Canberra’s Val Dempsey, who is this year’s Senior Australian of the Year, will travel to London as an Australian representative to the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The St John Ambulance volunteer says the invitation is a great honour and also a shock.
“I was at a family birthday party out in the bush at a local winery when I received a call from the Prime Minister’s office, asking me to call them back as a matter of urgency. With shaky reception, it was half an hour later, desperately trying to get back to town, when I made contact.
“I was told that the Prime Minister is cordially inviting a number of people to come to the funeral on behalf of Australia. Would I, in strictest confidence, like to do that?
“I was contacted the next day to confirm and goodness gracious here we are!”
Aunty Val, as she is affectionately known, will travel to Sydney and on to London on Thursday with a group of ten Australians including Australian of the Year Dylan Allcott.
She will wear her St John Ambulance uniform to the service and says she feels deeply honoured by the opportunity.
“If I can represent all our wonderful volunteers across Australia, especially St John’s at this historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to honour and celebrate a life most magical, what an honour,” she told Region.
A great believer in kindness, Val says she sees the invitation as a chance to honour those who have supported her through the years including her family, “every time they wave me out the door and tell me to get on with it”.
She looks forward to not only farewelling the monarch whom she calls “our remarkable Queen Elizabeth II” but also “to welcome our wonderful new King Charles III, and I look forward in anticipation to watching him progress through his time on the throne.
“We have seen him so regal and dignified in his personal sorrow,” Aunty Val says. “He is sharing that grief so openly with his community, his country and his nation. I admire his ability, while in a moment of personal grief, to be there for the nation.”
Val says she was never tempted to be a princess or to live like royalty.
“But in my most magical dream state, the one thing I would have liked was to be Paddington Bear,” she says, referring to the clip released to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee, where Her Majesty shared tea with the beloved children’s book character.
“To share in that wonderful private moment when she was so happy and full of humour, but always her elegant self with a marmalade sandwich in her handbag. Wouldn’t that have been something spectacular!”
Val says that throughout life she has not knocked on the door of opportunity but rather banged it down to represent the causes about which she is passionate. “To be a part of Her Majesty’s realm, her national family, to be recognised by Her Majesty as a member of her sovereign order, I do feel so completely and utterly humbled,” she says.
“This is not about me. If you put your hand up in kindness and the service of others, look at what can come back.”