Wagstaffs a loss to community

GERRINGONG couple Lillian and Eric Wagstaff will be remembered by their family for their love of life and for each other, and by the community for their contribution to the town.

Mrs Wagstaff, 88, died in the Geering street house fire on the afternoon of February 17.

Her 90-year-old husband suffered serious burns in the blaze, but managed to escape by jumping from a first floor balcony.

He was flown to Royal North Shore Hospital, but died the following afternoon.

The Wagstaffs raised four children - Lynnette, Susan, Allan and Robyn - in Merrylands. The family would holiday in Gerringong each Christmas and Mr and Mrs Wagstaff retired there in about 1980.

Allan Wagstaff said he would remember his parents most for their love for each other and those around them.

The couple celebrated 66 years of marriage on Valentine's Day.

"I never saw them any other way (than with their arms around each other) - right to the end," Mr Wagstaff said. "They were very loving to each other and to everyone that needed it."

The couple met when Mr Wagstaff returned from service as a runner in the signal corp in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Wagstaff said his parents loved to dance and were regulars with the Wongawilli Colonial Dance Club - Mrs Wagstaff was a square dance caller and Mr Wagstaff, a drummer.

Mr Wagstaff senior was a former cabinet-maker who specialised in building church furniture and devoted much time to making models of buildings in the Gerringong and Kiama district.

The couple were influential in the Gerringong and District Historical Society and were loved for their Christmas displays by generations of children.

Some of his models are housed in the historical society's museum.

Gerringong resident and historical society publicity officer Margaret Sharpe said when the couple moved to town, they joined the group in its first year of operation, in 1981.

"They are friends that will be missed; a lot of people will feel their death," she said.

"Eric was very involved in the actual building of the museum, and fitting out of it. He gave freely of his expertise.

"Lillian was was also treasurer of the society, and she helped at the Mayflower Nearly New shop, where she worked for a long time.

"Lillian was a bright person, very involved."

In addition to the historical society, the couple were active members of their church community and foundation members of the Gerroa Combined Probus club.

Mr Wagstaff, a returned serviceman, was also a staunch supporter of the Gerringong RSL.

Friends said the couple withdrew somewhat from the community during the past few years, due to Mrs Wagstaff's Alzheimer's.

Gerroa Combined Probus club president Tony Sewell, also a member of the historical society, said they were community-minded people, "who threw themselves into the Gerringong community with great enthusiasm".

"They did their utmost to service their community," he said.

"Everything Eric touched, he made better; everywhere he went, he made it better. He made the museum a much better place.

"His room full of models was one of [the museum's] biggest attractions.

"He's left his mark on the town by recreating it."

Gerringong Uniting Church Minister, Reverend Peter Chapman said the pair had been regular attendees.

"They were from that generation of Australians that made Australia great," he said.

"They were deeply loved by the community, and will be greatly missed.

"They were an inspiration to the younger generation in terms of their service to the community, and active involvement in community groups."

The fire has not been treated as suspicious and Lake Illawarra Police will prepare a report for the coroner.

At the time of publication, funeral details were unknown, but likely to include a memorial service in Gerringong.