Obituary: Vale, Leta Padman

Elizabeth Leta Smith (known to all as Leta) was born in 1929 at Kingston, uniting two well known and respected pioneer families of the area, the Smiths and Coopers.

Growing up during the Great Depression, she learnt the value of hard work and ingenuity.

In Primary years, she was educated at Cape Jaffa School, where she was proud to attend the whole 7 years without one day absent and later won a scholarship to attend Naracoorte High.

She became a Junior Teacher at Kybybolite for a year, then graduated from Adelaide University, returning to Kyby as the teacher of Grade 1 to 3s.

It was here she met Colin Padman, a returned serviceman and football hero.

They married in 1952, and moved to Narrung, near Meningie, to work for Tom Smith, and this became their home after they purchased the property.

Leta was called upon to teach at the local Narrung and Raukkan schools during the "Baby boomer" times, and continued to work at both schools over the next 40 years.

Her time at both Raukkan and Narrung included many voluntary hours, particularly teaching children about the joys of the scrub and many of the uses of different plants for bush medicine.

She also took classes for young mothers on basic cooking techniques and budgeting.

Leta became Secretary of the Narrung Progress Association, and along with organising local shows and fundraisers she compiled a History of Narrung, which was locally published with all profits contributing to signage and improvements in the Narrung district.

There were also Back to Narrung Reunions and the planting of trees to honour pioneers families of the district.

Similarly, Leta was secretary of the Friends of the Coorong, and compiled stories from old-timers and locals, writing Tales of the Coorong, More Tales of the Coorong and Tales of the Lakes and Coorong, all of which were published by Meningie Parks and Wildlife, with profits contributing to improvements all along the Coorong.

It was following this that Leta won "Citizen of the Year" for the Meningie Local District.

Narrung Racehorse Stud was established in 1966, and Leta became part-time secretary, registering thoroughbred foals and the movement of breeding and racing horses around Australia.

During this time, she compiled horse stories and published Horse Tales, the profits of which benefitted Canteen, helping young people with cancer.

Leta was a great mentor and friend to Jacob Stengle. whose artistic talents she greatly respected. She loved finding stories for him to illustrate, and then watching the way Jacob interpreted and brought the stories to life before her eyes.

Leta was asked to help some young Afghani refugees who had come to work at the Murray Bridge meatworks after escaping from their war-torn homeland.

To begin with, it was just assistance with reading, writing and speaking English, but as she heard their stories, helped with visa applications, and facilitated communication with their families through the Red Cross, they became "her boys" and she became their Arjay or Grandmother.

She plied them with tea, biscuits, Friday night entertainment, and celebrated, as slowly they received protection visas and permanent residency.

Then she welcomed their wives, children and even mothers, and proudly watched as they made successful careers, educated their children and participated in developing thriving communities.

Then again in 2004 she was named Citizen of the Year for the Murray Bridge area.

When we try to describe Leta, so many adjectives come to mind: kind, friendly, inclusive, wise, patient and smiling.

She was a lover of books and writing, learning and teaching, nature, particularly the sea, lakes and Coorong, birds and flowers, and a lover of family.

But mostly, she was generous: she gave time willingly to help whenever and wherever she could; she gave money she often could not afford herself to aid others in trouble; she gave her wisdom and experiences and research freely to benefit the community.

And in a last gesture of generosity, she arranged to give her body to Flinders University to benefit medical research in any way.

Leta is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.