Eulogy delivered 16th September 2005
Our Lady of Grace, North Beach WA
You’ll see that I am carrying a box of tissues. This is not—I hope—to wipe away any tears, but because in coming from the heat of a Spanish summer to the cool of the Southern Hemisphere, I’ve caught a cold.
I’ve been given just five minutes to talk to you about my mother. I shall be doing the talking, but the words and memories come from all our large family.
There are just three things we would like to stress about our mother and grandmother: she was a strong woman; she had a heart of pure gold; and she was a character.
A sign of her strength, actually, is these tissues. This is her box. As some of you will know, my sister Theresa and her husband Jack are the greenest of the green. They hate disposable products like paper napkins, kitchen paper, tissues. With typical strength of character, even in that green household, my physically frail mother had her box of tissues.
She often hedged with people about her age, but many of you will have been to her eightieth birthday party five years ago—and since the wake is still a couple of hours away, you can probably still count. So I can say straight out that she was born Juanita Mary Ciorra in 1920, in the East End of London. (She was always proud to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells—a true Cockney.)
Her father Vincenzo was Italian, her mother Winifred Maude had a mysterious background which is too complicated to go into in five minutes. She was the second daughter: some of you will know her sister Leonora (who has always been known as Mimi).
Mimi, understandably, didn’t feel she could make the long journey here, but she has sent her love and prayers.
At three years old, Mummy went to school. As she told the story, when Mimi started school, at five, Mummy made such a fuss—“If Mimi’s going to school, I’m going to school”—that her parents gave in and sent her. (You’ll see that she had her strength of character from an early age.)
At nine, her mother died and her father, whom she idolised, remarried. With two such strong-minded daughters, there were some difficulties at first, but, as my mother always insisted later, Grace was such a naturally loving and caring woman, with her own strength of character, that the two girls came to be her warmest friends.
During the Second World War Mummy was in the ATS. It was in the services that she met my father, John Joseph Patrick Scannell. They were married in 1943, with only a couple of days’ honeymoon, since my father was summoned back to Washington DC, where he’d been working. I was born later that year and my sister Theresa two years afterwards. My father was out of the country for both our births.
After the war he worked in Buckinghamshire, before joining the Colonial Service. He was posted to Uganda while Mummy was carrying Paul, so Daddy missed his birth, too.
We grew up in Entebbe, Kampala, and finally Nairobi, in Kenya. When our youngest sister, Elizabeth was born in December 1955, my father was at last able to be present at a birth.
In the last years of his life they came over here often, to see Theresa, where they quickly became favourites with Theresa’s circle of friends. Her granddaughter Karen remembers Mummy always asking, before she went out for dinner or drinks, whether she looked ‘27’. Karen naturally said yes.
All her grandchildren remember her being the life of the party.
After Daddy died Mummy brought all her English children and grandchildren to Australia. And then, after Lizzie married Rod and came to live in Australia, Mummy decided to join her daughters and became an Aussie in everything, she used to say, except for cricket. She died on the fourth day of the final Test—but don’t worry, I’m not going to say any more about that…
She was an amazing grandmother and great-grandmother. This year, just after her birthday, all her European descendants came to stay here for a fortnight, and one day Glenn and Julie were able to drive up. On that day my mother was surrounded by all her children, all her grandchildren and all her great-grandchildren. You can see the photo on the back of Lizzie’s beautiful order of service.
Her great-grandson Ewan used to get up first in the morning, and come into the room where Mummy was sleeping in her chair. She loved being woken up by him and hearing the exciting news like ‘Daddy’s just spilled a glass of water’ and, a few moments later, ‘Daddy’s wiped it up now’. More recently her great-granddaughters Olivia and Emily would wander down to see Nonna in her room whenever Glenn and Julie came to visit.
In the last years of her life she had the occasional flutter on the horses, as Father reminded us yesterday at the Rosary in her remembrance. About ten years ago she and Theresa were in Rottnest and put some money on a horse with an Irish name in the Melbourne Cup. Mummy didn’t watch the actual race, but Theresa did. As Mummy told the story, Theresa came stumbling down the steps, controlling her excitement, saying, “I think we’ve got it!” While they were checking their ticket at the Rottnest pub, one of the waitresses overheard them and asked, “Have you got the Trifecta?” Mummy said, “Yes—but only half.” The waitress said, “You’d better sit down, because that’s half of $43,000.”
I should add to this story that Mummy’s first thought then was, as it always was when she had any money, to ask herself who she could share it with. She delighted in sharing what she had with friends and family, and I feel sure every one of us here has some memory of her generosity.
My time is running out, so I’m going to leave the last word to my father. I hope I’ve reminded you of Mummy’s strength of character and her warmth of feeling. This last story is a reminder of her individual character.
In the Christmas before my son Piers was born—incidentally, he can’t be with us today, but it’s because of his generosity that his sister Imogen and her son Bradley are here—I was able to tell Mummy and Daddy that my wife was expecting a baby, and discovered that Theresa was also expecting. My father put his arm round my mother, who was half crying with happiness and said, “I’ll tell you one thing, Michael, when I met your mother she was a daft woman.” He went on, his face wreathed in smiles, “And thank God she’s still as daft as ever!”