A Eulogy for Rosie James

1956 was an important year in Australian history: the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne, television was broadcast for the first time, Melbourne football club actually won a premiership, and most notably of all, on the 30th of September Rosemary Anne White (later James) was born to Ed and Nancy White in Footscray and District General Hospital.

Rosie spent the first years of her life living in Creswick Street in Footscray in a house designed by her father. There she attended kindergarten and then school at Footscray Primary School. At age 5 she moved to 68 Canterbury Road Blackburn South, and she lived there for most of her life. She attended Laburnum Primary school, and also endured a year of having her own father as a classroom teacher in year six! I hear some of her peers were less than impressed that Rosie was the favourite student of that teacher by far! After this she attended Blackburn South High School, and made lifelong friends there.

Church was a huge influence in her young life. She attended Sunday School, Christian Endeavour classes, and church services at Blackburn Baptist Church. She was baptised at age 13 by the reverend David Griffiths. This involved much pleading by Rosie, as David thought she was far too young to make such an important decision! But if anyone has maintained an unwavering faith throughout her life, it was Rosie James.

After completing year 12 she became a student nurse at the Royal Children’s Hospital, and later worked at Hedley Sutton nursing home. She married the one and only love of her life Ian James on a particularly hot day in February 1981. After living in Springfield Road Nunawading for a couple of years , Ian and Rosie bought Ed and Nancy’s family home. Rosie became the proud mother of Rohan, then of Anna, who died shortly after birth. Then came Merryn, then Liesel, then Lachlan, and then Kylie was adopted into the family. When the children were older, she updated her nursing qualifications, and worked for 5 years at the Peter James Rehabilitation centre.

As her sister, we have had the most amazing relationship right through life. We shared a room together from my birth, talked together at night, went out adventuring down to the local creek together (which usually involved falling in), and had play fights in which I was always the “good guy” and she would valiantly take on the role of the villain. Rosie oversaw my development in many ways… she shared her books with me, gave me a most confusing talk on the facts of life, bought a bike for me, recruited me to her Christian small groups, and taught me to how to text. (My husband might regret this last skill, as he claims I’m now surgically attached to my phone). It is testament to Rosie’s calm and cheerful temperament that we never exchanged a cross word, and remained the closest of friends.

Rosie’s cheerfulness was complemented with a delightful sense of humour. She could see the ridiculous side of almost anything, even events that many other people might find irritating. I remember once dropping a container full of beetroot at the kitchen table, and although she ended up being covered in beetroot juice, she laughed until tears were running down her cheeks. Her capacity for mischief might be expressed through gift-giving, where she would sometimes present an enormous box, and then observe the “pass the parcel” styled unveiling until a teeny-tiny gift card was revealed. She gave my then 89 year old mother a lacy g-string for a Christmas present, and laughed uproariously when mum said: “Thanks… what is it?” Even in moments of crisis, her sense of humour remained intact. The surgeon who performed her mastectomy many years ago still recalls that Rosie left a post-it note on her right breast with an arrow, saying “The other udder”. This has become part of Peter Mac folklore.

Rosie suffered a number of health issues through her life. She had life threatening asthma as a child, developed Type I diabetes at age 13, and had a long battle with cancer in her 40’s and 50’s. Through all of this she was cheerful, uncomplaining, and able to see the silver lining in every cloud. She was always incredibly grateful for the health care she received. I suspect Peter McCallum has just lost their favourite patient, as well as their most ardent advocate. The staff at Peter Mac are delighted to be coordinating a research project in Rosie’s name, thanks to a generous gift by her dear friends Susan Fetherston and Dr Cal Miller. Rosie was also excited about donating her cancer cells for research. It is possible the cells that ended her earthly life will help develop drug treatments, and possibly even immunological treatments that will effectively cure secondary cancer. How appropriate it is that even in dying Rosie was incredibly excited about helping others.

Rosie was always amazingly accepting and compassionate. When she was a very small child she would bring home the waifs and strays from school and kindergarten. My parents were actually quite worried about her, thinking she must be some kind of social misfit. But it was simply that she had a heart to befriend the friendless. For many years she and Ian helped out in crisis accommodation, having people in difficulty live in their own home. On top of this was her amazing hospitality where people from the church, and the community, and friends of her children would drop in, seemingly at any time of the day or night.

