Laurie Theresa Harbort
Readers of the Catholic Leader during the period 1955 to 1980
In loving memory of Santina Leonardi
26.10.1969 - 29.09.2022
A collection of Eulogies from Santina's family & close friends.
Family is where life begins and love never ends. Family is the perfect mix of chaos and love. Family is made strong not by the number of people you share the dinner table with, but by the memories you share together.
For those who may not know me, my name is Michelle Lyons (nee Leonardi) and I am Santina's cousin. I am honoured to be speaking on behalf of Santina's large and loving family, many of whom have contributed to this reflection.
Santina was born on 26 October 1969 - a daughter to Sam and Carmel and little sister to Mary. When the doctors told them that Santina had Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, Sam and Carmel were frightened as they had not heard of these conditions. They were told that she wouldn't survive for long but Sam and Carmel did not accept this prognosis - rather, they made it their mission to exhaust all options to not only help her survive, but provide Santina with the best possible quality of life. This involved many surgeries and trips to Brisbane with Sam and Carmel often having to return home late at night and still attend to the family farm. Throughout it all, Santina was a bright and cheerful child, who brought joy to all. Mary was an attentive big sister - as a baby Santina kept Mary on her toes by pulling out all the items in drawers and then crawling into them herself.
Some years later, she became a big sister to John and Roslyn. With her kind and loving nature, she helped raise them, and was always looking out for them. Though I am sure she would have been frustrated at times, when they either didn't listen to her, or were just a bit naughtier than she was!
As the years went by, Sam and Carmel made a point of raising Santina to be as independent as any child could be regardless of her physical limitations. When she was about 10 years old, they were advised to send her to Montrose Home in Brisbane - a Centre for children with disabilities - designed to teach these children how to manage their own daily activities.
On the first morning, after her arrival, Santina surprised the staff by getting herself up, showered, dressed, making her bed and tidying up the room before heading down to breakfast. The staff promptly called her parents and told them that she had already mastered all the skills she was sent there to learn!
Santina attended St Joseph's school from year 1 - year 10 and Stanthorpe State High School for year 11 and 12. She made so many friends along the way, especially the boys, who always knew they could use Santina as an excuse for being late for class by telling the teachers they had to "help" Santina up or down stairs.
On completion of school, Santina started her position at St Joseph's Primary School in the office, which is where she worked for 35 years. St Joseph's played a huge part in Santina's life and some of her wonderful colleagues and dear friends will elaborate on this shortly.
Santina or Tina as she was often called, brought colour, laughter, warmth and gratitude wherever she went. She had a humble, can-do attitude and you couldn't help but feel loved and energised around her. She was genuinely interested in how everyone was going, what they were up to and made everyone feel welcome.
Tina was rarely seen without some sparkle to her - whether that was her clothes, her jewellery or her nails. But it was when she started laughing, that the sparkle really came out. It would start with a high-pitched giggle, and often progress to an unmistakable snort that would set off a chain reaction of unbridled laughter in all those around her.
Family was everything to Santina. She was a loving, dutiful daughter, a caring, protective sister and sister-in-law, a doting, proud aunty, a much-adored niece and a fun-loving, considerate cousin. At family gatherings, she could often be seen chatting with a young child on her lap and later in the night, even not-so-young cousins, nestled comfortably on that same lap, engrossed in a deep and meaningful conversation or friendly banter.
Santina loved her parents deeply and always wanted to please them. Before Carmel passed away, Santina promised her that she would look after Sam. She kept that promise, right up until her final days asking "is Dad okay, has he eaten and did he need anything?" Over the years, Santina and Sam have been each other's protector, carer, guardian, advisor and companion. There may have been times when they drove each other a little crazy but above all, they loved and supported each other unconditionally.
For Mary, John and Roslyn - she was a wonderful sister. She was always there at milestone moments and when they needed comforting or someone to talk to. Their partners loved Tina too and she returned this love in so many ways - often the first to celebrate at joyous occasions, yet always there to provide support during their times of heartache and incredible loss.
