Gift hon­ours a pas­sion­ate life

Myrtleford Times - - Front Page - By JAMIE KRONBORG

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.

OBITUARY: Josephine DeGrazia (1954 - 2017) 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.

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