That gentle and gracious lady who we knew as Kay was born at Waverly on April 28 1938 and was christened Kathleen Marie Newton. She was the eldest daughter of Sylvia and Les Newton and until the end of her life she remained the “big sister” to her siblings, Joy and Lindy. There were 4 years between Kay and Joy and 12 between her and Lindy and Kay showed her caring nature early in taking considerable responsibility for looking after both sisters. The family tradition was to change the names that they had no doubt chosen after long deliberation so that, to Syl and Les, Kathleen became Kaydy, Elsie Joy became Joydy and Sylvia Lynette became Lindy. Les spent the war working for AWA and after hostilities he moved the family to Strathfield, then Ashfield as he began to show his entrepreneurial spirit becoming first a used car then a new car dealer. Kay remembered fondly the many trips that the family took to the Central West looking for cars to sell in Sydney. Later the family moved to Roseville Chase.
Her first school was St Vincent’s at Ashfield and at about 12 she announced she was going to become a nun. Les’s responses were two and immediate. First he agreed but said she would have to wait until she turned 25. Second he enrolled both Kay and Joy in a small school at Haberfield, Neuchatel Grammar School, a very enlightened establishment run by the Gourlay sisters. Kay was a quiet but studious pupil and the Turramurra unit still contains some of the prizes she won. Names such as Dickens and Lawson are on their covers. Kay left Neuchatel after the Intermediate Certificate to work in Les’ office in Balmain. He had now become a wholesale and retail butcher, and a very successful one. During this time Kay spent her weekends as a VAD and was involved in quite diverse tasks such as looking after rehab patients at Lady Davidson Hospital and doing drill and marching at Victoria Barracks at Paddington.
The VAD experience was the precursor to Kay beginning nursing training at RPAH in 1956. One of the most important aspects of those 4 years was the strong friendships that she established with other nurses and that has lasted to the present with some of them here today. One wonders how such a slight person could have managed the heavy tasks that were a nurses’ duty in those days, but manage them she did with little complaint. After graduation she spent some time “specialing”, before caring for intellectually disadvantaged babies in an institution at Artarmon. This was demanding work, both physically and mentally. She continued with this work after her marriage to Grant in 1962 until they left for the USA in 1964.
She was joyful at the birth of Kirri in 1965 in Chapel Hill and again at the births of Fiona in 1967 after the family returned to Sydney early that year and later at the birth of Matthieu in 1968. Three children in a short period meant no time to pursue a nursing career but she found motherhood very fulfilling. During the ensuing years the family spent time together in the US and Germany and she made friends easily in those environments. One couple in particular were Judy and Warren Roper. They sparked an interest in opera that is reflected in some of the music played today.
In 1976 her father Les passed away and Kay became responsible both for Syl’s wellbeing and for the family’s considerable business interests. Although Kay had little formal training for this she approached it with her usual determination and finesse with the result that Syl was never wanting for creature comforts.
In 1993 Kirri married Tim and early the next year Matt married Melissa and later Fiona married Warwick. The light of possible grandchildren began to shine in Kay’s eyes. However she had to wait until 1999 when Matilda arrived and at reasonably regular intervals came Gus, Chelsea, Anastasia, Jack and Amelie. For her 70th birthday the children gave her a gold locket inscribed with the names of all the grandchildren with the comment that there was no room for any more!! Life seemed complete and just as Kay had made a wonderful mother, she became a loved and loving grandmother.
In her later years she returned to her beloved RPAH, working as a volunteer in the Museum of Nursing.
What follows are some comments on Kay from those closest to her.
From Joy and Lindy
Kay was a good sister in every sense of the word. She was soft and nurturing to her younger siblings and was a unifying force, organizing ways to get together and keep in touch. Kay hated a fuss and worked quietly behind the scenes to get done what had to be done. She had a great inner strength, a strong sense of purpose and Christian ethic, and a quiet dignity that she maintained to the end. We are eternally grateful for her love and she will always be our “big sister”.
Mum was a very gracious lady. My strong sense of self comes from the knowledge that she and Dad loved us unconditionally and supported us even if they did not understand our choices – such as boyfriends or careers. If I were feeling down or having troubles, a visit to them would re-energise me and make me feel I was ready to face the world again.
