A fighting spirit

There have been enough painful chapters in Loretta Simmons’ life for her to know when she’s got it good, and while she misses her late husband, the last several years have seen emotional events and lifestyle changes for the 78-year-old who now lives at Uniting AgeWell’s Nangare Independent Retirement Village in Burwood.

Loretta re-united with her younger son after fifty years, following him being taken from her by the church in the early 1960s and put up for adoption and she’s loving her role of 22 years as a volunteer broadcaster at Golden Days Radio, bringing back the nostalgic music of the ‘golden’ era and interviewing people from all walks of life, including the Governor of Victoria. (Uniting AgeWell is a major sponsor of GDR95.7FM.)

Above all, she’s enjoying living in her spacious villa which is close to family and friends.

“It was a difficult decision to downsize and leave my home of over four decades, however I’ve been here since 2014 and I just love it! I can be alone when I want, mix with like-minded neighbours in the village when I choose to, it’s the best of both worlds. The gardens are beautiful, it’s close to public transport and it’s safe and secure,” she says.

This remarkable great-grandmother has also discovered that her ancestors from Italy, Germany and Ireland who were pioneers in Victoria, are buried in the Burwood Cemetery nearby, so she feels even closer to her roots. “We researched the family tree and had a large reunion a few years ago - people even came from overseas, it was marvellous, and historical,” Loretta says.

There’s little doubt Loretta has inherited her forebears’ pioneering spirit with her motto being: “Just do it : There is always a way”. She says no matter how hard the task or how high the obstacle may appear, one can always overcome.

The early years

Wind back the clock to just under six decades, Loretta who had grown up in a large conservative Catholic family in Central Victoria began her working life as an over-the-counter cashier in a grocery store in Castlemaine.

She married young and when expecting her eldest son, was promoted to a book-keeping role. Before she even knew what feminism entailed, Loretta was able to take her baby to work with her and discreetly breastfed him in the office, “because that was the right thing to do.”

By her early thirties, Loretta had bought her own home in Castlemaine, had a well-paid admin job and became a city councillor, only the third woman in the municipality to be nominated to this role which inspired other young women to take an interest in Local Government.

One of her mentors was Dame Beryl Beaurepaire! Loretta’s municipal and charitable roles increased beyond the Country Women’s Association she had joined at fifteen, where she had discovered the joy of “giving back.”

Her second child

Her marriage broke up and she stayed in Castlemaine for a while before moving to Melbourne. She met Theo, fell pregnant with her second child and says she was pressured by the church into putting him up for adoption because she was divorced and he was a foreigner.

“It was cruel,” Loretta says simply. “They put a sheet up as a screen so I could not see him being born – I did not even know if it was a boy or a girl. Then he was adopted out to a family. I was heart-broken. Many girls went through this experience at that time.”

She reconnected with Theo, they were married and moved to Brighton. Theo worked for the State Electricity Commission until his retirement in 1989. Loretta retired from a secretarial career in 1998 - the last 18 years as Executive Assistant with a diamond mining company. Shortly after, Theo was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.

Reuniting with her son

Three months after he died, a subject that had been too painful for them to talk about – what had happened to their child – was resolved. A letter arrived from London from Mark. He wrote, “I believe you are my Mother”.

“When I met my son, it was like looking at a mirror image of a younger Theo!” Loretta says. “We hugged, we cried, I told him how I had unsuccessfully tried to track him down over the years and that I had always yearned to meet him. Mark lives in Melbourne now and we are very close.”

Loretta has four grandchildren by her son Raymond who is an amputee following a motorbike accident some years ago. She has a wonderful daughter-in-law Kym with whom she shares a love of gardening. There are now five great-grandchildren.

Busy life

She continues her involvement with Golden Days Radio 95.7FM where she is a past Vice President, Life Member and remains as Presenter and Bequests Officer as well as a member and past councillor at The Royal Commonwealth Society where she assists in their philanthropic work and does some guest speaking on behalf of both organisations. Loretta enjoys a full, busy and yet very contented life at her Nangare home. “Slow down? Well, soon!” she says.

Her life lesson? “I don’t do pettiness and there is nothing to be gained from dwelling on the past. I’ve volunteered for over 60 years, I believe firmly in giving back, and yes, I suppose I am a fighter! Life knocks us about, but it’s important to just get back up again.”

There are currently a couple of, two-bedroomed Nangare villa units available.

For further details phone 9845 3139.