With the birth of her first niece Carmayla, Santina was overjoyed, and equally so with Felicity, Samuel, Isabella and Rocco. She loved them like her own children, looked for every opportunity to spend time with them and showered them with love and attention. They too adored Aunty Tina - she was always a lap to sit on when their little legs were tired and they just loved riding around in the wheelchair with Aunty Tina. Right up until the day she passed, she enjoyed having them there with her and even though she was no longer speaking, her eyes had a little sparkle in them whenever the children came into her room.
Within her extended family, Santina was like our True North. She was the one we always gravitated to, especially at large family gatherings that brought her great joy.
Santina became the most loved guest at the annual Vintage Lunch which celebrated the start of vintage at Golden Grove Estate vineyards, owned and operated by her Uncle Sam, Aunty Grace, cousins Raymond, Jason and families. The celebration incorporated bringing home the harvest followed by the stomping. Santina was given the role of playing the Queen of the Vineyard and led the harvest team home to the stomping tub. There was never a shortage of people wanting to push the wheelchair along the way, and of course Santina always chose the young assistant winemaker to perform the honour. Traditionally, it is the queen who commences the stomping by climbing into the tub, but as this was not really an option for Tina, she was given a bowl of grapes placed on her lap, which she crushed by hand to the music of the tarantella. To all, this was the highlight of the function. Santina fit the role of queen perfectly - not only as Vintage Queen, but also Party Queen, Dancing Queen, and most of all, Queen of Hearts.
Santina had a sense of youthful enthusiasm and immersed herself fully in any party - dancing, drinking socially and generally being where the action was. During my uni years, when it was too far to travel home to Ingham for the short semester breaks, I would stay with Santina and Uncle Sam. Over the weekends, we would usually end up "out on the town," meeting up with her friends, dancing and then making the somewhat sobering trip home up the hill back to Jardine Street. Helping to push Tina's wheelchair up the hill was a great way to work the alcohol out of your system, if the dancing hadn't already done so!
Having grown up together Santina shared a unique and close bond with her Spina cousins. She was their best friend, stand-in big sister, confidante, sharer of memories, dreams, and advice. Like all of her cousins, they were in awe of her limitless positivity and attitude in life. She made challenges look like child's play. Her advice was always…if you want it and it makes you happy - go for it! It always felt safe to have a go if Santina approved because you knew she'd have your back no matter what! And then, she loved to hear all the details!!!
She was like a fairy godmother - especially for Louise and Roslyn who could be quite mischievous, right into their teenage years. She had this way of effortlessly covering things up to make sure they always came out looking angelic. After school, she provided a much better alternative than waiting to be picked up at Woolies - always pulling out the goods for afternoon tea including her famous snickers cookies and turtle muffins. When Miriam and Carolyn chose to become ambassadors for the Stanthorpe Show & Apple & Grape, Santina was their biggest supporter. It's no surprise that she also seemed to have the most fun at all the associated events and festivities.
As all of Santina's cousins have grown and extended their families, she made every single new addition feel loved, included, and special. Regardless of physical distance, she has kept them all close - sharing many chats, snaps and messages. Tina's hugs were always filled with so much love………and the slight fear of getting snagged on her jewellery. She was one-of-a-kind our Tina, Teeny, Santina, Sabrina, Sultana…Cuz!
A strong sense of community meant that Santina was widely known around her beloved town of Stanthorpe. She would often volunteer to sell tickets, raise money or assist in any way she could with numerous organisations. She could relate to and enjoy the company of a wide range of people - from older generations of Sicilians, right through to the young Prep students that she cared and looked out for at St Joseph's.
In August last year, Santina was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme, commonly known as a GBM brain tumor and one of the worst you can have. Little hope was offered to Santina and her family. They were told she would have at best 3-6 months to live. The tumor was inoperable and her only choice of treatment was oral Chemo tablets and radiation. In early October 2021, Santina was told she had 24-48 hours to live and was transferred to the Toowoomba Hospice after receiving only 2 weeks of oral chemo tablets. Whether it was the result of divine intervention, through the strength of prayers from all those who loved her, or Tina's sheer determination to keep fighting, Santina defied all odds, and surprised the doctors greatly by improving in her condition. After spending her 52nd birthday in the Toowoomba Hospice she was then transferred back to St Andrews where she received radiation therapy and further oral chemo treatment.
