mum’s contribution to establishing the church in a clipping tucked inside one of her many address books, and over the past week I found many sayings and prayers, as well as newspaper clippings, tucked inside books of prayer and sayings. Her faith was a very important and private part of her life and gave her a deep inner strength. She was able to call on this strength at different times in her life when she had to face the trials we must all face at one time or another.
So as we farewell this very special person, we all have our memories of Glad and the life she led. She is a shining example of someone who has left a legacy – a legacy of service and commitment – and who has touched so many lives.
Thank you Mum – you made a real difference in this often very ordinary world, and now you have the peace you richly earned.
Suzie (Suzanne) Cheel Daughter 3 January 2001