Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Unveiling at Courthouse

A week ago, 60-70 of Muriel Brown's family, friends and colleagues filled the Courthouse to honour her. It was understood that Muriel had never wanted a service or public recognition for her work, however many felt that she had set a standard of volunteering and citizenship that was so high that it must not go unrecognised. So, through the efforts of Mark Crawford, Chair of the Otautau Lions Club, and Peter Campbell of the Otautau Museum Trust, two memorials were created. The unveiling of these gave the opportunity to gather as a community to commemorate Muriel eight months after her death.

John Low, MC, and Muriel's friends and family.
John Low, Chairman of the Otautau Museum Trust, standing adjacent to the red veiled memorials, gave his opening remarks as MC for the evening. In a very somber tone, he outlined the programme for the evening and detailed Muriel's work with the museum - as a founding member in 2002, Chairperson and the many hours she put into creating displays, caring for the collection, cleaning the building and organising the annual booksale. John said,
"In 2010, she resigned from the Chair but carried on helping as she always did. And then in 2012, she resigned from the Trust but accepted the position as Museum Manager so she could carry on doing what she always did. It was about this time that her health issues were manifesting themselves, but Muriel would not let on there were any problems; she just carried on doing what she always did. In the days before she made her last trip to the hospital, she boxed up the relevant files of organisations she had been involved in and ensured that they be delivered to the appropriate people which epitomises Muriel's stoic character - she was always thinking about everybody else."
Barbara Brown unveiling the plaque and Mark Crawford.
Mark Crawford then spoke on behalf of the Otautau Lions, acknowledging the family for giving permission for the commemoration to happen. He noted Muriel's many acts of kindness toward individuals - bringing them baking, taking them shopping or to school. The Lions had recognised Muriel's contribution to the community by giving her the Citizen of the Year award several years ago for her unstinting service to the community. He said, "We would just like to salute Muriel because she was a really special person." Mark then asked Barbara Brown, Muriel's daughter, to unveil the plaque.

Barbara, who had travelled from Christchurch, thanked all who had been involved to recognise her mum's service to the community, and thanked everyone for coming along. "Mum worked really hard, and she worked tirelessly. And she didn't expect any reward, and you all know how hard it was to do anything for her. But the plaque and the commentary here are a really fitting way to recognise Muriel's contribution and service to the community, and I'm very proud to have been asked to unveil it on behalf of the family."

Peter Ayson of the St John Ambulance Service, Otautau.
Peter Ayson, Chairman of the St John Ambulance Committee, acknowledged Muriel's decades of service. "Muriel joined the ambulance service the day Jimmy Ryan drove the first ambulance into town and that was 1964... She became involved in the administration of the ambulance at that time until 1969. She became involved and was the Area Committee Treasurer 1987 to 1989; and then was Secretary from 1990 to 1995 when she resigned from that position but she continued as a member of the committee until 2002 - a total of 20 years service. Of course, being Muriel, she had to undertake other duties that weren't on the agenda like cleaning windows, vacuuming the floor, making sure the ambulance was clean," he said.

Peter continued, "In recognition of the tremendous number hours of commitment Muriel put into St John's, Her Majesty the Queen approved Muriel's award, the title being Serving Sister of the Order." St John's also awarded her a Life Membership in 2000.

Jim Flett of Scotts Gap where Muriel grew up.
Jim Flett then spoke on behalf of the Otautau Presbyterian Church as well as the Scotts Gap District. "She was definitely a great lady in the district and in the town here...She was a stalwart of the church for many a day and as has been said here tonight she had a good memory. Sometimes she would pull you up on a few things and she wasn't scared of pulling you up. I'm very pleased to be able just to speak on behalf of Muriel and all that she has meant to our district in Scotts Gap and then when she came into Otautau all through her life. You can't fault her as far as character or determination goes," he said.

Raylene Greer of the Invercargill & Districts Budget Advisory Service.
Most who knew Muriel were familiar with her ability to live well within her means. It seems she wanted to help others do the same so she became a budget advisor. Raylene Greer, budget advisor for the Invercargill & Districts Budget Advisory Service, said that Muriel was a valued member for over 20 years and was a founding member of the Western Southland Budget Advisory Service. Muriel gave budget advice not only in Otautau but throughout Western Southland. She was also the District Representative for Central Otago and Southland, providing a voice at national level, for which she gained much respect. "She was always a cheery person with a commonsense approach, a pillar of society who touched many lives both in Otautau and Western Southland," she said.

Raewyn Black, VP of the Southland Justice of the Peace Association.
Raewyn Black, Vice President of the Southland Justice of the Peace Association, said Muriel was a JP from 1993 to 2009. She recalls that for many years, Muriel was the only JP in Otautau but was always willing to give of her time to those in need. She was always keen to upskill and enhance her understanding of changes to the law.

Raewyn, then speaking as the President of the Western Southland Floral Art Club, said:
"Although she wasn't a member of our club, she was probably our most avid supporter. Whenever we'd stage an exhibition or display around the town, she was always the first to acknowledge what a great job we were doing. I clearly remember last year's exhibition in the church when she said, 'oh, you girls are wonderful. I don't know how you do it.' And then she started to clean up after us. For many years we sold Mother's Day bouquets from her drapery, and as a way of thanking her to allow us to use her shop, we'd often put together a design which she could sit on her counter to enjoy. She'd often write lovely wee letters back to us, sometimes enclosing a cheque saying, 'thank you so much for the lovely flowers. Now this isn't a payment, it's just a donation to the floral art club.' And then she'd carry on, often saying, 'Mrs So and So wasn't feeling so good so I hope you don't mind but I popped the flowers round to her because I thought she could do with them more.' And that was Muriel - humble, caring and generous to a fault. Always thinking of others. And try as we may, we could never pay her back for all the things she did to support us over the years.
"Muriel's passing has left a huge gap in the Otautau community, and we certainly miss seeing her striding it out down Main Street. I was once told that you can't change the world; all you can do is look after your own patch and hope it makes a difference. Well, Muriel Brown certainly made a difference in her patch. I sincerely hope that the example she set to the people of Otautau is picked up by more of its residents encouraging them to step up to the plate like she did because the world can certainly do with more people like Muriel Brown."
Peter Campbell of the Otautau Museum Trust.
The final speaker was Peter Campbell, who thanked the Lions for donating the plaque. Peter is the author of the framed memorial and cautioned that it was only a summary of Muriel's many good works. He highlighted Muriel's purposeful yet humble and gracious character. "She was a remarkable woman. She was much loved by us all and she was highly respected. Muriel in her own way was quite unique and there will never be another Muriel," he said. Though Peter had known her since school days, he did not get to know her as a person until he had joined the Museum Trust.
"That purposeful stride as you watched her walking down the street said a lot about her character. Muriel was always going somewhere; she had a mission in life. She was always a gracious person and a great encourager...quick to give praise to others but very reluctant to receive praise for herself.... She had an indomitable spirit...Muriel never ever gave in to her declining health and let it get in the way of the service that she provided and the thought that she had for everyone. She thought more of others than she did of herself."
John Low returned to the podium and thanked everyone for their contributions and encouraged all to continue to share their thoughts and memories of Muriel over a cup of tea and refreshments.

For the eight months following her death, we've had the opportunity to privately contemplate the life of this sterling soul whose light shone so brightly in our little community. This evening was the first time to actually share what she meant to us publicly. Thanks to all who attended and to those who made this happen.

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