Ursula Mary Smith – Board member of Amaze (Autism Victoria), mum, wife, advocate for individuals with a disability: 4 June 1965 – 21 August 2013
Music was a major part of Ursula’s life
Ursula Smith passed away on 21 August 2013 after a long and brave battle with cancer.
Ursula Mary Fifield was the third of five children born to Mary and Michael Fifield in Colchester in the UK. Mary instilled her own love of music in Ursula from a very young age and Ursula started to learn the piano at 4 years old.
In 1970 the family moved to Australia and made their home in Tasmania, first in Smithton for a few years before settling in Devonport.
Ursula added cello to her musical repertoire at high school, receiving a Gladys Lucas memorial scholarship at Fahan School in Hobart. There she joined the Tasmania Youth Orchestra and succeeded in cello, piano, theory and musicianship.
In 1981 she returned to Devonport and a year later, met her future husband, Perry Smith, whom she married in 1987, and the extended Smith family became a second family to her.
Ursula suffered serious illness in 1992, contracting peritonitis associated with a burst appendix and other complications, but she overcame this life-threatening illness and regained her strength.
In 1995 she realised that her vocation lay in teaching and undertook a teaching diploma. With her love of music and qualifications, she and Perry moved to New Zealand where she spent 11 years at Henderson High School in Auckland rising to Head of the music department.
During this time, Ursula and Perry’s first child was born: they were delighted to welcome Isaac in October 1999. After a few years, Isaac received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Ursula and Perry did everything they could to provide him with the therapy and resources to gain skills and achieve his full potential. Ursula was very grateful for the love and understanding shown to Isaac by her friends and family.
In March 2004, daughter Arielle completed the family and as Ursula’s younger sister Ruth described, Arielle was “a credit to her mother and a treasure to her father”. As one joy took place, Ursula suffered the loss of her father to pancreatic cancer, and received a diagnosis of cancer herself.
The family moved to the Frankston area in 2007 and became involved in the local community.
Kate Somerville, a former policy officer at Frankston City Council worked with Ursula on the Access and Inclusion Committee and noted how Ursula had worked so hard to improve things for people with a disability in the Frankston area: “She cared about education, roads and safety on behalf of Frankston residents. She wrote submissions all the time. She was articulate and intellectually brilliant and was thrilled when the Victorian Law Report quoted her comments. She worked hard and joined things where she could make a difference, pointing out how local council, with a few simple changes, could make things better for individuals and families with a disability.”
In 2009, Ursula was voted onto the Board of Governance of Autism Victoria (now Amaze) first as a Director, then as Secretary and this year as Deputy Chair. She put her skills to work for the good of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, giving her time and talents to write submissions to government, to author papers on various aspects of autism, to sit on working parties and to chair the Board Committee on Social Policy and Research.
“Ursula’s work on the policy and technical documents in the lead up to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) on behalf of individuals with ASD was one of her major achievements during this time. She applied a rigorous and methodical approach to this undertaking to ensure an outcome that will be a lasting testament to her, and one which future generations will be benefit from,” says Murray Dawson-Smith, CEO of Amaze.
In 2011, Ursula and her family joined the Connect Christian Church in Frankston South.
Sadly, in 2012, Ursula experienced a recurrence of her cancer with secondary cancers in her liver and lungs, and recently it returned once again.
Ursula expressed to her husband Perry how overwhelmed she had been by the love and generosity shown her during her illness and asked him to pass on her thanks for the acts of kindness shown her in the last few weeks. Perry commented that this time had been very typical of Ursula – “organised chaos”. He said: “Ursula loved her children, she loved God and she had a strong sense of wanting to do the right thing in her life. She talked about her two wonderful children, each very different from the other and hoped that they would continue in their lives and their faith. She noted that having a disability doesn’t mean not contributing or belonging.”
Ursula pictured with Perry, Isaac and Arielle
Reflecting her courage and altruism, Ursula finally told Perry that it was her time, although these were words he didn’t want to hear. “Ursula wanted everyone to know that she was in no pain and how much she appreciated the love she received throughout her life journey. She said, ‘To all my extended family and friends, thank you for your loving care throughout my life. I love you all.’”
Ursula passed away peacefully and without pain on 21 August 2013. Her passing is a heartfelt loss to her family, friends, the board and staff of Amaze and the wider community. Her life gave us a very special legacy: her passion, determination and persistence to change views and policy in relation to inclusion for individuals with disabilities resulted in a very real difference to the lives of many.
A life well lived. A friend and colleague greatly missed.