Sadly, we interred my dear old aunt, Coral O’Hara, today, Friday 20th February 2015. Here is the eulogy I gave as part of the funeral service.
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Michael Stacey and I am proud to be Coral’s nephew. I would like to say a few words to farewell Coral and to honour her life.
For me, Coral was one of the five most important people in my childhood. They were my grandparents, Frank and Vi Stacey, who raised me from about the age of two, and their three children, Max, Coral and Reg, my father. I was Frank and Vi’s only grandchild and Coral looked out for me from the very start. I think Coral treated me almost as her de facto son and was always there for me. She was the constant in my life. A never failing, endless source of love and affection even though we were separated by the tyranny of distance for most of my adult life.
Coral was born here in Maldon just after the first world war in 1920 and lived most of her childhood here apart from a short stint in Broken Hill when Pop took up work in the goldmines there. From an early age Coral was a determined soul and it was part of the family legend that, if she couldn’t get her own way about something, she would hold her breath until her face turned blue. Coral also learnt to play the piano and organ while very young and it was always a great source of pride to my Grandma Vi that “Coral played the organ at church”. I assume that would have been the old Congregational Church up on the hill as that was the one Grandma always went to.
Coral started working life as a telephonist on the old exchange board which used to be at the end of the big room that still functions as the Maldon Post Office business area. These were the early days of telephony when all phone calls were connected manually by the telephonists on duty. From here Coral was promoted to the main overseas exchange in Melbourne and took up residence in Punt Road. This must have been an enormous challenge for a little country girl to live and work amid the bright lights of Melbourne but I suspect Coral took it all in her stride. The country would have still been coming out of the depression years and it was a prized job for women in those days and much valued. My memory of her later through her working years was her coming home at weekends regularly and the anticipation I would have to see her, and perhaps, the packet of peanuts she would always bring me without fail. Never sweets, always peanuts, and I still love them. Her concern for a healthy life was evident even then. I don’t know at what point Coral became a vegetarian but she certainly was from my earliest memories of her.
At some point in the late 1950’s Coral met up with a fellow Maldonite in Melbourne, Alf O’Hara, through their mutual interest in the Unitarian Church. Alf’s family actually lived next door to us in Newstead Road but it took Melbourne, and Alf’s divorce from his first wife, to bring them together and they fell in love and married in 1960. They set up home in Malakoff Street in Balaclava but also bought the old Carrier Arms Hotel in Maldon for their retirement. They gradually transitioned from Balaclava to Maldon and from a working life to retirement in about 1970. They shared not only their love for each other but a love of music and became quite the star attraction at local concerts with their piano duets accompanying Coral’s singing and whistling. Coral was blessed with a beautiful singing voice and her whistling was something quite unique. It was not just your old garden variety whistling but almost another musical instrument. Sadly Alf passed away some years ago but the music didn’t. Coral continued to play her piano, sing and whistle, every day of her life even during her last two years in Maldon Hospital.
It was from her retirement that Coral really began to give vent to her long held beliefs about world peace, the environment, animals and birds. And give vent she did as many of you will have experienced. I would try and cut short her reiterations of the same topics by saying “It’s ok Coral I agree with you but you tell me the same things every time we talk” To which she would rejoin with “Well it’s worth repeating”. Coral was at times quite naive and at other times very realistic and insightful. But always with the strongest compassion for this earth and all the lives it hosts. However it is not this passionate, serious, advocacy that I remember most about Coral. It was her unfailing sense of humour and that delightful chuckle that was never far away in any moment.
In her beautiful Tarrangower Times obituary, Viv Markham described Coral as “our patron saint”. A saint Coral certainly was, not in the ecclesiastic or religious sense, but a truly blessed soul who gave over her every waking moment to a deep caring for this planet and its inhabitants. There can be no greater or higher calling worthy of a saint.
My dear Aunt Coral, I am relieved that you are now at peace but I will miss you, your family will miss you, this town will miss you and this earth will definitely miss you.
Postscript: Please see the link below to listen to a song about Coral that was kindly played in person at her funeral by Jane Thompson and James Rigby. My gratitude and appreciation to Jane and James, thank you. The whistling and laughter at the end of the track is all Coral and just as I remember her.