One hundred years ago when Mavis was born, the world was embroiled in war. It was also embroiled in the suffragette movement and those women’s efforts to achieve rights for women. At that time, women didn’t have the right to vote; men went to work, women stayed home and either cared for them and their children or tended to the needy within their own families; women couldn’t serve on juries; were sacked from a job if they were pregnant; and even until 60 years ago, couldn’t permanently serve in the armed forces, suffered serious discrimination in the workforce and endured less pay for the same work. Yet every day Mavis Sheedy walked from Mayfield to the railway station at Waratah, boarded the train and travelled to the St Mary’s Dominican High School at Maitland to attain her Leaving Certificate. I asked her whether she had found that tedious and she said, in what I discovered later to be her practical way, “No, that’s where I did my homework.”
A hundred years of life is a momentous achievement and this feisty little lady has lived every one of them in service of one kind or another. Born in Hamilton, she lived mainly in High Street Waratah, then later moved to Georgetown. She worked for 47 years, retiring in 1980. One hundred and twenty of her colleagues including the then Lord Mayor, Joy Cummings, attended that dinner. She retired as Accountant/Secretary, handling many areas of business including major industrial installations, promotions and public relations. In 1978 Mavis was awarded the Order of Australia in commendation and recognition of her services to the community.
But there was more to Mavis Sheedy than career success. Deep down, she had a strong personal faith and an all-embracing spirituality which her Broadmeadow community was quick to recognise and admire. As close friend, Gwen Haggerty, said, “Everything I do and have done for Mavis, has been a privilege.” This was a sentiment echoed by two other good friends, Sr Carol Woodland RSJ and Rosalie Nunn, friends who alternate in taking Mavis out on a regular basis and care for her personal needs. With declining eyesight, Mavis went, reluctantly, to an aged care facility a year ago. Her friends are stalwart. As well, some eighty people gathered in a beautifully-decorated hall, tables crowded with delicacies, to “party on” with Mavis.
Though Mavis never travelled far from her home, her life centred on her church community. I asked her about the changes in the church that had taken place over her many years and what did she think about them – and again in that practical, why are you asking me this kind of question tone, she said, “I took the changes as they came, I just accepted them, they didn’t affect what I believed in.” I asked her if she had a message for young people. “Yes,” she said, “they are given a lot – they just have to learn how to organise themselves. Organisation is the key to everything.” She later added, “I wouldn’t change anything in my life, there is nothing that really stands out. I believed everything was possible and I didn’t believe in half measures.”
During Mass, celebrant and Vicar General, Fr Brian Mascord, paid homage to a great lady, “one who had given 100 years of love and service to her community – a lady whom it has been a privilege to know”. Fr Brian presented Mavis with a framed certificate indicating the personal Blessing of Pope Francis. I asked her how she felt about all this and she replied in one word which summed up every expression of emotion; “Sooky”!
Happy 100th birthday, Mavis. Well done!