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Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle: 6 Aug 2004

Fri, 6 Aug 2004

Goodbye, Auntie Phillippa

Last week my auntie went shopping and died. She had a stroke, was taken to hospital, but couldn't survive. On Thursday this week nearly 500 people came to celebrate her life at her funeral in Wellington. Her husband Michael said in his tribute that if Phillippa was interrupted in the middle of a task she would always leave instructions in case she was hit 'by a big red bus'.

"Phillippa has met her big red bus," Uncle Michael said, "but she forgot to leave us instructions on how to cope without her."

What does this have to do with Liberty? Well, remember the other two pursuits named by the founding fathers when drawing up the Declaration of Independence - Life, Liberty and Happiness.

I don't even know what Auntie Phillippa's politics were, how she voted. But she had liberty because she pursued - to the max - life and happiness. Trained as a science teacher, she later worked in the lab at Victoria University. But no matter where she went, she touched people and made them feel good about the world.

She just could not say a bad word about anyone - sometimes to a maddening extent, for example when you just knew the person she declared as "marvellous" was actually behaving in an inexcusable manner. She thought the sun shone out of her three children - Caroline, Claire and Adrian. When they all stood and spoke at the funeral service - equanimous, articulate, brave and full of love - Phillippa's remarkable achievement as a mother was writ large.

Claire told the assembled friends and family that when as children they got into trouble, their mother would point out to them what they had foolishly done to get themselves into that position. Where they were doubly fortunate, she said, was that their father, Michael, would then quietly explain what they needed to do to get themselves out of that position

Phillippa's love of life, and curiosity sometimes drove her family to distraction. Adrian related how recently in Whakatane he was driving over a bridge with his mother and they stopped to see why workmen were looking over the side of the bridge. "I saw they were moving logs down the river," Adrian said, "Thought it was interesting and got back in the car."

"I forgot I was with my mother. She walked up and down, looked over one side, over the other, looked at the men, talked to the men, walked around again then asked even more questions. I was getting impatient until she finally got back in the car and told me, with great precision about the detail, just exactly how the men were negotiating the logs.

"I realised that in the space of a few minutes, she had learned something new, made two men feel they were doing a job of vital importance, and made two new friends."

When I was locked up at boarding school, far from home, with only four Sunday afternoon exeats allowed per term, Auntie Phillippa and Uncle Michael would drive out to Lower Hutt to collect me for afternoons of laughter, madness and heaps of home-cooked comfort food for a skinny, starving boarder. Aged 16, I made a bright red shirt-dress with a hemline at least 14 inches above my knees. My parents were horrified and said so in front of my Aunt. She told me to go and put it on, to show her. "Oh, it's wonderful," she exclaimed. "What fun. You look fantastic!"

She was a champion for the underdog. She loved colour, sparkle, fizz and she was, most definitely, 'out there'.

It's hard to believe this vital, energetic woman has gone. Her family will miss her dreadfully. Phillippa doesn't leave just a hole in our hearts, she leaves a chasm.

Her death notice most aptly stated: "A wonderful life well lived." How many of us will truly be able to have that as an epitaph?

Most of all, this week has reminded me how brief our lives are. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Carpe diem.

Yours in liberty, Deborah Coddington.


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