Laurie Theresa Harbort
Readers of the Catholic Leader during the period 1955 to 1980
Deeply loved for her ability to bring joy to those around her, the sudden death of Carlton's Jacqui Wiegard shocked her family and friends.
Described as a " thinker and classical music and animal lover" the 74-year old mother-of-three was farewelled by her heartbroken family at a private service in October.
Jacqui Abercrombie was studying classical piano and harpsichord at the Conservatorium of Music when she met her future husband Olympic water polo champion Leon Wiegard.
"She had jet black hair and the best smile in the world," Mr Wiegard recalls.
By the age of 23, she and Leon had three children: Angela, Leon and Bianca. They recall growing up in "a dynamic, loving, politically active and fun house."
"We were loved deeply and encouraged and supported to do what we wanted with our lives," says Bianca Wiegard. "(Her) journey of having kids young and her unfulfilled dreams of a music career and travel, created a fire in her belly for us to have and experience more.
"We had a radical education and were introduced to ideas and concepts out of the norm for the times. She marched for what she believed in and stood behind her values."
With the family's permission, we publish the Wiegards' moving tributes.
I met Jacqui at a local water polo game. Our team Kew was playing Melbourne and at after-match drinks a Melbourne player introduced me to her. They had been friends for years, but he had only recently started taking her out. A little time later, foolishly as it turned out, he brought her to one of the "famous" Kew Water Polo fundraiser barbecues at the Wiegards'. That was the beginning of the Jacqui-Leon story.
We were married after she told me she was planning to go overseas with a girlfriend "Unless I wanted to do something about it" - which I did! The result was three great kids, all born before Jacqui turned 23, who have turned out to be wonderful human beings, obviously more Jacqui's DNA than mine, although I came from a very happy, close-knit family too.
In the early days we lived in Jack Smith's house in Frater Ave, East Kew - Jack had not yet married Gwen at that time, before buying our first house in Rangeview Grove, North Balwyn. Jacqui got little help from me while the children were very young - I was playing water polo and developing a business - but she did have fantastic support from her mum, Jeanie, and my mum, Mary. When the kids were young, we had a modest holiday home in Sorrento, and they spent hours with other families on Blairgowrie beach frolicking in the shallow water - Jacqui never did learn to swim.
In our early days of going out, Jacqui worked as secretary to some CSIRO big shot in Albert Street, East Melbourne. We used to meet a bunch of mates on a Friday night at the International Hotel on the city fringe, now a high-rise building. She had jet black hair and the best smile in the world.
At the time she was also studying classical piano and harpsichord at the Conservatorium of Music. She refused to play either in public, or for me or the family but remained a huge devotee of early music, particularly Bach. In fact, she was beside herself for the whole week we were at the Bach Festival in Leipzig some years ago - she went to every session, dragging me and my two German "cousins" along with her. The radio at home was rarely off ABC Classics and she spent many, many nights at the recital centre listening to the Brandenburg Orchestra, Jordi Savall playing Vivaldi etc.
So, classical music was certainly one of her great loves. But her family, both in Scotland and our own children and grandchildren were on top of the ladder, followed by a great number of friends from various common interest groups - anything to do with Scotland or England and books - she was an avid reader and really enjoyed her regular book club girls' nights.
She was always at me about the next overseas trip, and we did have some wonderful trips together, both golf and non-golf focused. Of course, she always wanted to include Scotland in any itinerary - once we had to go to Port Douglas where I was to make a speech and she suggested, "While we're in the area, why don't we go to Glasgow?"
Jacqui was a wonderful partner to have on side, lord help anyone who did anything to upset any of the family members, but she had a fabulous sense of humour and made friends so easily - in fact she had time for almost everyone. Her goodbyes at dinner parties or any function are legendary - sometimes lasting longer than the event itself! She contacted our three kids and our grandchildren almost every day and made sure the family got together as often as possible.
Jacqui always put herself at the back of the queue or in the worst seat in the house, she cared so much for other people and for animals. It is typical of her to insist on no funeral, or speeches about her at any function.
It's just so hard to accept that she is no longer with us but as I read somewhere, we ought to remember and be thankful for the time we had together - and I'll certainly do that.
As an adult, I look back on my life and the foundation laid by our parents. What lucky kids we are. We grew up in a dynamic, loving, politically active and fun house. Mum was always laughing at Dad's jokes, and Dad was always cracking them. We went on many memorable holidays and trips and saw the world. The music was played loud - luckily Jammie's and not Papa's. The house was filled with books, guests were always welcome and stray animals were brought in off the street for shelter.
We were loved deeply and encouraged and supported to do what we wanted with our lives. Jammie's journey of having kids young and her unfulfilled dreams of a music career and travel created a fire in her belly for us to have and experience more. We had a radical education and were introduced to ideas and concepts out of the norm for the times. She marched for what she believed in and stood behind her values. Jammie instilled in us a strong sense of values and compassion. An animal and women liberationist, music lover, wife, mum, "Jammie", and Papa's greatest fan, she was a mentor to me in many ways.
I'm aware that not everyone is so fortunate to have this foundation laid for them.
Jammie's sudden passing has gripped us with unbearable shock and grief. Subconsciously I had planned the next 10 to 15 years with her and looked forward to her being part of her beloved grandkids' - Amelie, Ruchi, Henry and Saatchi's lives as they become adults.
Under the pain is deep gratitude. Under the pain, there are fond memories. Under the pain, there is always the memory of that beautiful smile and radiance she carried with her.
I am going to miss my gorgeous, spunky, vivacious, and caring Mum. She was the glue that held our family together, the light in everyone's life and the most incredible wife, mother, friend, and "Jammie" anyone could wish for.
