My mother, Rita Stuart (1923-2012)

My mother died last Friday. Her funeral was today with the usual mixture of tears, laughter, memories and catching up with family and friends. My brother and uncle gave the eulogies, which captured much about Mum.

From Chris, my brother.

Rita Isabel Munro was born on July 15, 1923, in Melbourne, the second daughter to Lindsay and Alice Munro.

A few years later Lindsay and Alice, and their two little girls Linda and Rita, returned to Rochester, where Lindsay was a farmer. Mum always thought of herself as a country girl.

Her two younger brothers Geoff and Alan were born in Rochester. But the night Alan was born, in 1930, Alice died. In 1932 Lindsay married Mabel, who so become Mum’s much loved second mother, whom I knew as Nana.

Mum went to school in Rochester, and then in Echuca. She won a scholarship which allowed her to go the University in Melbourne for her BA and Dip Ed. She returned to the country in 1945, to teach in Benalla and Murtoa.

However, she felt a call to service within the church as a deaconess. She did her training in Rolland House from 1949, completing a Bachelor of Divinity at the same time. She was set apart as a deaconess in March 1952 in St Andrews, Bendigo. Mum always felt this was the most significant of all her qualifications, much more than any academic degree.

My brother once said to her “Mum, you must have been one of the first women to do the BD in Australia”. Oh no, replied Mum… and then she named the two or three who graduated before her.

Mum was a reluctant trail blazer, but she never thought of herself that way.

The theology students would sometimes tease the girls at Rolland House.

Do you know what happens to girls who wear grey stockings?

… NOTHING!

I guess Mum went on to prove how wrong they were.

She took on much of the pastoral work in the parish, and was a common sight around Bendigo on her bicycle; her normal mode of transport.

She never felt comfortable with maps. A standard joke for the Munro family is that she would be stopped on the roadside struggling with a fold out map over the handle bars of the bike, twisting it until it was aligned to the proper directions for finding her way. Friendly neighbours passing by would see her, and then warn Lindsay: “you’d better go pick up Rio”.

She then felt the call to further service overseas as a missionary; and in due course she was accepted and sent out to Korea, in 1955. Mum was part of the early return of missionaries to a Korea torn apart by war, which had ended only two years earlier. She had to go to Japan for a visa from the occupying powers. She studied language in Seoul, and was then assigned to the Masan mission station, where she ran bible studies in the women’s prison.

She became engaged to Alan Stuart while she was in Korea, and he was still in Australia. She returned to Australia and they were married in Bendigo, in July 1957. The young couple then went to Korea late in 1957, where I was born in 1959, and my brother Graeme in 1961.

On her return to Korea, Mum threw herself entirely into the role of support for Dad, and then care for Graeme and I. I think Dad has become increasingly aware over the years how much this meant for all the work he was able to do.

This became the constant pattern of her life. For those 55 years she was Dad’s constant support, through all their work in Korea, then in Australia when Dad was Area Officer for the Board of Overseas Missions, when they helped establish in Melbourne the first Korean church in Australia, in parish ministry in East Ringwood and then Wangaratta, and then in various churches after they “retired”.

She maintained a home which was as wide open as her heart and where many people found a second home. In particular Mr Shin Ik Yun is like their third son, and his daughter Hye Won and her husband Gene are here as part of our family. Also particularly close were Lucien Wu, Gary and Helen Wu, Jimmy Yong, Su Xiao Yan, and many others.

She died at last on May 11, 2012, at home and surrounded by family.

From my Uncle

I am George Stuart, Alan’s brother and Rita’s brother-in-law.  I am sad today but am privileged to help celebrate Rita’s life.

We are confronted continuously by the mystery of Life.  This afternoon particularly, we are confronted by the mystery of Death.  We are also continually accompanied by the mystery of the sequence of life, death and rising again in new life.  Rita now takes her part in that wondrous yet mysterious cycle.

Dear Rita, as I wish to call you, you taught me a lot.  Correct punctuation, meanings of unfamiliar words as well as correct spelling were certainly important but I learnt many more important things from you.

Your genuine humility, in being a supporter of others and not seeking the lime-light.  The way in which you were quietly and unobtrusively there, willing and ready to help, was often what was needed to enable many things to happen.   And in being a carer, you did this with generosity, respect and devotion.

