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Penola Centre’s ‘best and fairest’


Claire Larkin - Born: May 27 1935 | Died: July 16 2023

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Claire Brady was born in Colac, Victoria, the youngest of five children who were raised on a dairy farm.

Claire loved horses and owned a pony at the age of five. She rode around the paddocks with her friends of adjoining farms at weekends and would drive the horse drawn wagon when her father took the milk to the factory.

She cycled about two miles to school each day in Coragulac where she was educated by the Good Samaritan Sisters at St Brendan’s Catholic School.

In 1952 Claire moved to Penola to help her sister Anne with her young family. It was here that she met Brian Larkin who was working at the Penola Butter Factory. Claire’s brother-in-law, Tom Carmody, was the manager and she started working in the office.

Claire and Brian loved dancing and enjoyed the dances on Saturday nights in the Coonawarra Hall. They married in Colac in 1955 and three years later had John, followed by Janet and Kathryn.

When John was eight months old, Claire was asked to take on the job of secretary to the Board of the Penola War Memorial Hospital which had opened in 1955.

She worked from home and went to the hospital when Brian was at home with the children. The job developed into working at the hospital during school hours and then full time when the children were older. She retired in 1994 after 36 years.

During that time Claire also worked with numerous organisations and clubs, making many friends through her involvement in various committees.

After retiring she joined the committee of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre and took up the position of secretary and later chairperson and coordinator. This was a great interest of hers and she found it very fulfilling. She had great pleasure in seeing the centre develop and in sharing the story of Australia’s first saint to the many people visiting Penola from all over Australia and overseas.

Highlights were overseeing celebrations for the beatification of Mary MacKillop in 1995 and canonisation in 2010.

In the weeks leading up to Mary MacKillop’s canonisation, Claire was at the centre from dawn to dusk, not to mention being on call 24/7 to respond to media inquiries. Her knowledge of Mary and Fr Julian Tenison Woods, who co-founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and her ability to communicate Mary’s work with the disadvantaged and her legacy today made her sought after ‘talent’ with journalists around the world.

Claire loved working with the dedicated volunteers who gave generously of their time for the centre and shared the same interest.

Claire was named Australian Citizen of the Year for the district in 2001 and in January 2017 was honoured for her service to the community of Penola and awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division (OAM). This was a great honour for Claire and in one which she wanted to share with all the good people who had been part of her life over the years.

Her Catholic faith was an important focal point in her life. In 2015 she received an Archbishop’s Award for her outstanding contribution to the life of the Church in the Archdiocese of Adelaide. To top off her achievements, in 2019 she was awarded a Papal Honour by Pope Francis, under the title ‘For the Church and the Pontiff’, in recognition of meritorious service to the Church. This is the highest honour the Catholic Church can bestow on a lay person and was for her outstanding commitment and contribution to the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre. Once again, she accepted this honour as a representative of all the volunteers who assisted with the work of promoting St Mary of the Cross MacKillop at the centre.

At her farewell in 2018 Claire was described as ‘adept at recognising, enlisting and nurturing the individual skills’ of those she led. She widely sought advice and had the presence, credibility and personal strength to bring people with her along the way. At the time, friend and local historian Margaret Muller said ‘you will always be at (the centre’s) heart and ours’. Another said if the centre was a sporting team she would be ‘best and fairest’.

Claire herself enjoyed sport from horse riding, netball and badminton in earlier years to joining Brian at the golf club in 1990 and taking up bowls in 2012. She was a fierce Crows fan and a staunch supporter of the Penola Eagles which made her a life member in 1986. Claire had a great sense of humour – she loved TV comedies and the movie The Castle, and she participated in golf club skits.

She was a devoted and much-loved mother and grandmother who loved spending time with her six grandchildren. In her last four years, she was blessed to have two great-grandchildren join the family. Ella and Tilly brought her so much joy and many laughs.

Her maternal instinct often preserved peace amidst the chaos. The memory of her unwavering support and her quiet laughter as she watched over her family will resonate forever, and the legacy of her love is a testament to the extraordinary woman that she was.

Taken from the family eulogy and other sources.

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