Santina's only wish when she was first diagnosed, was to eventually go home. After over 7 months of being hospitalised, she finally returned to Jardine Street on the 28th March where she spent nearly 5 months living her life to the best of her ability, assisted by her lovely team of Carers. However, nearly 12 months to the day from the initial diagnosis, a secondary aggressive tumor was discovered. This time, surgery was an option and Santina told her family "I don't just want to do nothing, let's do the surgery". Despite the operation being successful in debulking the secondary tumor, within weeks, a scan confirmed that the tumor had spread to multiple new locations.
Throughout all of Santina's illness she never once complained - she remained strong and brave not just for herself, but for her family. It has been said that "The hardest battles are often given to the strongest soldiers" and Santina proved time and time again that she was certainly one of the strongest soldiers in our family.
Her life was full and joyful. She never let physical limitations hold her back - working full time, learning to drive and buying her own brand new car - twice. She travelled extensively - enjoying many overseas holidays - despite having to drag herself up and down stairs or in and out of buses or motorhomes, in many places where disabled access was not available.
At Disneyland, John and Roslyn took full advantage of being with Santina as it allowed them to skip the queue for rides. In return, Santina happily went on every thrill ride, transferring herself in and out of the ride carriages - just because she knew how happy it would make John and Roslyn. She was there with her family on their pilgrimage to Medjugorje - something Aunty Carmel had always wanted to do. Every day, she was stretchered up and down The Hill of Apparitions - a half hour stony and steep climb. She travelled north and west to visit family on cane fields and cattle stations. She experienced snow in Tasmania and enjoyed cocktails in the pool bar at Fiji. But most of all she enjoyed cruising - she went on over 10 cruises with family and friends where she could get around easily in her wheelchair and participate in everything they had to offer. They were the ultimate holiday for her - surrounded by people that she loved, good food, good music, laughter and new experiences.
Today we say goodbye:
May we always remember that:
Whilst her hands may be gone, her good deeds remain
Whilst her heart may be gone, her love is still felt,
Whilst her thoughts may be gone, her memories live on
Whilst her body may be gone, her soul remains.
And, whilst the world may have lost some of its brightness, Heaven has certainly gained some sparkle.
Eulogy by Michelle
Google tells me that the name Santina is a 'female name of Italian origin that means saint', and that is exactly what she was - a cheeky, smiling, fun-loving young saint who brought joy to the lives of everyone she met.
When I was sitting with Santina at the Toowoomba hospice one day, she quietly asked me if I would speak at her funeral. But there were conditions - it was not to be sad, nor somber and definitely not too long.
I did not meet Santina until she entered my class in Year 8 at St Joseph's High. Though a little nervous, as are most on their first day of secondary schooling, the first thing I noticed about Santina was her beautiful smile, not her wheelchair, but her smile. She was a teacher's dream; eager to learn, hard-working, determined to succeed. She never complained about the difficulties she must have experienced trying to access different rooms for specialist subjects when initially there were no ramps. She just got on with it and that was the Santina we all know.
Santina was very popular with all of the students. So popular in fact that in Yr 9, I think it was, the students contacted the then 4WK radio station and nominated her for their Weekly Happiness Award which she deserved and received. After completing her senior education at the Stanthorpe State High, where she made even more friends, Santina became part of the St Joseph's staff working as receptionist/secretary in the Primary campus where she also became self-appointed nurse, problem solver, party organiser, excellent listener, carer and friend to staff, parents and children.
And, speaking of parties, I particularly remember when Santina and her dad had planned a holiday in Italy. We could not let her go without a farewell party, so one was planned; we would have a staff dinner party to be held at ??? Hotel. But, a party with a difference - we were to attend as Santina. So, linen cupboards were raided, Roman togas (well, they are Italian and were heading to Rome!) were created and large cardboard wheels were attached to the bottom of the togas. The female staff members searched high and low for the longest, dangliest and blingiest earrings to wear. Several Santinas partied that night but only one of them won most of the wheelchair races which took place along the back verandah of the hotel. I think she was cheating because she used real wheels!!
