Heather Tetaz was the mother we never had in Australia. This is her eulogy written by her dauther-in-law.
Heather Lyness Pyle was born in Colac in 1931, the only child of Elsie and Norman Pyle. Heather never liked being an only child, but her childhood memories were of a joyous time, surrounded by a large, affectionate extended family. Heather always remembered her parents very fondly and took great pleasure in recalling the details of her mother’s bustling efficiency and her father’s gentle good humour.
When she was five years old, Heather contracted rheumatic fever, which permanently damaged her heart, and she was too ill to start school. She spent that summer at an aunt and uncle’s orchard, helping them sort apples, a sabbatical she recommended.
Heather was seven when she started at Colac Primary School, and it was there, in Grade Six, that she met her closest friend, Valda Moore. They were at the same school for only six months, but, in an early display of Heather’s powers of friendship, they forged a bond that lasted Heather’s lifetime.
Heather left school when she was fourteen, and began working for McNichol and McLeod accountants. Heather’s friend, Elaine Bee, described Heather working with a ‘vitality unmatched’ for the Arthritis Foundation in 2002. I can only imagine how unmatched Heather’s vitality was in 1945. She worked full-time while she continued her school subjects by correspondence and “of course continued violin and piano and pipe organ” while finding time to teach Sunday school, play basketball and tennis and attend local dances with Valda.
In her late teens, Heather began working for the prestigious State Electricity Commission. She continued to study violin and piano with Norm Batten, whom she admired greatly. Heather completed her Associate and Licentiate exams on violin and she was an active member of the Colac Music Appreciation Society and performed regularly, accompanied by Marie Reynolds and Jan Reddie, both still dear friends of Heather’s today.
Heather enjoyed working at the SEC, but she resigned in 1953, aged twenty-two, when they refused to accommodate her request for leave so she could attend National Music Camp. Heather said of music camp “it was wonderful – all the instruments I knew the sound of, but had never seen – French horn, oboe, clarinet, ‘cello, viola. None of these were in Colac.”
When she was twenty-three, Heather sailed to Sri Lanka, with three other women, at the invitation of her friend from music camp, Rani Doreh. She described the trip as “quite unforgettable” – which, translated, meant she spent all her savings, put on weight eating bananas to avoid the curries and turned down a marriage proposal from a Sri Lankan plantation owner.
Heather returned to Colac and continued working at the Austral Hotel, where she kept the books and dealt with the daily takings. Marie Reynolds remembers her there “dressed in black, always so prim and proper, buzzing around like a bee”. She worked at the Austral for five years until she left to marry Frank Tetaz and live with him on his farm in Warrion.
Frank and Heather met through the Colac Music Appreciation Society – he was one of the appreciators. Their relationship was founded on their mutual love of music and their mutual love of talking. The only foil to their immediate happiness was Frank’s mother, Ada, who referred to Heather as “that girl, from that place”.
Frank, an only child, deliberated over how he could marry Heather and still care for his widowed mother. Frank deliberated for four years, until he was 37 and Heather was out of patience. When he finally told Ada he was going to marry Heather, his mother’s foreboding response was “Dear, couldn’t you have waited?”
Heather and Frank were married in January 1960, and Heather moved to Frank’s farm in Warrion. Ada was still determined to look after her son, so Heather put on her overalls and went farming with Frank. Heather tackled Ada as she tackled most obstacles she found in her path – with pragmatism, determination, lateral thinking and action. It was a strategy that worked – four years later, when Ada was dying in hospital, Heather was very moved that Ada asked specially for Heather to come to her bedside.
Heather’s father, Norman, died in October 1967 and, one month later, after seven years of marriage, Heather gave birth to Anne-Marie. Charles was born in August 1969 and Franc arrived in December 1970.
Heather often said this was the happiest time of her life, as she worked together with Frank to raise their adored children amidst endless piles of washing and drying, epic shopping trips to Colac, occasional medical emergencies, and welcome visits from family and friends such as Valda and Bob Moore, Ted and Nancy Glasson, John and Thelma Tetaz, June and Bill Riley and Marie and Rex Reynolds, and all their associated children, who still have fond memories of visiting the farm.
In 1971, Frank suffered his first heart attack and Heather had to manage the farm while she looked after three children under four. Drought hit in 1973 and Heather was forever grateful to the Glassons, the Moores and John and Thelma Tetaz for the financial support they gave to Frank and Heather during this time.
Life was hard, but worse was to come. In October 1974 Anne-Marie died from leukaemia. This was the great tragedy of Heather’s life and it was undoubtedly the toughest test of her indomitable optimism.
Heather described the year that followed as ‘just putting one foot in front of the other’ and it is a testament to Heather’s formidable spirit that those steps led towards bold decisions and a new future for her family – she and Frank decided to move to Geelong to make sure their two sons could attend Geelong Grammar and have access to the educational opportunities she and Frank never had.
Whilst Anne-Marie’s death was devastating, the hardest time of Heather’s life was when she had to leave the farm to work in Melbourne to support her family through the drought. It was at this time that Heather also befriended Iris Barton – Charles’ teacher at Alvie Primary School and Iris’ husband Bill.
So, in 1975, at the age of 44, Heather started work for Mr Zettner, in South Melbourne. She stayed with her mother in Geelong during the week, taking the train to Melbourne each day, then drove back to Colac, the weekly shopping on board, each Friday night to see her boys, cook, clean and drive back to Geelong on Sunday night to begin the working week again.