You taught me a way to live positively.  For me, you lived out the injunction, ‘Whatsoever things are true and honest, whatsoever things are just and pure, whatsoever things are lovely and of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.’  You have been a living example to me of an affirming person.

You helped teach me how important good, affirming and positive relationships are.  Your endeavours to build a good relationship with your new mother-in-law were extremely high on your agenda for some time.  You knew that your mother-in-law viewed you as the one who was stealing her son from her and taking him away to Korea.   After your honeymoon, however, you were presented with an opportunity at a family dinner to demonstrate to her that you were more than capable of taking care of her Alan.  That dinner went well and you did very well until ….   Until the steamed pudding was brought to the table.  In a flourish you lifted the lid to reveal your creation and suddenly the centre sagged and became a ‘black hole’!   (A Black Hole, in the cosmos, appears to be a mysterious phenomenon which sucks everything nearby into it and returns virtually nothing.)  This Black Hole in the steamed pudding sucked in all Rita’s endeavours, all her intentions to announce herself as a capable daughter-in-law.  It returned nothing.   Rita was mortified.   Our mother however, was so sorry for Rita that compassion took over and a loving relationship began which was cemented over the following years.

Rita, your love and care for your grand-family were something other.  We know you had deep sadness at the inability presented to you regarding any significant relationship with your grandson, Linus, yet you had no bitterness towards Shirley, just bewilderment.  Bitterness played no part in your life.   Sad!  Yes but never bitter.   I have learned from that.

Your relationship with your other grandchildren was something to behold.   Over 80 and down on the floor with Jasmine and Alexa playing games and make-believe was enjoyed not only by the children but also by those of us who observed.

Your endless supply of Cream Kisses for family celebrations was something to anticipate and we certainly did.

When you moved to Newcastle, Alexa, at 2 years old, was a great help in arranging all the furniture in your new home. She was also very philosophical and quite profound about a year later, when at the age of 3, she said to you in serious conversation, “You are very, very, very, very old.  You’ll die soon. Won’t you?”   You loved all such exchanges and treasured them.  Your responses and your special encouragement continue to be treasured by those of us who remain.

Rita, for me, you have put flesh on the great prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr,  ‘God , Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’   You were unhappy, that your new home in Newcastle did not have a spare room to accommodate visitors overnight.  Even thought this was a continuing frustration for you, you did not let it drown out benefits of moving here from Melbourne.  You knew you could not do anything about that extra room, so you worked around it on occasion, with the help of Graeme and Cathy.

Rita, you have taught me much.   Thank you.   Rita, you have made a difference.  Thank you.

The smile of love which glowed deeply in your being, continues to challenge and refresh us.  As a follower of Jesus you were faithful and took each opportunity to demonstrate your faith as a time to be engaged and expressed forgiveness and acceptance as though it was the natural thing to do.

We have been privileged to be part of your life and we are profoundly thankful that you have been part of ours.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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6 Responses to My mother, Rita Stuart (1923-2012)

  1. Chrisanthi Freeman says:

    My husband Fergus Freeman from New Zealand was part of a group of international young people who spent a year in Korea as part of the World Council of Churches Work Camp in 1965/66. Fergus was one of those people who experienced the kindness and hospitality of Rita and Alan and spoke of them very warmly about how they looked after him when he came down with Hepatiits. Fergus passed away in October 2012 and I have been transcribing his letters home from Korea and found frequent references to his parents re assuaring his parents how well looked after he was by Rita. Korea and the Work Camp experience had a huge impact on Fergus’s life and he was involved with the International Christian Youth Exchange and later setting up our own Exchange Programme – ARK International. I just wanted Rita and Alan Stuarts family to know that their kindness had a ripple effect. If it is at all possible I would love to have a photograph of a the Stuarts in Korea to include in the Memoirs I am doing for Fergus’s grand children. Warm regards. Chrisanthi Freeman

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    • Thanks Chrisanthi for your lovely comment. That work camp is part of our family’s folk law. Even though I was too young to remember it, I certainly know about it and some of the people involved. I have forwarded your comment to my father (Alan) who will be sure to send you some photos. Could you please email me (graeme.stuart@newcastle.edu.au) so that he can send them to you.
      Thanks again.
      Graeme

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  2. Kath Baldini says:

    I had a profound admiration for Rita and her way of ministering, and in particular her interest and relating to young people. Her presence evoked a sense of peace, of faith and genuine interest in persons. She has left a profound legacy.

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