She always made my friends feel very welcome in our home and was one of the most generous people I have ever met. She was always thinking of others and never insisted on things being celebrated on certain days. The key thing was that we were always together. She could never be described as a drama queen, more a gentle and gracious queen being matter of fact when faced with all situations, even such a dire one like her cancer. There was never a “woe is me”, just a steely determination to deal with the issue at hand. She was the calming influence in our family and had a quiet strength.
She gave me my ability to cry-laugh, which is when you laugh so hard you begin to cry and your stomach hurts, which I treasure. When I think of Mum’s voice inside my head I can hear her say “its all right darling” and then she laughs.
She inspired me through her love of her friends and her family, especially her grandchildren. She was always ready with either a new game or craft activity or an adventure in the bush for them.
Mum explained that marriage was a compromise and whilst sailing or camping may not have been her first loves, she had some wonderful adventures with the love of her life, Dad. She showed me that your partner was someone you could laugh with, occasionally laugh at, but that you could support and balance each other.
She showed me it was wonderful to be a mother and a daughter. The time she spent with her mother and the tenderness and care she showed my Nana, were her great teachings.
There is a line in my favourite song that kept running through my head in those last days “I need your grace, to remind me to find my own”. I will miss you, Mum. You will be in my heart forever.
From my childhood, her generous and patient instruction, with hospital corners, making pancakes, those absurd textile projects which came home from school, shopping for my first pair of boots, my first pair of high heels, those elusive white dresses for speech day, taking me to and enduring years of French horn lessons, putting up with my social life whilst at university, enough said!
From more recent years, her unwavering support with my marriage, my work and my pregnancies, her endless patience and energy with Matilda and Ana on the regular Wednesday afternoon school pick ups after a big day at PA, the family get togethers at Campbell Drive.
Her ability to maintain and strengthen her relationship with her husband, her sisters, her children, her grandchildren and her friends during the busiest of times.
And finally, what a privilege it was over the last couple of weeks to sit with her, to reminisce, to laugh, to cry, to hold her close as things got tough. Her determination to die with dignity, in her way, in her time, with full support of her family is testimony to her strength of character and the peace she felt in knowing that she had lived a life worth living.
I love you Mum. You inspire me and I will hold you forever close.
No longer will my daughters jump around calling out "Nana's coming, Nana's coming". They looked forward to the familiar comfort and happiness that accompanied her visits.
In her last days, Mum was thrilled to be surrounded by family. Grandchildren visits brought out a wide smile. On one such a visit she looked around the room at the people surrounding her bed and whispered quietly to me "I've had a great and happy life! - Thank you!".
The love that her sisters, Joy and Lindy showed for Mum in that time was simply amazing. They provided extraordinary comfort to both Mum and the rest of the family - we knew that she was getting the best care that could ever be provided.
More personally, she was my mother. From the time of my birth she has been a constant. She raised me, helped me learn to read, encouraged my pursuits, subtly instilling a self-belief that I could achieve anything that I set my mind to.
Nana will no longer be coming to visit. But looking at my children, a big part of her is still here.
From the grandchildren (each was asked for a short sentence describing Nana)
Matilda. She was always there when I needed her
Gus. I remember that fun holiday when Nana and Granddad took Matilda and me to Canberra and the big smile on Nana’s face when I came down the big slippery dip.
Chelsea. To me Nana means love
Ana. She used to call me “Me too”.
Jack. Nana always gave the best hugs.
Amelie. We can still love her.
I first met Kay in August 1958 when we were “blind dates” organised by her good nursing friend, Carol Young, and a fellow Ag student, Bruce Imrie. I sometimes wondered if the invitation to join them was because I had a car. Kay had just come off night duty and spent the night of the party asleep on my lap. That was an unusual experience and little was I to know that it was to be the start of a wonderful relationship that was to last 54 years. Kay’s ability to “drop off” was to stand her in good stead on many occasions. Things moved along steadily and by the time we both graduated we were “a couple”. The engagement came and we were married in February 1962. Initially I was amazed that she had the fortitude to do the job that she did but I was to learn time and time again that she had an amazing inner strength that she maintained to the end. Marriage brought the first of some amazing adventures. We had borrowed Dad’s car and caravan for a honeymoon down the South Coast and half way up Bulli Pass the car overheated and stalled on a bend. While I sat with feet hard on the brakes, Kay had to get out with a torch and try to signal passing traffic to stop and help us. She did not panic and showed amazing composure. Eventually a kind truck driver took pity on us.
