( November 8, 2016, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) We are not here to mourn the death of this wonderful, caring and selfless person, Virginia Belle Day OAM, but to celebrate her life.
My association with Bethany originated in late 1989, with a telephone call I received from Virginia, when I was in Japan. I was in exile to avoid threats to my life, and later to the rest of my family, Chitra and our two children. When we first spoke, it was with great difficulty. To me she spoke so fast and I struggled to understand her very different and distinctly Australian accent. Virginia, I’m sure was in the same boat due to my Sri-Lankan origin. We persevered and this was the beginning of our life long relationship with Virginia and Trish Donovan, our angels.
Both Virginia and Trish, as leaders of Bethany, believed that they could work for God by helping the needy through prayer and actions. They did this without receiving any funds from church or government. They had been spiritually challenged by a visiting Sri Lankan Roman Catholic priest and theologian, the late Rev Fr Tissa Balasuriya OMI. As an activist of social justice, he had come to know our fate and challenged Virginia and Trish to help us. They sponsored my family Chitra, Harshini and Suranga to visit Australia and helped us to settle down as a family. Thus, we became an extended family to Bethany. Some of our earliest memories were of being driven to Brisbane to meet up with officials of the Immigration Department and to Mater Hospital for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
We never heard them complaining about the additional burden of looking after us, even though we had our differences in cultures and traditions, we gradually came to understand one another, learnt more about one another’s different perspectives and ultimately became lifelong friends and even family.
We had to move interstate for work, yet we remained in close contact and have had the privilege of spending time in Bethany on several occasions over the years. We would often talk about life, philosophies, religions and politics. These were good times we had together, and are memories that my family and I shall always cherish.
Beneath the steel like toughness of Virginia, there was her softness and willingness to help the needy. She was one of the most dynamic personalities I ever met, so full of liveliness, always sharing and caring. Any extra time Virginia had in her younger days was spent in the garden of Bethany. Trish and Virginia complemented each other in stature, temperament and intelligence. Their collective efforts with the help of many in the community, converted the almost empty land of Bethany into the green oasis that exists today.
Even while being ill, Virginia and Trish wanted to help by opening their premises to those in desperate need like asylum seekers as my family initially were. It must have been hard dealing with bureaucracy and the rules governing the lives of asylum seekers these days. The resilience and determination of Virginia and Trish have changed so many lives. In the broader community, many less fortunate have benefited from their boundless goodwill.
Unfortunately, in her later years, Virginia could not do what she most enjoyed: walking in the garden and caring for plants, animals and the people she was associated with. We could see her frustration, gradually losing her independence but her fighting spirit never ceased. Our beloved Virginia was cherished by many. She was determined to retain her pride and dignity no matter what the circumstances were, even when her health deteriorated significantly.
Virginia was a unique person, and a leader in her own way. She gloried in her overwhelming responsibilities as a leader, and discharged her duties with dash and joy. Words cannot describe how people feel when they lose one of their leaders. She was an inspiration to everyone. She had a vision in her mind and a mission in her heart.
What matters now is that feeling of loss, that personal sense of emptiness that all of us feel, because we have lost a great person who understood the importance of fairness, tolerance and humanity.
Right now, we also want to say a simple thank you and honour both Virginia and Trish for their amazing services to rebuild the devastated lives of many people and to help them settle down in our society. Their care for the less fortunate, their values, morals and love for their friends, family and community were at the core of their lives.
Virginia, thank you for everything you have done for us, we all feel your loss very deeply, but some measure of consolation could be found in poetic words similar to the sentiments expressed by Walt Whitman:
She is not gone. She is just away with a cheery smile and wave of the hand. She has wandered into an unknown land, leaving us wondering how very far that land is.
May she be blessed and be at peace.
Bopage Family (Lionel, Chitra, Harshini and Suranga)
7th November 2016