Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The ANZAC ceremony at school went well this morning. The school does a great job holding the service, with a respectful solemnity befitting such an occasion. My prayer at the conclusion of the service is one of the few overtly "religious" things I do in my role as chaplain but I'm always keen to make it accessible rather than alienating, and to find a way to link Australia's armed forces and those who gave their lives in defence of our freedom, with the example of Jesus and his sacrifice on our behalf. I received positive feedback afterwards so hopefully I achieved my aim.

This afternoon I led the funeral service for Mary Pearce, an 86 year old lady whose granddaughter goes to the school. I had to do the funeral for another of her grandchildren, Kori, who was killed last year and because of the relationship I've developed with the family they asked me to do today's service. I've posted the biography and my message from the service. The most special part of a funeral to me is when the people closest to the deceased share their stories and memories and today was no exception, with one of Mary's daughters, Glenda, doing a wonderful job in eulogising her Mum. The description of a kitchen full of good food and constant baking and treats her Mum provided for the family every day almost had my mouth watering during the service.
I had never met Mary but by the end I felt like I knew her. Sadly she suffered from dementia so the final years of her life were difficult for her family as she lost her memory and normal functions. It makes me think that we should never take for granted our gifts and faculties, and should always be grateful and thankful for the people we love and who have cared for us, especially our parents.

Biography: Mary Pearce 15 November 1920 – April 20 2007

Edith Mary Pearce, known all her life as Mary, was born at Bridgetown on November 15 1920 to parents Alfred Alexander Ryall and Gertrude Amelia Wright. Mary was the only daughter in a family of six children and three of her brothers are still alive.

Mary was raised in the farming district of Kojonup and Orchid Valley although she lived with her Aunt Selina while she went to school at Balingup and later Whakinup.

When Mary was 14 a certain Walter Pearce moved into the district looking for work, arriving with a pushbike, a tent and a watch. When everything he owned was lost in a fire his only possession was a suit left at Mary’s family’s home. Their friendship developed and they were married in Fremantle in 1940. Shortly after they were married Walter went away to the war and Mary stayed with family on both sides. In 1941 Kathleen was born and Mary’s career as a wife, mother and home-maker was begun. Kathleen was the first of 9 children, the others being Jim, born in 1946, Eileen in 1948, Glenda in 1950, Rhonda in 1953, Susan in 1954, Rose in 1957, Sandi in 1958 and Tony the baby of the family born in 1962.

The family remained in the Orchid Valley area and Walter built a house there in 1960 which remained their home until he retired in 1971 and they moved to Busselton. Mary watched her family grow and spread, with the kids covering much of the south-west of WA and producing 22 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.

In 1997 Walter died, he and Mary had been married for 56 years.

Not long after this Mary developed dementia and was no longer able to care for herself on her own. She moved into Ray Village where she spent the remaining 10 years of her life. The illness that had afflicted her took away much of her memory and ability to communicate but she remained attentive and alert during family visits, watching her children and family intently. Mary passed away peacefully last Friday afternoon, with 6 of her children surrounding her, grateful that they were able to be present with her and say goodbye after a long and happy life in a close and loving family.


A few months ago I stood in a similar position to this as we farewelled Mary’s grandson Kori. Funerals tend to be sad occasions but there is a marked contrast between that day and today. Kori’s death was tragic and premature, the cause of immense sadness and heartbreak for his family and friends. Mary’s death, while sad, is not a tragedy. It is the natural culmination of a long and happy life. Just as all people are born, so all people must die. Life and death come and go like the seasons, they are the natural cycle of existence. It is interesting to note that on the same day Mary passed away, another great grandchild was born into her family.

Mary lived a long life and had many children. Her joy in motherhood was multiplied 9 times, and then increased again and again with the arrival of grandchildren and great grandchildren.

So while her family will miss her and feel sad that she is gone, they can also be thankful for the many years they had with her, for the love she gave to each of them as they grew up and made their way in the world. There are few things more satisfying or gratifying than the feeling a parent has in seeing their children grow to maturity and independence. Mary, along with Walter, shared 56 years of marriage and parenthood. That’s a wonderful investment in their family and in the future and the fruit of it is right here in evidence before us today.

In our modern world, qualities like commitment, loyalty and steadfastness are less common and less valued. Marriages break down, families are split, children are damaged and communities are fractured because we live in a throw-away world. Mary and Walter were from a different age, where marriages endured through bad times and hardships. They didn’t give up when the going got tough. They stayed committed because of their love and their values.

We could do a lot worse than follow their example. Love and loyalty are valuable commodities. They may not command much in the economic market place, but as ways to live and how to treat people they are precious beyond measure.

The name Mary is synonymous with virtue, faithfulness and devotion. Mary the mother of Jesus was chosen because of her good character and faith. God knew that when his son was born on earth he would need good parents to look after him and teach him and raise him to be a man of character and integrity. He chose wisely and entrusted the most important baby ever born into the care of a young peasant woman named Mary. Parenthood and the care of children is vitally important to God and he warns us not to take the responsibility lightly or to do anything to harm children. I’d like to think that Mary Pearce followed the example of her namesake, that she took special care and delight in raising her nine children and that in so doing she brought joy to the heavenly father and blessing upon herself.

Whatever age we are, whatever our circumstances, whether we live to be three or a hundred and three, we are special and valuable to God and he has hopes and plans for our lives. Our task and challenge is to discern those plans and to enact them, in order to make the most of our lives and of the opportunities and gifts given us by God. I thank God for Mary and the great love she demonstrated in the raising of her children and the care of her family.

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