OBITUARY - Mary Jean Summerfield.
The Corowa and district communities came together to remember and farewell one of the region’s leading ladies in Mary Jean Summerfield last Wednesday.
Mary passed away at the age of 85 on Thursday, September 15 after living what can only be described as an extraordinary life.
In true Mary style, she had left notes for her family to find in anticipation of the day of her funeral, to be shared with all that came to pay their respects at her final farewell.
Mary wrote, “This a day of the celebration of my life, it’s not one for sadness, but rather of joy for one who had a good life, one where I made many friends in the community and among business colleagues”.
Mary’s eulogy was delivered by her nephew John McNaughtan and niece Janet Lake.
They spoke of Mary, Judy, Aunty Judy, Judy Mary or Mrs Summerfield, depending on who was addressing her, born on May 28, 1931 at the Corowa Hospital.
She was the fourth child of Ernest and Mary and sister to Ernie, Violet, Sessile, John and Ron.
“She enjoyed a happy and carefree upbringing on her family farm ‘Coreen Vale’ and was deeply saddened by the death of her father when she was just five-years-old,” John said.
“Mary’s education and lifelong love of learning started in a one room, corrugated iron small school in 1936, a school built by her father, two uncles and neighbour Sam Hooper.
“It opened in March 1932 under the Murray Pines on the edge of a paddock at Coreen Vale.
“This tiny school is still standing, the restoration and maintenance of which was one of Mary’s great passions over the years.
“Mary remembered her early school days as a real treasure, gardening, picnics and inter school sport carnivals and woolshed hall concerts to name but a few.”
One of the stories recalled at the service from the days of Coreen Vale School actually happened before Mary was of school age.
“When Mary was a child of about four she disappeared from home and after several hours of frantic searching she was found at the school and unceremoniously returned home,” John said.
“Upon being asked by her father ‘why did you run away Mary?’ she replied ‘I want to go to school daddy’ and this was just the beginning of Mary’s passion for learning that continued throughout her life.”
After completing her primary education she continued on to Corowa High School which unfortunately she had to leave when she was just 15-years-of-age because she was needed on the family farm.
Her life was not all hard work, she also became involved in local sporting clubs including tennis and football.
“Mary used to watch vividly with wide eyed wonder her older brothers and sisters preparing for what she perceived to be the most glamorous balls that they were old enough to attend at one of the community halls on many occasions,” Janet said.
“This was until finally Mary was old enough to attend herself.
“The excitement of deciding on what beautiful gown she would wear to the next ball, planning her 21st birthday at the Coreen Hall acting as chief bridesmaid at her older sister Violet’s wedding, sharing secrets with her best friend and cousin Mary Brindley, playing the organ at the weekly church services at Coreen were just some of the many pursuits that were part and parcel of small rural communities and that Mary really enjoyed.
“Mary retained that sense of belonging and connection to the Coreen community throughout her life and never lost site of the grass roots value of those earlier experiences on the farm.”
Mary met her husband Keith Summerfield at one of the many country balls that she had attended and they were married in 1954 and welcomed daughters Maryann in 1955 and Jane in 1960.
Mary and Keith farmed together in Elgin where it would not have been unusual to see Mary driving a tractor, fencing or feeding stock.
They moved to Corowa in 1968 where they purchased an established ladies boutique which Mary renamed Lady Jane.
In the 1980’s Mary relocated in Sanger Street to a larger premises where she established a department store which she named Mary Summerfields.
Mary’s husband Keith died in 1979 and it was just one year later that Mary returned to her lifelong love of learning and commenced her arts degree.
“Like many people in her generation Mary continued to place a high value on her education and so after completing studies through the University of New England Armidale she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1986 and a Graduate Diploma in Social Science with a Major in Political Studies in 1992,” Janet said.
“Mary loved nothing better than a lively discussion on politics, much of which took place in social meetings at her home and occasionally informally in the tea room at the back of her shop where Noel Wilson would say he was regularly drilled on the hot topic of the day.
“She was an active member on the local branch of the Liberal Party of Australia until her passing, being president for some of that time and at one point a representative on state council.”
In 2003 Mary was awarded the Liberal Party of Australia NSW Division Outstanding Contribution Award for outstanding performance and lasting contribution to the Liberal Party of Australia from the Prime Minister and the NSW Liberal Leader of the day.
“Another of Mary’s loves was music, as a young woman she learnt piano with Mrs Lynch who resided on a property nearly Daysdale,” Janet said.
“Before moving to Corowa Mary played the organ for church services at Coreen Presbyterian Church.”
Mary cared deeply about her community and was involved in a various number of groups and associations including Red Cross, Presbyterian Women’s Association, Chamber of Commerce, Federation Festival Committee, Save the Children Fund and other numerous fundraising and charity events.
Her efforts were recognised in the centenary of Federation year 2001 when she was awarded a centenary medal.
This was followed in 2004 by her being named the Corowa Citizen of the Year.
“Mary considered this award to be very special because it came from the community that she had been a part of for so much of her adult life,” Janet said.
Mary was co-founder with Marge Saines of the Art Council in Corowa, which hosts an annual art show which during the Federation Festival each year.
Then the Curlew Arts Council was formed with Mary as president and this was the time where performances were held in the Oddfellows Hall and finally the Art Space at the Corowa Civic Centre.
“Mary was a talented tailor and seamstress and was responsible for creating the many beautiful dresses that both her daughters and various nieces wore on their wedding days,” John said.
“Her experience and passion for the fashion industry saw her organising and involving other community members in the fashions on the field at Corowa Race Meetings on many occasions.
“Mary’s faith was of great importance and brought great comfort to her and supported her through the many difficult times that she experienced in life.
“She was a member of the Presbyterian Church throughout her life, enjoying many conversations and debate with her minister of the day.
“She was an active member on the church committee meeting that overlooked a number of activities including missions overseas.”
Mary retired from business in 2005, aged in her mid-70s, after suffering from a stroke.
Once she had regained her strength she continued on with her many community activities and commitments.
Mary has six grandchildren and one great-great grandchild whom she loved dearly and of whose achievements she was extremely proud.
Mary was remembered at her thanksgiving service for her extraordinary effort and making a difference within her community, with possibly her greatest legacy being the cultural hub that Corowa now enjoys.
“Even though Mary was not well before her passing she always said she was ‘a lucky woman’,” John said.
“She was referring to her family and the many people that supported her over the last three years in particular.”
John concluded the eulogy with a special message for his much loved Aunty Mary.
“Rest easy in the knowledge that you really did make a difference Mary, we love you and we will miss you”.