“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens”. Peggy’s attitude to life was beyond comparison.
Peggy Eileen O’Connor was born in Warwick on July 1, 1927. The origin of ‘Peggy’ is ‘pearl’ and we viewed her as the rarest form. Eileen means ‘light’ in Irish which is fitting for a woman who was a ‘lighthouse’ for many people. “In Ireland’s history the O’Connors are so numerous, eminent and varied that an encyclopedia would scarcely do them justice.” You wonder who wrote this statement but one thing is for sure: Mum was quintessentially Irish.
Peggy came from a large Catholic family. Her parents were Nessie and William with Pat then Betty Joan and Joy (the triplets) as sisters and Morgan, Geoff and John as brothers. Peggy’s dad William was also partially responsible for the O’Connor/Keppell height or lack of, being five foot and a fraction! He was also known as ‘Scissors O’Connor’ because of his speedy nature on the football field. One of mum’s first memories was watching the triplets trying to crawl in different directions across the floor.
Peggy married Fred when she was nineteen and celebrated 64 years of marriage. Mum and dad complemented each other. Mum was clever, creative and intuitive and Dad was physically strong, determined and gregarious. Even after 64 years of marriage they still gave each other a kiss when they left each other’s side. It must have been an extraordinary bond as they departed this world 19 days apart. They lived in the ‘Tarragindi house’ for over 50 years. Together, they had five children, three boys and two girls. Now there are 11 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren.
Peggy’s children were her universe, and she was devoted to us. It is important to realise that “any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease” and mum needed this skill many times in raising five of us. She always knew more than she said as Phil knows very well. Apparently, Phil wagged high school (for the first time of course) and went to the city for the day. Forty years later mum whispered in his ear at a family BBQ that she saw him that day from the bus, something she had kept secret all that time. “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mum” is a testament to her ‘intuition’. Annie tapped into her cheeky side when she encouraged mum to eat a larger portion of food at dinner. Peggy chose a small slice of banana and then nonchalantly popped it into her mouth and smiled mischievously. Annie laughed: “I’ll get cranky with you mum if you don’t eat”. Mum placed her hands on her tiny hips and said: “I’ll get crankier!” They both laughed out loud – a priceless interaction.
Mum was also our best friend. “The best kind of friend is the kind you can sit on a porch swing with, never say a word, and then walk away feeling like it was the best conversation you’ve ever had”. Peggy had a love of learning and an inquisitive mind who taught others that we never stop learning – mainly because it’s such fun. She was also the most patient person. Mum was a teacher – not in a formal sense but nonetheless she was a natural educator. She had the most precious gift of an inspiring teacher – the ability to encourage curiosity, encourage reading, and encourage learning. She would spend days searching magazines or books to find supportive pieces for our assignments and essays when we were children. More than once we got into trouble at school using words beyond our vocabulary as mum had helped us with our homework. Even at 84 she played on the computer sending email, searched the web and downloaded cryptic crosswords. She even played with the iPad looking at digital artwork – her face lighting up at the joy of mastering something new.
Mum loved reading and Jen could barely keep up with supplying her books. Jen had to become a librarian just to support mum’s reading habit. She would usually read a few books a week and enjoyed the challenge of working out ‘who did it’ in the crime mysteries. Jen would often determine the ones she wanted to read after mum had vetted them for her. Her other joy involved the solving of difficult and cryptic crossword puzzles. If we ever needed to know what a word meant – we would ask mum. She loved gardening and she designed the ‘Tarragindi home garden’ so that it was a sanctuary complete with statues. Some of her favourite flowers were orchids and she particularly liked the purple flower of the Jacaranda trees at this time of year. She was a wonderful cook and her sponge cake with whipped cream was always our favourite birthday cake. Many family conversations occurred in front of the cricket on TV with homemade biscuits and copious cups of tea. She loved her art books and used them as inspiration for her artwork. She also loved to travel and managed to traverse the globe travelling around Australia, Norfolk Island, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong. Her passion for learning was obvious as she viewed the new places with her natural curiosity.
Mum blossomed as an artist. It was an outlet that opened the floodgates into her creative side. This creative outlet was her sanctuary – her place. She was prolific beyond our wildest expectations. Mum was a member of the ‘Art in Bark Association’ for over 25 years and was a life-member, with many good friends who shared her passion. She created around 300 art-in-bark pieces. She won numerous awards including the prestigious Dame Mary Durack Craft Awards which were displayed at the museum. She also won prizes at the Brisbane Ekka, Sydney and Canberra shows as well as selling dozens of pictures. She is also the only member of the Keppell Family who is in the ‘Guiness Book of Records’ for the creation of ‘The Olgas’ a bark picture measuring 12.3 metres long by 2.7 metres high. It was recognised for the being the ‘largest bark picture in the world’. Painting was her latest passion. Jen recalls mum sitting at her table with her paint smock, concentrating to the exclusion of everything else around her. She would often sit painting her colorful scenes, mixing the colours until they were just right for her picture. Her paint strokes would steadily layer another colour on the canvas as she joyously embraced life. Every second she painted was priceless. She entered a tranquil and peaceful place as she painted and became lost in the colour of her creation. In six short months she had created over sixty pieces. The card you were given as you entered the Chapel is a reminder of Peggy K (her artistic name) and her original artwork.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying: “my mother had a slender, small body, but a large heart – a heart so large that everybody’s joys found welcome in it, and hospitable accommodation”. Likewise Peggy was slender to the point that the family have coined a new term, ‘Peggy-weight’. As most would know Peggy Eileen weighed 29kg – but all of it was pure spirit and pure courage. She tackled an ascent of Kilimanjaro every day. The best way to describe Peggy was the way she made you feel. When you meet someone and remember back later, we often forget the detail of the conversation, but we always remember how that person made us feel. Peggy was the type of person who made everyone feel special, who made everyone feel good about themselves. She was warm and loving and transferred this to you in a selfless way. She made you feel like you were the centre of her being whether you were family, friend, stranger or carer. Just recently, Mum encouraged one of her carers ‘to follow her dreams’ just as she always encouraged her children. One of her friends at Arcare mentioned that Peggy was such a ‘gentle person’ – in all ways. Words, speech, images will barely scratch the surface in portraying her. She was an unachievable act to follow and an angel who touched our hearts and spirit. Peggy wasn’t just our mother – she was the finest person we have known.