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Sylvia May Owen (1908 - 2005)

Sylvia May Owen Sylvia May Owen Sylvia May Owen Sylvia May Owen

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A letter sent by Syl to her nephew John and Ellen Owen not long after her 90th birthday (26 January 1998). It was received on 12 February 1998.

221 Fernbank
2 Kitchener St
ST Ives 2075
N. S Wales
Dear Johnny & Ellen

Just a little note to say thanks a million for your thoughtful phone call for my 90th birthday.

I enjoyed a celebration at the Bango (sic) Patterson Stone cottage set in lovely gardens and with water views   my children were there and my grandchildren and one great grandson. It was all very special for me. Dear John lots of good luck and happiness for the new babies that are coming along for you and Ellen very soon. again many thanks. With love from Aunty Syl xxx

Sylvia was very proud that she established a known Owen family longevity record by living to 97. She outlived her father, John Owen, who had held the previous record at 91 (not 92 as given in the eulogy below). This is illustrated in the wording of the Christmas card Syl sent her nephew, John Owen and his wife Ellen in 2002.

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Front of card
Inside of card

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Sylvia May Owen

The notice from the
Sydney Morning Herald on 3 September 2005

Sylvia May Owen
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The Ceremony Programme

The Eulogy at Sylvia's Funeral

Reproduced below is one of what is believed to have been a number of drafts of the eulogy delivered by the funeral planner at Sylvia's celebration. It is not the exact commentary that was finally delivered but certainly is close enough in essence to give the feel of what was said. The first two paragraphs were not delivered.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mums really are such important people in our lives. They give us the most precious of gifts, the gift of life. To be a mother and to rear successfully your children with love and caring is truly one of life's great achievements.

Many of us will never fully appreciate our mothers and the debt owed to them until we have children of own. But this was not the case with Sylvia. She was loved and much appreciated for everything she did for family during her lifetime and the sacrifices she made for them along the way.

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The following is a precis of the life of Sylvia May Newton as remembered by Kay, Joy and Lindy.

Sylvia was born on January 26, 1908 (the 8th Australia Day!), the only daughter of John and Rachel Owen. She was born into a strong Catholic family, was a generous and loving person and lived a full and interesting life.

She was born in Orange in NSW when her mother and son Frank stopped to visit an aunt while on their way to join "Pop" who was then mining in Adaminaby. Sylvia was the only daughter among 5 brothers and lived for a number of years in Wollongong where she received her early schooling. Sylvia and her mother did all the inside work, except for washing the dishes. That was a task for her brothers who threw the plates to each other, and no doubt many were broken!

They moved to Sydney in the early 30s because of the Depression, and Sylvia worked at Lustre, an underwear fashion house. She was proud that her job was to hand-embroider the high quality range but was probably even prouder that on many occasions she was the only member of the family earning an income.

She was also proud of her first brush with fame. She belonged to a Women's Cricket Team that was chosen to play a Young NSW Men's Eleven that included a very young Don Bradman. It was a charity match played in high spirits but even then it was noted that the young Don "took his cricket very seriously". In later years her husband, Les, would shake his head when, on the back lawn, neither wife nor daughters could hold a cricket bat, let alone bowl! He obviously empathised with the Don. Les played with the Victorian Colts and treasured his cricket sweater for many years until, according to him, Sylvia allowed the moths to eat it!

Sylvia's first beau came from a strong Anglican family and the relationship was opposed by both sets of parents. This was just as well as otherwise Kay, Joy and Lindy, and their families, would not be here today.

Several years later she met Les. Although a Methodist, he was happy to be married in a Catholic Church and agreed that their children could be brought up in the Catholic faith. They planned a June wedding but Les was in the Merchant Navy and he was suddenly informed his ship would be sailing at Easter and not be back until after June. Les was undaunted but persuasive, and they were married on 29th March 1937 following an initial hesitation by Sylvia. You see Sylvia's mother with five sons, had been so looking forwaard to a white wedding for her only daughter. However the celebration was a wonderful happy day, topped off by Les's poem to Sylvia on the back of the wedding place card. Les had written :

When the golden sun is sinking
and your mind from care is free
when of others quietly thinking
will you sometimes think of me?