That smile rarely left her face. How privileged we all are to have been called friend by Santina. Her courage, positivity, adventurous spirit, love of life and genuine care for all whom she knew will live in our hearts and memories and I believe Heaven will be even more joyous as Santina walks with family and friends who have gone before her. You will be greatly missed, Santina
Eulogy by Pamela
Over her 35 years as a staff member, Santina saw a great number of teachers, teacher aides, groundsmen, cleaners and Office staff pass through our ranks. A special welcome to those staff members of yesteryear who are present with us today. Can you imagine the enormous number of memoirs we collectively have about - as one staff member put it - "our little pocket rocket bling queen"?
Santina held the position of our school Receptionist - the first point of call for everyone entering our school grounds. No matter the day, the season, or the year, visitors would see that same engaging smile, hear a happy and friendly welcome and be given the exact information they were seeking, for as we all know - Santina knew everything about everything at St. Joey's. And then there were the phone calls - that phone never stopped ringing and no matter what the circumstances of the Office, that beautiful voice was always the same - "Good morning, St. Joseph's School, Santina speaking" - closely followed by a laugh or a giggle. We were so fortunate to have her as the face of our school - she was indeed, one of our greatest assets.
Over the years, we saw the demolition of old buildings and construction of new ones which led to the main Office being relocated a number of times. A special memory that comes to mind was when the Office was moved to the upper floor of the new two-storey building on the Primary Campus which offered lovely facilities and a good view over the grounds but not so good an access for our wheelie, Santina. So, each morning, two of our buff and muscley male teachers, Tony Coonan and David Fleming, would pull her up the eight stairs and dutifully repeat the process on the way down in the afternoon. You can just imagine the banter that went on and, of course, Tony and Dave topped the Gremlins' fitness test - week after week!
On looking back, this was a relatively small but, to my mind, a largely significant happening and one that began a caring family vibe within our whole staff. With Santina in our midst and being the beautiful person she was, her whole demeanour encouraged us to look out for each other, to look on the bright side and is responsible for some wonderful and hilarious staff memories.
Now, let's return to the Reception desk for a minute where Santina continued to carry on her role with calm professionalism - never becoming flustered and never raising her voice - that is, until one day!! It was in the early nineties and on the Staff at the time we had you could say, some larger than life characters so our staffroom was always on the noisy side. Such was the case one lunch time when Santina came into the room. Excuse me, she said, in a loud voice - but no one heard. She repeated in a louder voice - excuse me - still no one heard! Finally , at the top of her voice, she shouted Excuse me - we have a bomb scare happening - get out now - and a frantic scramble followed. That, I believe was the only time I ever heard Santina raise her voice.
From her Office desk, Santina got to know the whole St. Joseph's community. The great number of teachers she worked with over the years who were so grateful for her assistance given so willingly , the many, parents who were so appreciative of her kind and helpful nature but it was the kids, our students who were her main motivation. They were the ones she loved the most and believe me, this love was reciprocated tenfold. The kids found any excuse to go to the Office so as to see Santina and they would leave feeling cared for, loved and listened to and always with a bandaid attached to some part of their body.
One student once said to his Mum "Miss Santina is the best thing about going to school."
What a legacy she has left us. She was the perfect example of resilience which enabled her to thrive and achieve. She has shown us, over and over again, the power of kindness. With her great sense of fun, she became our teacher in the value of laughter and what a good night out looks like and feels like. And mostly she has taught us not to be burdened by WHAT WE HAVE TO DO but rather be motivated by the fact WE GET TO DO IT!
Santina, we pray that your inspirational spirit will live on in each one of us - rest in peace beautiful friend.
Eulogy by Mary
In loving memory of my Godmother Santina Leonardi 26.10.1969 - 29.09.2022 It was an honour to have you as my Godmother. Thank-you for your kindness and love over the years. Thank-you for the birthday presents and gifts.
You were always in my thoughts and in my heart. Will forever remember you and your beautiful nature and smile. With love.
Your Godson- Lachlan Salvatore Torrisi
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