Rockhampton Music Union farewells gentle, gracious doyenne
When members of Rockhampton Music Union arrived at Denison St on Thursday morning, they half expected to see Elaine Watson busy at work in the hall.
As a soloist, chorister, director or assistant conductor, whether selling tickets or just sharing a tray of handmade meat pies, Mrs Watson was renowned for her gentle and generous service to Rockhampton's tight-knit choral community.
Sadly, she passed away last week, two months after she celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary.
"Eric's (Elaine's husband) whole life was around Elaine," Pat McKenna said.
"He always said he couldn't sing, but he loved the fact his wife and his children had so much talent."
Christine Netherwood remembered Mrs Watson sharing the stage with daughters Kathleen and Annette, during a 'Mothers and Daughters' segment during one of RMU's many hall concerts.
"And I remember Annette looking after my daughter Kara when she was just little, so I could be involved with rehearsals," she said.
"Her daughters followed in her footsteps, being cast in many lead roles."
Mrs Watson played Sr Margarita in Sound of Music, the first musical to be performed in the Pilbeam theatre in 1979, followed closely by her favourite role as 'Bloody Mary' in South Pacific.
"She nailed that role; she was just superb," Judi Scheuber said.
"She had the most beautiful contralto voice with a lovely rich sound that other choir members could take a lead from."
Mrs Watson was an award-winning singer, having taken out Queensland Eisteddfod Champion not once but many times over.
"But she had the ability to go from being leading lady, our sultry soloist, to just another member of the chorus who went almost unnoticed," Mrs McKenna said.
"She was a humble, elegant woman who had so many different strings to her bow."
One of those strings was a flair for the creative.
"I remember performing with the choir at St Mary's School and in marched this field of little daisies," Mrs Scheuber said.
"Elaine had made all these flowers for the kids with their little faces in the middle."
She also decorated the Capricana Festival floats and presided over arrangements for the inaugural Carols by Candlelight.
Then there was Rockhampton's first production of Les Miserables in the early 90s (the first of three).
"That was a watershed in RMU's history of performing in the Pilbeam, such a difficult production which she co-ordinated meticulously," Mrs Netherwood said.
"Elaine, along with Jan Kennedy, took up the banner to show what locals could do and I think she even surprised herself."
Mrs Kennedy said she took a lot away from the experience.
"Elaine was so calm, she never raised her voice," she said.
"She had such a beautiful rapport with everyone; she inspired us with her imagination and guidance."
Mrs Watson, who received life membership in 2000, resigned the RMU committee 18 years later, after a raft of medical complications reduced her mobility.
But she continued to help out, selling tickets over the phone, and attending RMU events as long as she could.
It's a legacy the RMU members hope will continue into the future, despite the distraction of other entertainment and people having fewer free hours.
"It was an era when people came out of their homes to spend time with other people," Mrs Kennedy said.
"It didn't matter whether you were the star of the show or whether you were painting sets in the driveway, everyone was part of the RMU family.
"I know we're always going to feel her presence when we come together in this space."
As tributes for Mrs Watson flood RMU's Facebook page, its committee members would like to extend their deepest sympathies to Eric - who met his 'Miss Rockhampton' at the Showgrounds in 1955; to their children Kathleen, Paul, Annette and David; and the couple's nine grandchildren.
Vale, Elaine Watson.