The first year of married life was lonely for Sylvia as Les was often away and because of the War, was unable to say when he would return.

Their first child, Kay, was born in 1938. She was a week old when Les first saw her and he was unimpressed by this bruised, red-faced and crying baby. When Kay was two they moved to Strathfield and later they bought a big old house opposite Ashfield park where they lived downstairs while upstairs lived one of Sylvia's brothers, Ted, with wife Betty and son, John. Soon Joy was born at King George Hospital and Les bought a car in which to bring her home. Her sister, Kay, seemed more impressed with the Dodge and the big running board. Little did the two girls know how big a part that Hospital would play in their lives. The family spent many happy years in the Ashfield house. Les worked hard. He planned to buy his dream property near Braidwood and as he sent a friend off with the deposit, he was involved in a serious car accident. Kay and Joy have memories of 2 heavy footed policemen outside at 5am trying to find the front door while Sylvia was ready to defend her family. The policemen were very kind and informed her that Les was seriously injured and they would take her to Liverpool Hospital, where they found he had been transferred to Parramatta as he had refused to allow the surgeon at Liverpool to amputate his leg. This was a very difficult time for the family. The surgeon at Parramatta had saved Les' leg but he spent many weeks in hospital. When he finally came home, Sylvia helped him with his exercises and helped him walk, first on crutches and then on a stick. The doctors were amazed as they were convinced that he would be a cripple or need a stick for the rest of his life. Despite all the trauma at this time, the girls remember how bright and happy their mother was with them. When Les was finally on his feet there came another bitter blow. The "friend" had lost the deposit on the property.

Sylvia May Owen
Palm Chapel at Macquarie Park Cemetery where the service was held
Sylvia May Owen
In the Chapel

Sylvia May Owen
About to leave for the Field of Mars Cemetery at Ryde

Ashfield was sold and the family moved over a garage on Parramatta Road. Sylvia was now pregnant with her 3rd child and Sylvia Lyn (known to the family as Lindy), was born, also at King George. Les finally fulfilled his promise to Sylvia and they purchased the family home at Roseville where they lived for twenty five happy years. Sylvia blossomed in her own home at last and was happy to have Les and his offsider, Cec, working from home, in his office, in the dining room, in the kitchen and in the living room - everywhere! Sylvia learned to type, became Les' Girl Friday and coped with his many business adventures on the stock exchange, causing Les to write Sylvia's name against the following stanza of one of Tennyson's poems.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying ways,
And babble on the pebbles

Sylvia did not take the hint!

Next venture was thoroughbred racing - learning to study form, sires and dams and afternoons at the Races. Les would mark her race book and Sylvia would take off, making her own decisions. She liked good odds and family names and often backed a horse based on pretty colour combinations of its jockey. Prince Grant won well for her!  (her son-in-law, married to daughter Kay, was named Grant)  She learned about quinellas and trifectas and usually came home with a smile. Les would shake his head. He could not understand her illogical way of picking winners. They bought shares in 2 stallions, Bagette and Gunsynd and this led to Sylvia's second brush with fame.  (Bagette was a well known horse of the time while Gunsynd was one of the most popular crowd favourites in Australian racing history, being a tremendous crowd puller in its own right)  Their mare, Highly Gay, was running neck and neck with another to have the first foal to Gunsynd and this excited immense media interest -  "the birth the nation awaited"  read one headline. The Newton-owned mare won the race but unfortunately that was the only race that Gundigai ever won.

During this excitement Les was experiencing heart problems and was advised to slow down. But this was not his way and Sylvia understood. Les was always interested in cattle breeding and almost had another heart attack when attempting to help with branding. Sylvia decided that "enough was enough". He could have his cattle but someone else would do the looking after. For once Les listened to her!

