Edith Dizon-Fitzsimmons was first female pilot in the Philippines and also made cultural contribution to Shepparton.JOHN LEWIS March 19, 2014 4:55am
To her family, Edith Dizon-Fitzsimmons was an inspiring mother and grandmother with an adventurous spirit who spread music and joy wherever she went.
To her many friends and the wider Shepparton community she was also an inspiration — a music teacher, an early supporter of migrants, a passionate promoter of Filipino culture and the driving force behind Shepparton-based music groups and cultural projects.
Edith was born in 1922 in the western Philippines province of Capiz.
As a young girl she was given a chance to learn music, which sparked a lifelong passion.
Edith also discovered a love of flying and went on to become the Philippines’ first female pilot — flying commercial flights for 25 years.
In 1958, she was one of five women pilots to fly across the United States as a member of the Amelia Earhart Ninety Nines International Organisation of Women’s pilots.
Her love of flying never diminished and she celebrated three birthdays — her 70th, 75th and 80th — with parachute jumps.
As a widowed mother of six children she left a politically volatile Philippines in 1970 to work as a public relations officer for the Mission of St James and St John in Melbourne.
Her musical talent was obvious and she became the organist at St James Cathedral, often playing fundraising concerts for the mission.
Edith moved to Shepparton in 1973 after marrying Radio Australia employee Ray Fitzsimmons.
Together they planned and realised their dream of building a Philippines House at the then International Village.
Today, it is one of only two buildings remaining at the former site in north Shepparton. Edith also founded the Goulburn Valley Organ Club and the Filipino-Australian Friends Association.
Long-time friend and association member Bill McCarthy remembered Edith as a great support for Filipino women newly arrived in Australia during the early 1980s.
‘‘She was an inspirational friend and adviser for many Filipino women here. She was a contact and a mother to them,’’ he said.
In her mid-70s, Edith travelled to the United States to complete a masters degree in music therapy.
When she returned to Shepparton in 1995, she enrolled for a PhD in women’s studies at La Trobe University.
She also taught music therapy and formed the Goulburn Valley MultiCultural Youth Singing Bell Choir.
In 1998, she published a book, The Sky’s The Limit, a collection of her writings promoting her conviction there are no boundaries in life.
In 2000, Edith’s face appeared in a series of postage stamps as part of Australia Post’s Face of Australia collection to mark the turn of the millennium.
In 2002, she was named Victoria’s Senior Australian of the Year.
In the same year she was the subject of a Central Philippine University documentary on Filipinos who have successfully settled in Australia.
Joy Dizon described her mother as larger than life.
‘‘She travelled the world and was an inspiration to everyone,’’ she said.
Son Dennis said his mother set an example of hard work and love for her family when their father died young in the Philippines.
‘‘She worked three jobs to keep us all at school. But she always made time to be there at graduations. That’s when I realised the importance of the work ethic,’’ Mr Dizon said.
Edith died peacefully aged 91 at Shepparton’s Acacia House, Tarcoola on Saturday, March 15.
She leaves six children, six grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Today’s guest opinion column comes from former Shepparton resident and Notre Dame College alumni Joshua Nappa, who now studies economics and finance at RMIT in Melbourne. Joshua has written about the potential he sees in Shepparton reduce unemployment and help our retail sector.
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