Gift honours a passionate life
THE life of Josephine DeGrazia – who came from Spain to Australia as a young girl and later became a Myrtleford Hops and Tobacco Festival queen and Miss Universe Victoria finalist – will be commemorated with an annual gift to the Ovens Valley Wildlife Shelter.
Joselito DeGrazia, her son, told a large congregation which gathered for a celebration of her life in Myrtleford’s St Paul’s Anglican Church on September 20 that $2000 from his mother’s pension savings would be given to the shelter in recognition of her abounding love for creatures – both wild and domesticated.
He has also pledged to continue to make the same gift annually to the shelter, which has been run for 20 years by Erin Whitford.
Josephine ( 1954- 2017) – known to most people in the Myrtleford community as ‘Mama’ – came to Australia with her parents, Margarita and Joseph Siruela, in 1963.
The family at first lived at Bonegilla Reception and Training Centre – a migrant camp near Wodonga where post-World War II migrants from Europe and elsewhere learned English and were introduced to Australian life.
They later moved to South Australia before returning to the North East – first to Mount Beauty and then to Whorouly, where they were living at the time that Josephine, as a Myrtleford High School student, was chosen as Myrtleford Hops and Tobacco Festival queen in 1972.
After school she became a singer and flamenco dancer in a local band led by her brother, Alfie, and Tony Mitchell – a group which performed as support for Australian frontier rock ban Sherbet in the 1970s and appeared on television’s wildly popular Don Lane Show.
She also worked at Myrtleford National Australia Bank branch for a time before becoming a babysitter and homemaker.
“She is known as ‘ Mama’ – mamma to all,” Joselito said of her at the funeral.
“…She brought to the world three simple points – values, compassion and caring for animals.
“Values are what make us as a person and it was mum’s belief that you should be polite, nice and humble to people.
“‘Treat people like you wish to be treated’ – sometimes easier said than done, but she did it.
“This attitude was in full force every fortnight on pension day when she would get up at the crack of dawn, spends hours getting dressed, adding make-up and jewellery, and then head down the street.
“She would start at the bank and work her way up and down Clyde Street, paying off the accounts, talking to everyone that she saw – and I mean everyone, whether she knew them or didn’t.
“A trail of red lipstick marks on people’s faces would be her trail.”
Joselito said his mother had an “amazing ability” to interact with people and build connections and become part of their lives.
She gave her car 15 years ago to a Myrtleford woman with cancer who was finding it difficult to get to Wangaratta for medical appointments and treatment.
Joselito said that in memory of his mother’s generosity he was now giving her most recent car to a local support organisation for use by people looking for a job or needing to take their children on drives.
He has also given his mother’s mobility equipment to Alpine Health’s Myrtleford district nursing team.
Joselito said his mother had loved opportunity shops and everyone knew that she loved animals.
“Our pets used to be hermit crabs, cats, dogs, geese, lovebirds, rabbits, a rat (for a week at least), a pigeon that couldn’t fly – you name it, mum would end up looking after them,” he said
“Her bed used to be like from a scene from ‘Doctor Dolittle’.
“Sometimes the caring came with its risks. Driving back from Wangaratta one day, I see a line of cars backed up for at least a kilometre.
“Approaching closer, I see mum in the middle of the road, bright floral dress and hat, guiding an echidna while it crossed the road. The echidna was in no rush to cross and neither was mum.”
Joselito said Erin at Ovens Valley Wildlife Shelter had rescued a wombat joey a few days before Josephine’s funeral and had named it ‘Mama’.
A tree is also being planted in Josephine’s honour in the shelter’s front yard and another in her memory in a Myrtleford park.
Josephine DeGrazia is survived by her children Olivia, Joselito and Felicity and grandson Ira.
LIFE-AFFIRMING: Josephine DeGrazia as many in Myrtleford knew her in the past decade or so.
QUEEN: Josephine Siruela (above and right) makes her 1972 acceptance speech as Myrtleford Hops and Tobacco queen.