Jammie, I will forever miss:
Your infectious laughter
Your daily check-ins
Your wise counsel
Your baby face and beaming smile
Your sense of style, your purple lipstick, and your fabulous hair
You in our lives
Thank you for the beautiful memories.
Mum was the glue that kept the family together. She had strong opinions but always pushed others up first. As a child I was incredibly shy and reserved - she got me and was my chief protector.
Mum and her parents helped to give me my politics. Among my earliest memories is attending a pro-choice rally outside a church in the city. The police turned up and moved us on. I remember feeling really confused as to why they were moving us on when we were right. Unperturbed, we went back to another rally at the same church the following week. She was tough when it came to something she believed in. I loved that about her, and it was so great to have a mum that took a stance and did something to make things better. I hope to keep that side of her alive.
My sisters and I were so fortunate to grow up in a family that had two loving but contrasting parents. Another early memory was coming home from school as Mum was holding her regular women's liberation meeting in the family room. I said, "Hi" to everyone then looked out the back to see Dad drinking cans of beer and cooking a barbecue with Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh. We had a weird upbringing; it was so great.
As most people do when you get to your late teens and early twenties, you start to see your parents less and that was true for me. About twenty-five years ago my sister had a health scare, and it was one of those moments when as a family I think we all understood that we were so much more comforted when we were closer. That started a daily phone check-in with Mum that lasted until she died. Sometimes it was just a couple of minutes to see if everyone was OK, but most of the time we spoke for a long time about a whole range of things, mainly politics. It was comforting that even as she got older, she still got mad about things that people should get mad about. I loved that daily chat and will miss it for the rest of my life.
Having had kids at a very early age, Mum always encouraged us to see the world and do things before we had kids. I also think she thought that she was far too young to be a grandmother. Indeed, she was horrified at the thought that she would be called that and chose the name "Jammie" for herself with the grandchildren. She was such a wonderful Jammie and was always there to watch them play sport or whatever other activity they were doing. The kids loved her.
Mum is gone too soon and while I am grieving, I feel a sense that I am so lucky to have her as my mum to help shape the man that I've become today.
When we were young our mother at one point asked us to call her Jacqui in public, especially when we were demanding something from her. I remember her saying that the sound of a chorus of young children shouting "Muuuum" made her feel under siege. It was only as I got older myself, I realised how young she was when she had us - 21 years old with Leon Jnr and Bianca and 22-years-old with me. In fact, I remember her thirtieth birthday party clearly. I think that's one of the reasons I feel so sad at her sudden passing - she was a young mum; she was meant to be here longer.
Mum was the only child of Ralph and Jeanie Abercrombie, born in Glasgow in 1948. They, as a family, immigrated to Australia on the "ten-pound passage" in 1949 wanting more opportunities for their young daughter. Mum also used to say that she thought her dad was trying to get away from his family, who ultimately followed him out anyway. She was deeply loved, but at times their causes of equality-for-all and social justice was thrust to the forefront of family life, meaning Mum often felt isolated because of her parents' beliefs. Saturday night, music nights, at the Abercrombie's were fond memories for Mum, with Ralph or Mum on the piano and everyone singing Scottish songs and Nanna providing more food than you'd think possible. They were generous and welcoming times at the Abercrombie's.
Leon, Bianca, and I think that Mum's want for family catch-ups, daily phone calls and questions like, "Have you spoken to your brother and sister today?" as if every family speaks to each other every single day, were formed because of her only-child upbringing. She created an incredibly strong family unit, and she wasn't going to let anything tear that apart.
Because Mum and Dad came from such different backgrounds, I remember feeling like it was normal to have parents who didn't have the same political beliefs, views on religion or taste in music. Their differences, however, made them incredible parents. It was Mum's idea to send us to Preshil, she felt it would allow us to form our own opinions and character without the institutional bias of other private schools. Dad however, used to call it the "junior school for Larundel" - the now closed Psychiatric Hospital in Kew, but Mum's character was so strong she won out on that argument.
In the 70s and 80s Dad was heavily involved in sport that in turn gave us all a love for it. We would spend many hours a week going to football matches, water polo, basketball, or swimming training but we also spent weekends at many antinuclear or women's rights marches with Mum. She was in a women's group that met once a week in the late '70s, early '80s and they would organise events to highlight issues of the day and make placards and badges for us to use during these protests. Bianca, Leon, and I often remind each other of the time we went to the Circus with the women from this group and their kids, only for all of them to stand up and start shouting "Don't be cruel to the animals, let the animals go!" in an organised protest as soon as they brought the lions out. We were equal parts mortified and proud. Mum was indeed a person of great conviction, empathy and care, her love for animals and women's rights were integral to who she was.
Mum's passing will leave a hole inside me that shall never be filled. She was huge in my life, a constant presence that was always so quick to tell me how fabulous she thought I am, even if it wasn't always true. She had a sense of family like no other, she was the organiser, the party planner, the connector, and the greatest supporter. Watching her laugh at any of my father's jokes, no matter how many times she'd heard them was beautiful, they had a bond that has taught me the meaning of loyalty and selflessness and they were truly the loves of each other's lives.
Mum was an observer, nothing got past her, she saw everything, took it all in, processed it. She never reacted to those who occasionally showed disrespect or cruelty toward her, whether intentionally or unintentionally. But if you showed those traits toward one of her family, then God help you!
When the love is so big the loss seems unbearable.
I love you and will miss you until the day I die.
As you would say Mum - "Be good". Thank you for everything.
Originally published as "She was the glue in our family" - tributes flow for Carlton matriarch Jacqui Wiegard.
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