Friends and family farewell Helen

THERE was a large congregation at the Helen McDiarmid’s funeral at St Paul’s Uniting Church last Wednesday morning. The mourners included a large representation of Helen’s Derwent Valley friends, as well as her family from Queensland and friends from various other stages of her life. The service started with the Derwent Valley Community Choir singing Homeward Bound by Marta Keen.

Helen’s sister Annette delivered the eulogy, starting with a reference to Passions, the High St cafe operated by Helen and Mark, remarking on Helen’s passion for music, good food, beautiful things, Stanton, her dog Sam, the Derwent Valley, and people. “Helen loved people, and people loved Helen,” Annette said.

Helen was born in Brisbane in 1961. At school she excelled in English and French, and appeared on the television quiz show It’s Academic. She learned the piano and cello from an early age and later joined the Queensland Youth Orchestra. She went to work at the Commonwealth Bank in Brisbane, later returning to university to study a commerce degree. It was there she met Mark McDiarmid and they were married in 1980. They moved to Hobart for several years and lived in the house where Errol Flynn was born.

After returning to Queensland in 1985, Helen enrolled at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and majored in the harpsichord. She later joined the state police as a clerk.

By 2003 the couple was yearning to return Tasmania. They found the old Stanton manor house at Magra and set about converting it into a bed and breakfast. After many years as a teacher, Mark undertook a career change and joined Tasmania Police as a trainee police officer. In 2006 Helen was diagnosed with breast cancr.

In 2007 the couple took over Passions coffee shop in New Norfolk and introduced monthly art exhibitions to the venue. At the same time, Helen made time for community activities with Derwent Valley Regional Arts, Magra CWA, Rivers Run Touring Route, Australia Day Committee and more. Helen made many friends in the Derwent Valley and in 2008 she was presented with a patchwork quilt made by those friends, who each contributed one square to the project. “Helen was left speechless for the first time in her life,” Annette said.

In August 2008, Helen’s cancer returned. The following March, her mother succumbed to the disease. Late in 2009 Helen and a friend set off on a final trip to the UK. She was admitted to hospital on her return, and came home to Stanton on Christmas Eve.

Family friend Kevin spoke of the many friendships Helen had made throughout her life time, and what they had meant to her.

Husband Mark spoke briefly, and thanked everyone for their attendance. “We came to New Norfolk with one thing in mind – to bring Stanton to life, and she did,” Mark said. He also touched on Helen’s many friendships and remarked “she used to talk about you all, all the time.”

It is a shame that applauding is not the done thing during a church service. The Derwent Valley Choir, Helen’s sister Annette, and her brave husband Mark, all deserved a sympathetic round of applause last Wednesday morning.

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