A life dedicated to the parish

Mrs Evelyn Dibbs 1916-2020

By Mardi Hatherell

August 4 2020Vale Mrs Evelyn Dibbs, 17.10.1916 – 21.7.2020

It is with honour, tinged with sadness, that I farewell St John’s Brunswick West's oldest parishioner and the parish's last real link to the past.

On the afternoon of 21 July I learnt of Evelyn’s passing. 

At 103 years old, Evelyn was more than ready to go, now blind and with an aching, worn out body. 

Evelyn and her parents’ service to St John’s was great. Their lives were St John’s. 

And it all started back in 1911.

Evelyn Dibbs

Mrs Evelyn Dibbs’ parents, Mr and Mrs Arthur Stevens, knew before they left England what Anglican Church they would attend. They were already lined up to be Sunday School teachers at St John’s. They arrived in Melbourne in 1911 and attended church at St John’s all their lives. 

Mr Stevens, affectionately known as Pop Stevens, was the Hon Church Verger, which meant he attended three services on Sunday: 8am, 11am and 7pm. He rang the bell, cleaned the church and supervised the boys in church, all for the love of God for some 23 years.

His wife Lillian was involved in all fundraising events and was a strong member of Mothers' Union. In 1962 Lillian sewed about 30 robes for the choir and three altar boys.

Their daughter, Evelyn, was born on 17 October 1916 in Daly St and was Christened in St John’s church, which was then in Bent St Brunswick West, before the permanent building on the corner of Melville Rd and Victoria St was established.

So it was inevitable that Evelyn’s life would be entwined in church activities like tennis, fundraising and fete days. 

Evelyn did business studies after marrying in the church in 1938, which she used for many years at St Paul’s Cathedral as office secretary for C.E.M.S. 

In 1958, Evelyn was the first woman on Vestry. For over 40 years she was Church Secretary, during which time she edited and produced the monthly parish paper which was posted to over 700 families, giving them contact and news of events in the parish. She was a member of Mothers Union whose membership was close to 65 members in the 1950s.

One day while talking about church history with Evelyn, I asked her what was a big change she had seen. Her reply was that women now all worked: once we were on cleaning and flower rosters, but now you can’t get people to go on rosters, as women work long hours like the men.

In talking to Evelyn about church history, you soon realised her mind was razor sharp and that she did not tolerate fools very well.

At a church luncheon many years ago, I sat near the formidable Mrs Dibbs, who turned to me and said, “my name is Evelyn, and I like my name, so please use it”. Since then I have met a few who were taught Sunday School by Mrs Dibbs, and even though they are now in their 70s, they all said there was no way they could possibly call her “Evelyn”.

In October 2006 St John’s celebrated its centenary. Mrs Dibbs and all those that went before her were acknowledged for their service to the parish over the last 100 years.

In 2012 the so-called “polished floor area” at St John’s was formally named the Evelyn Room by Melbourne’s Archbishop Philip Freier, in recognition of Evelyn’s services to the parish. 

In December I visited Evelyn in her nursing home and asked her three questions.

“Over your 103 years what was the biggest event you saw?”

Her reply: “Man’s walk on the moon. We never thought that would happen. Never.”

“What’s your favorite bible verse or psalm?” 

Reply: “Psalm 23.” 

“How do you get to 103? What’s the secret?” I asked.

Her reply was: “Just keep going. No matter what, just keep going”.

And true to her word, she did keep going. When most would have been happy to ease up, Evelyn became a volunteer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital from 1979 till 2014 mainly filing medical records, until it became too difficult.

A life spent in giving service to others, for the benefit of many, Evelyn’s faith was always strong. She is loved and respected by many. May she rest in glory.

Mardi Hetherell is St John’s Brunswick West's historian.