Rosie’s compassion was also expressed more widely, as massive garage sales organised to raise money for others, her 30 years of collecting for Community Chest, her long-term involvement in raising money to educate many hundreds of Indonesian children to free them and their families from poverty, the letters she would write to missionaries, her establishment of four women’s FRIENDS groups, and her enthusiastic sales of TEAR gifts. She would collect animals and other props to REALLY draw attention to the importance of buying chickens or seeds and so on to change the lives of those living in poverty. Her face would light up with delight if you gave her the gift of a “goat” for someone living in poverty, far more so than if you gave her anything for herself. You are invited to give a gift to TEAR today to honour Rosie’s heart to bless others.

Rosie was so accepting seemed nearly incapable of judging others. I remember going to McDonalds with her, and while I ordered she stayed outside and chatted to a rather dirty, dishevelled and frankly, scary looking old man “He’s a very nice man, but he’s quite lonely, I wish I could see him again” she reported. Some might say Rosie could be a terrible judge of character, but I prefer to say she saw every human being through the eyes of God… with unconditional love.

Family was incredibly important to Rosie. She would describe Ian as the most wonderful, honourable man.” She was incredibly proud of her children, and would say “I have the most amazing children”. Despite what I said about her being so accepting that she was not a great judge of character, in these matters I have to agree completely: Rosie’s wonderful family are a beautiful testament to her. Rosie was the one who organised family gatherings, who sent out birthday cards, and who kept in touch with the wider extended family. She was the relational glue drawing us together.

Rosie had an almost childlike capacity to live fully in the present. Going for walks with her was a delight… she would stop and simply drink in the beauty of a flower, the sight of light dancing on water, or of a bird in action. She had the attitude that each day was a gift to be celebrated.

Of course living fully in the present, like all amazing gifts, has a shadow side. Getting things done quickly, efficiently or punctually was not ALWAYS Rosie’s strong suit. I remember her announcing how the family were intending to head off VERY early to drive to Adelaide for a holiday. However, they actually left so late in the day they ended up spending the night in… Ballarat. There were many years of family camps at Anglesea where I would hear “we’re going to get down early”, only to receive a late text saying “Can they set aside our dinner?” There has been many a time when I’ve arrived at Rosie’s house needing to take her out somewhere quickly, only to be greeted by the sight of Rosie in her red satin nightie. And haven’t we all seen Rosie in that nightie at all possible hours of the day or night?

Rosie’s faith was also childlike in its unwavering trust. No dark nights of the soul nor existential wrestling for her. Her Heavenly Father was always to be trusted. Even in the face of terrible news like a cancer diagnosis, she believed that her time was in God’s hands, and that she was called to live well and die well. Her Baptist Witness article, her talks, blog articles, her Facebook posts, and simply the way she lived life, inspired large numbers of people with her deep faith in God. Not that this faith was simplistic: she was particularly exasperated over people who claimed miracles of healing, as if the God of all creation would do magic tricks if we just said the right magic words. Rather she implicitly believed that God could work for good in all things, and that heaven was her ultimate home. Jesus famously said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”. It’s not hard to imagine that Rosie, with her simple and unstoppable faith, has a special place in heaven right now. Rosie was very much looking forward to seeing those who had gone before her there… her daughter Anna, her father Ed, her grandparents, her Aunties and Uncles, and the many friends she has known, especially through the cancer support group she attended for so many years.

We have all been touched by Rosie’s life, and I hope we will all embrace the things she has shown us:

• That each day is a precious gift
• That life’s too short to not use the fine china
• It matters less how long you live, but how well you live
• It matters less how much you have, but how much you love
• It matters less the twists and turns life’s path takes you, but your final destination.

Rosie, you have lived well, loved well, and finished well. We will never know anyone else like you, but we will always be inspired by you.

John 11:25- 26

Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life.Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Amen.

(My sister Rosemary Anne James passed away on Wednesday the 29th of October. This is the eulogy I read at her funeral on the 6th of November,2014)


Joanne Jarlett said…
How beautiful Janet. Thank you for sharing it. I'm sorry I couldn't be there to support you. What a beautiful testament of Rosies life, well lived for God. You will miss her. But we shall see her again one day. Blessings to you & your family Janet. Love Jo xx
Janet Woodlock said…
Thank you Jo... that we shall see her again is the wonderful hope we have in Christ. Amen!
Rachel Thomas said…
Beautiful memories of an extraordinary spirit.
Tim McCowan said…
Thanks Janet. You gave a beautiful tribute to your sister, and it is a lovely way to recall Rosie's life from birth to death. We carry her spirit with us.

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