Unlike Albert Facey we really did have a fortunate life together. Our love continued to grow over more than 50 years. We were blessed with three children who still get on well together and with whom we have shared many wonderful experiences. They in turn found compatible partners and together gave us six lovely grandchildren whose arrival seemed to make life complete. They all love their Nana. Through it all Kay, as you have heard, provided a steadying and loving influence with a caring but firm personality and was a both a wonderful mother and grandmother. She also kept some of my wild excesses in check. During her last hospital stay we posted some family pictures on the wall and they included a photo taken of Kay and Joy at Kay’s 21st. Gus, aged 12, looked at the photo and asked who were “the hot babes”. THAT brought a smile to Kay’s face.
Kay must have been lonely at times when we all moved to other countries for a sabbatical or I went off to conferences abroad or in this country. But there was never a complaint except perhaps at having to drive on the wrong side of the road. She enjoyed the different cultures and readily made new friends. In later years when the children were older or had left home we enjoyed a mix of travel abroad and camping in the outback. Some of the latter might have tested her mettle but there were rewards like the dance of the brolgas we came across in the Kimberley that you will see in the photos.
We have our friend Bevan Miller to thank for Kay’s love of bird watching and her battered copy of Slaytors Field Guide to Australian Birds is testament to where we travelled and her enthusiasm for bird identification. I think she even managed to enjoy sailing despite early misgivings. By the time we sold our second yacht she was almost reconciled to sometimes having to hang on tightly while trying to eat her lunch. Even Sydney Harbour can give you a wild ride and she was a calming influence when emergencies arose.
A feature of our lives has been the friendships that we jointly forged between Kay’s nursing friends, Carol, Nerida, Jan, Sue, Barbara and Helen and their partners and my University friends, Bruce, John, Bob, Jim, David, Bevan and Ray and their partners. Such friendships have endured over more than 50 years and have enriched both of our lives. It was brought home to us recently when 5 of us got together for lunch and realized we had 260 years of friendship between us, all at that stage having survived one or another form of cancer.
As an only child I was always close to my cousins who are the children of my Mum’s sister. Kay “adopted” then too, and enjoyed many afternoons at the ballet with Pat.
We lived in two homes in Sydney, first at East Ryde and then at Wahroonga. Kay formed firm friendships in both places, including with Jill Webb with whom she went walking on Monday mornings for thirty years. By strange coincidences, Jill had befriended one of Kay’s nursing friends, Sue, in Perth and Jill’s husband had been at school with me. At first Kay found it hard to settle into community living in Turramurra, particularly losing her privacy from Campbell Drive, but she always said “she was getting there”. I think she finally has.
I thought we were about to be torn apart, first in the 80s with my testicular and thyroid cancers and then in 1993 with Kay’s first bout of breast cancer and the horrific response to chemotherapy. The experience began again in 2005 when her cancer re-emerged. We thought we were safe but mid 2012 was the beginning of the end. We thought she was responding to treatment but it was just a brief reprieve due to the radiotherapy. So it was back to chemotherapy that Kay did not tolerate well. Three weeks ago we attended Jill and Richard’s 50th wedding anniversary where she must have been suffering but gritting her teeth without complaint. The next day she was admitted to the San with the inevitable consequences. She calmly accepted what she knew was going to happen and we gathered the family round on many occasions to share our life’s experiences with laughter. Kay always had that smile on her face and she bore her fate as she had lived, with stoicism, determination, calmness, peace but most of all loving and being loved.
I want to thank our children, grandchildren, and Melissa, Tim, Warwick and Bob for the support they extended to Kay and me, and to one another, at the end. Joy and Lindy were wonderful, spending so much time with us and comforting Kay. All of us benefitted from Joy’s professional experience. We also received many messages from near and far and they also helped. Thank you.