Wollongong loses a musical matriarch with the death on Saturday of Betty Parsons

Lasting legacy: For the past seven decades Betty Parsons made an enormous contribution to music in Wollongong and has been very active in many ways in the Illawarra community.

Lasting legacy: For the past seven decades Betty Parsons made an enormous contribution to music in Wollongong and has been very active in many ways in the Illawarra community.

Wollongong lost one of its most active citizens at the weekend with the death of Betty Parsons on Saturday night.

Mrs Parsons, 93, had been a dedicated member of the community for more than seven decades before becoming ill in the later stages of her life.

She was the 1996 Wollongong Citizen of the Year and was recognised with an OAM for her services to music in 2003.

 Betty Parsons, long-standing Eisteddfod official, in 1999.

Betty Parsons, long-standing Eisteddfod official, in 1999.

As well as family matriarch – she was a mother of six, grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of 12 – Mrs Parsons became something of a musical matriarch in the Illawarra.

Her contribution was second to none. She dedicated more than four decades of service to the Wollongong Eisteddfod, a legacy carried on today by her daughter Robyn Letham, and founded the Wollongong Harmony Chorus after being inspired during a trip to Sydney.

Betty Parsons after being honoured as an OAM for services to music in 2003.

Betty Parsons after being honoured as an OAM for services to music in 2003.

“She went to a concert in Sydney one night and saw a women’s barbershop choir singing,” daughter Christine Wilkins said. 

“I remember her talking about it; she was absolutely blown away by them.

“Everyone had heard of men’s barbershop quartets but this women’s group really appealed to her.

“So she looked into it and found out about the Sweet Adelines.

“She started off with about six ladies. It has grown from there.”

Mrs Wilkins said her mother was born in Ashfield in Sydney and studied dress-making, but her true calling was music, a passion ignited while tinkering on her grandmother’s piano as a small child.

Mrs Parsons moved to Wollongong with husband Robert Parsons after they married in 1948.

“He was working as a typewriter mechanic at the time and they moved to a little flat in Denison Street, Wollongong,” she said. 

“When she was pregnant with me they bought their house in Aldridge Avenue in East Corrimal where they lived all those years until mum became ill. They have been married almost 70 years.”

For many years Mrs Parsons owned and ran a music retail business in Wollongong called Parsons Music Box. 

She also taught piano and supported generations of young musicians in the Illawarra.

Two of her grandchildren presently work as professional musicians. 

Sarah Moir was a member of the String Angels before teaming up with her husband and children to tour nationally with The String Family, while Christopher Cartlidge plays viola in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Mrs Parsons was made a life member of Corrimal High School P&C Association after being very active when her children were at school.

She also held commissioner positions at the region and division level of Girl Guides.

“When Robyn came home from the Girl Guides one day and said their group might have to close she decided to get involved,” Mrs Wilkins said.

“They don’t make people like that anymore. She never stopped working. With six children she never had anything so she would make all our clothes.”

Mrs Parsons was a member of the Wollongong Conservatorium Advisory Board, local secretary for the Australian Music Examinations Board, a member of the Wollongong Symphony Orchestra Board, member and president of Wollongong Business and Professional Women, a patron of the Illawarra Suzuki Association, treasurer of Music Illawarra, a Justice of the Peace and the recipient of a Corrimal Rotary Club Community Service Award.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery will conduct her funeral this Friday at 2.30pm at Hansen & Cole, Kembla Grange.

This story Wollongong loses musical matriarch Betty Parsons first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.