Landcare, the arts and the pursuit of the meaning of life were great passions of Leonie Joy Bell, who passed away peacefully at Taree, aged 83 on July 24.
She was born at Old Adaminaby, the third of eight children to Harold and Essie Bell, in 1935.
After completing her schooling in Sydney, Ms Bell started her long career in nursing at Inverell in 1954, and after working in Sydney, she returned to the New England region to work at Armidale.
She completed her double certificate in nursing at Inverell before relocating back to Sydney where she joined South Sydney's Women's Hospital at Newtown, a maternity hospital that provided midwifery and maternity care, particularly to poor and unmarried women in post-war Australia.
Ms Bell further developed her midwifery skills at Crown Street Women's Hospital in Surry Hills, then Sydney's largest maternity hospital, and a teaching hospital of the University of Sydney.
It was here she continued her medical study, gaining formal qualifications in midwifery.
At Crown Street, Ms Bell worked alongside Dr William McBride who was credited internationally with discovering the link between birth defects in children of patients who had been treated with thalidomide.
Ms Bell was a deep thinker and passionate student who also undertook studies in theology at Moore Theological College.
She became qualified as a lay preacher or deaconess and enjoyed discussing theological debate and the ethics of mankind.
It was the mid-1960s when Ms Bell was appointed as matron of the Coventry Home at Armidale, a home where indigenous children who had lost their mothers, were cared for as wards of the State.
Ms Bell was thrilled earlier this year while she was battling with cancer when she was reunited with four of the women whom she cared for as teens in the late 60s.
Ms Bell’s sister, Robyn Thomson, said the four women, now in their 50s, had been searching for Leonie and wanted to pass on their thanks for her love and care.
Mrs Thomson said: "Leonie never had children of her own and I know she was delighted to make contact with these women.
"They told Leonie that she had inspired them to do well in life with one of the four going on to teaching and another in nursing.
"They kept in contact with us and have been seeking updates on Leonie as she battled through illness."
Ms Bell moved to Gloucester in the 1970s buying a home in the town and working with patients from across the district as a community nurse.
After retiring from nursing in 1990, Ms Bell threw herself into her lifelong passion for art and for teaching art, particularly to children.
A respected water-colourist and sculptor, Ms Bell had studied at the National Art School.
She loved working in various mediums, including silk and fabrics and was a keen potter.
Never one to sit idle, she also completed her Bachelor of Arts in Behavioural Science at the University of New England, where she recalled to friends later that the life-long threads of meaning “found satisfying synthesis”.
She would continue teaching art for many decades as well as volunteering for Landcare, with her Clarkson Street home in Nabiac used as a headquarters for the group.
Mrs Thomson said her sister had a unique zest for life and put 110 per cent into everything she did.
She said: “Leonie had an insatiable desire for learning, she was like an absorbent cloth for information of all kinds.”
Ms Bell was much loved by her siblings Graham Bell, Dawn Slack, Brian Bell, Coral Vincent (deceased), Ian Bell, Robyn Thomson and Janine Pietrowiec.
As per her wishes, Ms Bell was privately cremated at the Manning Great Lakes Memorial Gardens with a memorial ceremony to be held in coming weeks.