Val was born to parents Muriel and Allan Mitchell on Anzac Day in 1948, and enjoying a public holiday on her birthday was a lifelong pleasure she often used to chuckle about in that wicked way of hers.
A beautiful child with bright blue eyes, curly blonde hair and a ready smile, she was joined by sister, Francine, three years later and the two very pretty girls quickly became partners in crime, determined to upset the very staid and steady presence of their cautious parents.
Father, Allan, was a dentist both during the war and after, and was meticulous and strict in everything he did, so much so that when Fran and Val were going through his old ledgers a few years ago, Val’s umbilical cord hernia surgery was listed as: ‘repairs to baby’.
As the girls grew up their father was determined they were not to learn how to drive and be given, as he called it, ‘a license to kill’. Of course, with the help of their mischievous mother, Muriel, Val and Fran completely ignored this directive. Val’s first car was a little Renault that she bought for $100 and which blew up almost immediately after she bought it. Fran recollects they were driving along when Val yelled ‘Shit, we’re on fire!’ They climbed out and that was the end of that car.
A motorcycle followed this at age 19, a Yamaha 125 which Val fell off more than a few times. One such event at an intersection saw a gentleman get out of his car to help Val pick up the bike as she couldn’t lift it by herself. Val had more than enough helpers anytime this happened, as the pretty blonde who rode her bike in miniskirts attracted avid male attention wherever she went.
Val then got a Mini Cooper, and she and Fran roared all over Sydney in it, including over median strips and nature islands. She also spun off the road in her father’s Valiant after participating in a street race, coming to rest perfectly between a telegraph pole and a brick wall.
Val was a stunning young woman, who did some modelling and was Hornsby’s inaugural ‘Orchid Queen’ at the tender age of 17. Her good friend Carmel recalls meeting Val 35 years ago and commenting that Val was one of the prettiest women she had ever seen.
Val spent six years at Hornsby Girls High School, and there continued the trend of bucking every rule she could find. She was the only student smart enough not to put her name down on any sports list. So on Friday afternoons Val just went home, while all the other girls at the school had to participate in sport. She was never found out. Always amiable and fun, Val developed close friendships at school, in particular with Pam and Jann, who remained friends throughout her life.
She finished school in 1966 and spent a year studying short hand typing. She got a job and lasted for a week before she decided it didn’t interest her in the slightest. This was followed by a short stint working for the then MBF, before she went into the Public Service, or as Val called it: ‘The Pubic Circus’. Never once on time for work, when asked to account for a weekly tally of 27 minutes of lateness by her boss, she meticulously listed such items as ‘pedestrian crossing delays – three minutes’ and ‘traffic light delays – four minutes’. She never heard a word from him again.
After a brief marriage and a move to Adelaide, Val had her daughter, Vanessa, in 1975. She moved back to Sydney in 1976, and had her son James at Hornsby Hospital in 1979.
When the kids were little, Val took a job in accounts at Waltons in Hornsby, which was the beginning of her career being what she called a ‘chief book cooker’, no mean feat for a woman who failed maths at school, despite having a tutor.
After moving to the Northern Beaches, Val got a job with Air Solutions in accounts, and stayed at the Mona Vale business for 22 years, making life long friends along the way.
Her children were her pride and joy, and she made sure she was the steady and constant parent in their lives when their fathers were no longer in the picture.
She took a ‘softly, softly’ approach to parenting after her own strict upbringing, which was sometimes challenged by her little boy, James, who at age three was found by a neighbour walking down the street dragging a mattock behind him, and at age four took the lock off the front door with a screwdriver so he could get out.
She once drove all the way to Bathurst and back to collect Vanessa after a car accident, and would pick her up from parties anytime ‘no questions asked’. Once, she found James’ bong in his bedroom, and rather than being horrified that he had one, she was horrified at how dirty it was so she gave him bong cleaner for his 18th birthday.
To this day, neither James nor Vanessa can recall her ever having raised her voice at them, or get angry, despite a long list of terrible decisions they made as they were growing up. She believed in not risking a relationship for behaviour she considered transient, and instead was a solid sounding board who would listen without judgement and then give the information needed to make your own decision.
Despite more than her fair share of ups and downs, Val retained her wicked sense of humour and sharp, dry wit. She also had an excellent bullshit metre, thanks to some unfortunate attempts at marriage in her younger years.
So, whenever she met someone new, she would always ask what star sign they were, and if they got along with their mother.
On January 29, 1993, Val was introduced to Tony Zanelli by mutual friends at the Newport Surf Club, and thus began the happiest and most important romantic relationship of her life. They got to chatting, and even went to a local nightclub, the Rocklily, to continue their easy conversation, much to the distress of her daughter, Vanessa, who was already at the same nightclub drinking underage.
In their 20 years together they travelled all over the world, sampling margaritas wherever they went, and Val often joked that she and Tony were ‘global margarita testers’. The couple enjoyed good food, good company, and good wine, and during their entire relationship, Tony can only recall them ever fighting twice. They never married, which Val considered to be the secret to a successful relationship.
Visiting Italy with Tony, Val developed an affinity with the country, learning to cook Italian and developing a taste for prosecco. Tony often ribbed Val that she had zero sense of direction, and couldn’t tell her left from her right, unless it was in Italian, in which case she knew her ‘destra’ from her ‘sinistra’ immediately.
As well as a love for wine, Val also had a love for over and under the counter pharmaceuticals, earning her the nickname ‘Madam Chemical’. At any given time there was any kind of pill available to be dispended from her bottomless handbag. If there was a sleeping pill only legal in Peru, Val had it. Whatever your problem, she had a pill for it, and it was readily given, often followed up by the comment: ‘Maybe don’t drink for half an hour after taking that’.
Val developed a life long distain for religion as a child, but was very spiritual and connected to ‘the other side’. As a Taurus, she was delighted when James married Sarah, a fellow Taurean, to balance out the influx of Cancerians she had in James, Vanessa and Tony.
Her love for her children and Tony, and for daughter-in-law Sarah and son-in-law Spiro, was only matched by that for her granddaughters Ella, Raven and Jasmine. Ella and Val enjoyed a special, very close relationship in particular, much like Val did with her own grandmother and Ella’s namesake, and would often spend the day together having fun.
Val also enjoyed a wonderful relationship with her sister, Fran, and close friends Carmel and Sue. Carmel says that the pair would often get together to chat and drink wine, solving all the problems of the world. Val and Sue would do the same thing at their dinners at ‘Lucky and Peps’.
Val also greatly enjoyed her weekends with her sister, where they would visit the Glen Street Theatre, and local gardens, and enjoy special lunches. Fran says that Val was a terrific big sister and was always there when she needed her, despite the fact that Val took her to the Newport Arms at the tender age of 15.
Anyone who met Val agreed she had a big heart, and this was no better demonstrated than by her dedication to looking after her parents in the 10 years before they passed away. She moved heaven and earth, often to her own detriment, to ensure they were comfortable in their final years, and Muriel would be devastated to know that Val only survived her by six years.
James, Vanessa, Tony, Fran, Spiro, Sarah, Ella, Raven and Jasmine are all shocked and grievously shattered by the sudden loss of their mother, partner, sister and grandmother after a short battle with cancer, and can’t imagine life without her.
James and Vanessa promise to take their Mum’s wise and patient approach to parenting with their own children, and ensure that the girls grow up knowing all about their wonderful ‘Heya’. They also promise to look after their Mum’s beloved cats, Cosmo and Luna, who gave her such joy in her final years.
They thank everyone who attended today to pay their respects to their very much-missed mother.