Averil Sheehan

(b. 1956 - d. 2015)

Averil was born in Inglewood, New Zealand, growing up as a twin and one of five children in the family. Averil first considered physiotherapy as a career, but instead, followed in her mother's footsteps to become a nurse. She did her training at Palmerston North Hospital, gaining her registration in 1977, and worked there for most of the rest of her life. Averil met her husband John in 1978. They married in 1980, and had three children and two grandchildren. They were married for 35 years. When her three children were young, Averil became involved in the mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group La Leche League. La Leche League's national administrator of leaders Janet McClean said she was a dedicated volunteer who always made herself available if there was a chance to help a mother with breastfeeding and baby care. "When she went to her first La Leche League meeting, she could not have guessed it was to be the beginning of a volunteer career that would span three decades." Averil went on to become a Leader, hosting meetings for mums and babies, making herself available to take calls and counsel and support mothers with whatever issues they faced. Later, she held several national roles, and remained the regional representative for the La Leche League Alumnae Association.

McClean said everything Averil did was well researched, based on the best available information, and presented in a way that was relevant and accessible. She wrote the La Leche League’s first leaflet for mothers wishing to continue breastfeeding when they returned to work. Palmerston North La Leche League Leader Jackie Wheeler said Averil had been a rock for the local LLL Group, with wisdom and knowledge that inspired others and changed lives. In 1991 Averil took up a position in the hospital's emergency department, where she worked until recently, and she also completed a psychology degree. As the children grew up Averil caught the exercise bug. At first it was swimming, walking, and cycling.

The Sheehans had just returned from a trip around the United Kingdom when Averil sought medical help for the symptoms that had troubled her while away. Cancer had spread beyond the hope of treatment, and she spent her last days at Arohanui Hospice for palliative care. As an acknowledgement, hundreds of Cancer Society yellow daffodils were handed out to everyone who attended her funeral, an interdenominational service hosted by Father Marcus Francis, assisted by Methodist minister Bob Franklyn and hospital chaplain Sande Ramage. Cycling friends provided a guard of honour with their helmets raised high. Never a public figure, Averil was described by hospital chaplain Sande Ramage as a treasure, a role model and mentor who was kind and humble. "She was one of those people who helps stick communities together – a sort of invisible glue." Ramage said Averil demonstrated a very practical type of Christianity, accepting and valuing people.