Being home for Easter is an opportunity to catch up with family, both the living and the dead. And today we visited a few cemeteries around the area, including Memorial Garden at South Gundurimba, about fifteen minutes drive from Lismore. It’s a small cemetery “in the middle of nowhere” with not many graves at all. It’s also on the back road between Lismore and Grafton, and so I guess many people pass it on the road without even realising it’s there.
The cemetery’s most famous resident is Winifred Atwell, a Trinidad-born pianist who was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s with a series of boogie woogie and ragtime hits. According to Wikipedia, “She was the first black person to have a number one hit in the UK Singles Chart, and still the only female instrumentalist to do so.”
A recent article in the local newspaper, The Northern Star describes her connection with the area and why she came to be buried on the North Coast right next to her husband whose own death preceded hers by six years.
Ms Atwell and her husband, Lew Levisohn, had lived on Sydney’s Northern Beaches for many years after emigrating here and becoming Australian citizens. “But on a drive (around the Northern Rivers) they spotted the tiny Lismore Memorial Garden Cemetery, South Gundurimba, and fell in love with its beauty and tranquillity. “It is quite a thing for such an iconic entertainer to be buried at a little cemetery in the middle of nowhere.” The couple also had a longstanding friendship with a now deceased Catholic priest Father Jim Carney, who was serving at Coraki when Mr Levisohn died, said Ms Preston. It was reported that Father Carney had been kind to the couple in Mr Levisohn’s final days and it was Ms Atwell’s wish that he be buried by Father Carney near to his parish and that she be buried beside her beloved husband when the time came.
Although I’m not what you would call a great fan of Winifred Atwell, I do remember with certain fondness seeing (as a child) her performances on television programs like “The Two Ronnies” and “The Mike Walsh Show”.
And I hope, Harold who I know through ABBAMAIL and ABBA Village and who has a wonderful story of having met Winifred Atwell enjoys, at last, seeing her grave and having it confirmed she is buried next to her late husband. I also thought it was interesting to see fresh flowers on both their graves, and to also see the small memorial to a great talent who died almost thirty years ago.