Frank and Heather decided that one of them would need a degree if they were to live in Geelong and they agreed that Heather should study Music Education. When she was 46, Heather began her studies at Deakin, still living with her mother during the week and driving back to Colac on the weekends.
Two and half years later, Frank finally sold the farm and moved the family to 3 Cedar Grove, Highton, where Heather began her friendship with her much–loved neighbours Carolyn and Tony Herrick.
Heather was 49 when she graduated from Deakin in 1980, the same year she began her eleven year teaching career at Chanel College, as Music Co-ordinator, setting up a music program from scratch at this Catholic boys school. Heather always spoke warmly of the friends she made at Chanel and it was at here that Heather met Daryl Barclay and Deanne Lebreton, who Heather soon appointed as her honorary little sister.
Heather was a natural teacher – her great love for learning, her passionate interest in her students, her enthusiasm for sharing information, her boundless energy and relentless work ethic meant that she made a lasting impact on the lives of her students, their families and her colleagues.
Living in Geelong, Heather and Frank made many friends, of all ages, through Chanel, Geelong Grammar and the Geelong musical community. Heather believed in being involved and during her twenty-eight years in Geelong, she was a constant, active force at Geelong Summer Music Camp, the Geelong Music Teacher’s Association, the Geelong Community Orchestra and Bay City Strings.
When Heather was 58, Frank died suddenly of a heart attack. His death left a huge gap in Heather’s life, but yet again, putting one front in front of the other, Heather began to build another, different life for herself. With both her sons now living in Melbourne, this was the first time Heather had ever lived on her own – it was a situation she tolerated, but never enjoyed, and she welcomed the company of Miss Kitty, who arrived in 1990.
At 60, Heather retired from Chanel to care for her mother, who had dementia and was living in Newcomb Nursing Home. Heather worked tirelessly to make her mother’s life as comfortable and dignified as possible, visiting her every day for four years, until Elsie died in July 1994.
When she was 62, Heather, who had arthritis, became a volunteer for Arthritis Victoria, working with Elaine Bee, one of her great Geelong friends, for thirteen years as co-leaders of Arthritis Self Management Courses. Heather was also the secretary and treasurer of the Barwon Arthritis Support Group for ten years and in 2002, accepted a 12 month appointment to the board of Arthritis Victoria as Honorary Treasurer.
Making the most of her retirement, Heather now also dived into instrumental teaching. She took lessons from Wendy Leslie to keep up with her students;
she attended, according to her son Franc, every string teaching seminar in the southern hemisphere, devoured teaching manuals and inspired her students with the same passion and commitment she had demonstrated at Chanel.
Heather holidayed often during these years, tootling around New Zealand, Adelaide, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, most often with Valda in tow and in 1996, aged 65, Heather travelled alone overseas for three months. She stayed in Youth Hostels, boarded with families in Prague, visited relatives and, of course, made a new set of life long friends. Heather was thrilled to be able to visit Tetaz ‘past history’ in Switzerland and attend concerts throughout Europe, revelling in the culture and history that she loved so much.
In 1995, to Heather’s delight, her family began to expand again, when Franc married me. In 2000, Charles married Claire and she was estatic to have granddaughters rain down upon her – we managed six in all – Vivienne, Suzy and Irene and Elizabeth, Georgette and Marguerite. Heather once said the Main Street in Colac wasn’t wide enough for Elsie when she was taking Anne-Marie out in the pram – Nana Heath was very much the same.
Heather always had, what John Tetaz described beautifully as ‘a vision of the future’ – Heather could see a rose garden where we all saw weeds, and opportunities where most of us saw hurdles. At the age of 75, Heather’s vision of the future included retiring from instrumental teaching, developing her block with passive solar units, moving to Melbourne and more travelling with Valda.
What Heather hadn’t foreseen was Ture Hergstrom. Heather and Ture had known each other for three years, Ture’s granddaughter Avalon was one of Heather’s violin students, but in 2006, their cordial relationship became a friendship over increasingly regular Friday night dinners after Bay City Strings rehearsals and before they knew what had hit them, they were in love.
There wasn’t going to be any four-year courtship this time. Heather, aged 75 and Ture, aged 80, announced their engagement in December 2006 and they were married a month later in January 2007. Heather’s family had grown again, with the addition of April and Avalon, Paul, Bec and Emma, Dick, Toby and Coco.
Ture was a wonderful husband to Heather, particularly during the past six months, when he was a constant loving companion at her side.
The events of Heather’s life are easy to plot – what’s harder to capture is the bubbling chaos of her daily life – the soup, the gardening, the photocopying, the baking, the chicken necks, the naps, the phone calls, the ABC broadcasts, the concerts, the fruit, the notes, the articles of interest, the cups of tea, the games with Miss Kitty, the drives to Melbourne via Ballarat with a quick stop in Mentone, the stories that began with a student in Geelong and ended with memories of Aunt Pearl’s cat, the myriad of things she did for so many different people.
Heather lived life at such a pace, I expected her to just spontaneously combust one day somewhere between Melbourne and Geelong, but she didn’t.
Heather was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February this year. She bore this with patience, without complaint and always with gratitude for the love and care she received from those around her.
Although very frail, Heather’s last days were emblematic of her life; she delighted in visits from family and friends; she closed her eyes and smiled as she listened to music and kept up with the conversations that went on around her.
Heather used to say to me “I’ve been so lucky, Caz, I’ve been loved all my life”.
How lucky are we that Heather spent her life loving us as much as we loved her.