Heart bypass surgery did follow and then they both enjoyed some overseas travel. Sylvia was always responsible for the tickets, which she would place in her handbag the week before. Arriving at the airport one time she was asked for the tickets and looked blankly at Les. Finally she opened her handbag but it was obvious to Les that she (had) forgotten that she had placed them there. Her turn for a near heart attack but Les seemed unperturbed! Another time having lunch back at Roseville on their return from Thailand Les was telling about the lovely gold jewellery he had bought for the family. He looked at Sylvia and there was a silence when she realised that the jewellery was sitting in an airline bag in the airport carpark. Sylvia and Grant drove back to Mascot and found the bag had been handed in and all the contents were intact. Much shaking of Les' head again.

When Sylvia's mother died, Pop came to live with (the) family at Roseville until he himself passed on at 92.  (He actually was 91)

Too soon for all the family, Les' cardiac problems caught up with him again and he died after suffering a major heart attack while in RPA,  (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital)  the same hospital that was to see the birth of two of his great grand daughters many years after. Sylvia decided that she did not want to see him, preferring her happier memories.

After Les' death, Sylvia and Kay started the huge task of sorting out Les' many ventures. They had the help of his offsider, Cec, and the support of Grant, Joy, Bob and Lindy. Sylvia soon found that living at Roseville was too sad and the house too large so she moved to a townhouse at Turramurra. The first few years were hard. She was still grieving for Les but she slowly became involved in the local social life and enjoyed a number of happy trips with sisters-in-law, Jean and Rita. She sponsored children with World Vision and helped at the nearby nursing home, Northhaven, where she was in great demand, particularly on chat and bingo days. Being in her seventies and still so vibrant, she was surprised that many were younger than she.

Approaching 80, and after a fall and a fracture, she moved from Turramurra to Fernbank Village at St Ives. She turned 80 on Australia Day in 1988 and this was exciting as it was the Bi-Centennial Year. She received a special certificate and enjoyed a party with family and friends. Her only surviving brother, George, proposed the toast. With her usual wit, Sylvia remarked on the day that she was pleased that the entire nation had joined her celebration ... she was especially pleased with the fireworks display.

After another quiet start at Fernbank, she slowly joined in the social scene, made many friends and again was in demand at bingo where she looked after the cards of many friends, besides her own.

Then it was her turn - several trips to hospital for her heart and fractures due to osteoporosis. Each time she bounced back to the surprise of all except her daughters.

There was a special family lunch for her 90th, with surprise appearances from her granddaughter Michelle from Bellingen and Fiona and Warwick just back from the UK and best of all her first great grandchild, Kurtis (with parents Garth and Penny). George, although more frail, was able to propose the toast again. Sylvia pronounced that it was to be her last birthday.

After another minor heart attack at 95, a tactful young Resident at Hornsby Hospital explained about "letting Nature take its course". Sylvia looked him straight in the eye and said "I am not ready to go just yet"!

Time was however taking its toll and after 15 years at Fernbank, Sylvia was assessed as needing more care and in August 2004 the move was made to Turramurra House. Again a quite beginning but due to her gentle nature and happy disposition she became a favourite with all the staff. Her daughters, on seeing many of the other residents, realised how lucky they were to have a mother still happy and able to enjoy life, albeit not in the fast lane. Only two weeks ago she suffered a stroke that left her unable to talk or walk but still aware of what was happening. She decided not to fight and with her daughters holding her hands, she slipped peacefully away.

Sylvia always felt that it was a privilege to be a mother, and Kay, Joy and Lindy in turn, feel privileged that they are her daughters.

Sylvia May Owen
Sylvia May Owen
At the graveside

The song, Amazing Grace, was then played followed by Kirri and Fiona's memories of their grandmother, Sylvia

Kirri's thoughts

When I think of Nanna, I see a gracious lady who smiled and laughed a lot and who wasn't afraid to speak her mind. I see someone whose body may have been appeared frail (stet) but that belied the strength within.

When Mum was telling me about the plans for the funeral, I thought it was most appropriate that today should be a celebration - not a mournful occasion. Yes we will miss her, but we were all so lucky she was a part of our lives.

I have many happy memories - memories from all stages of my life. One of my early childhood memories is of Christmas at Roseville when Fiona, Michelle, Garth .......

Balance not available

Sylvia May Owen
The Memorial Card

Updated : 14 Aug 2015