Farewell for quiet achiever with world first under her belt
ABOUT 200 family and friends gathered in St Mary's Cathedral in Grafton today to farewell a quiet achiever with at least one world first to her name.
Helen Margaret Smith, who died on her 71st birthday on March 6, was a much-loved as well as an eminently qualified palliative care nurse, who made a reality of creating comfort for people when comfort seemed impossible.
Mrs Smith, who was born Helen Lamb in the NSW southern tablelands town of Braidwood, began training as a nurse in 1965 at St Vincent's Hospital.
Later she worked in a variety of specialty fields of nursing including orthopaedics, spinal injury rehabilitation and working with mentally and physically disabled children in Sydney and Western Australia.
She took a break after meeting and marrying Michael Smith and giving birth to two sons, Nathan and Patrick.
It was around this time Mrs Smith discovered the deeper passion of her working life and enrolled in a Graduate Certificate in Palliative Care.
It was a trail blazing course at the time and she emerged as an early graduate from one of the first formal postgraduate degrees in palliative care in the world.
Surviving son Patrick delivered the eulogy at the service, noting his mother's reticence and her considerable achievements.
"She has been a quiet trailblazer in palliative care in NSW from the outset, developing services, mentoring and supporting colleagues, and most importantly supporting and comforting patients and their families at a time when comfort seemed impossible," he said.
As the first clinical nurse consultant in palliative care at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Auburn, Mrs Smith played a major role in the development of quality palliative care services in western Sydney.
She was instrumental in building a community around palliative care at SJH.
She found a medical equivalent in Dr Michael (Mick) Barbato when joined SJH as medical director. Together they formed a team that influenced and developed palliative care services.
They believed care was about the people in their care, meeting the patient or family's needs first.
Helen made a significant contribution to palliative care in NSW, to her colleagues both nursing and medical, in rural and city settings.
While at SJH Helen educated junior staff, as well as medical and nursing staff, helping them to recognise the importance of palliative care, and supporting their learning.
As a junior doctor, the current NSW State Cancer director Professor David Currow, saw Mrs Smith as an inspiration to specialise in palliative care. He has become internationally known for his work and research in palliative care.
Mrs Smith's restless search for a better way to care for people at the end of life continued after she came to Grafton in 1994 as the first clinical nurse consultant in the Clarence Valley.
In this role, contacts Mrs Smith had made across the country enabled the service to have access to the most up to date information and education.
In 1995 she convinced an old friend, Kate White, from the Catholic University of NSW, to begin a research project looking at the effectiveness in reducing palliative care hospital admissions.
The pair proposed an after-hours telephone support service and Mrs Smith led the team of enthusiastic community nurses to undertake the project.
The service proved incredibly effective and eventually the North Coast Area Health Service was able to receive ongoing funding to have an after hours telephone support service for the Clarence Valley, the only such service in regional NSW, at that time.
In 2000, Helen's advanced practice was recognised by attaining a grading as a Level 3 Clinical Nurse Consultant, the only Level 3, at that time, in the North Coast Area Health Service.
In 2009, the Community Nursing Team were absolutely delighted to receive a Palliative Care NSW award, for excellence in the provision of Community Palliative Care services.
But it was not all work for Mrs Smith and her family who loved the outdoor life.
As a girl she had been an excellent swimmer and tennis player good enough to get on the same court as Wimbledon champion Evonne Goolagong.
When she lived in Sydney her racquet skills came to the fore again, reaching A grade pennant squash for a number of years.
But it was camping where the Smith family were able to revel in their passion for the outdoors, enjoying many adventures and making countless friends during their camping holidays.
In 2002 she and Michael packed up and hit the road on an adventure of a lifetime around Australia with long-time family friends Joe and Kath McCabe. By the time it was over there were even more lifelong friends made.
In 2008 her sons presented her with a couple of grand children, Billy and Luka, to whom she became Granny Miff
Losing their eldest son Nathan in 2016 rocked the couple, but they received tremendous support from many family and friends.
She demonstrated her ongoing commitment to the community through her volunteer work with St Vincent de Paul while quietly battling a period of ill health.
In her last year Mrs Smith enjoyed holidayed with her sisters for her 70th birthday and her son Patrick's 40th Birthday at his home in Brisbane brought her much happiness and contentment.
In her final days her dedicated colleagues repaid her lifetime of work supporting her and her loving family who were by her side when she passed.
When Mrs Smith's coffin left St Mary's, the congregation formed a guard of honour to usher her out of the church. Then they lined the sides of Victoria St to give her their last farewell.