Another chapter in the history of pre-independence Fiji is closing with the funeral in Suva on Wednesday of Dorothy Kearsley, a member of one of the country’s oldest Kai Valagi (European) families. Dorothy – who lived for many years at Suva Point – died in the capital last Friday at the venerable age of 96. She is mourned by an immediate and extended family both in Fiji and dotted throughout the world. They include her Auckland-based brother, Peter, who was a judge in Fiji at the time of the first coups in 1987. Dorothy’s late sister, Nancy, married one of Fiji’s most distinguished colonial administrators, Sir Ian Thomson. The seven Thomson “boys” – who include Fiji’s current Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson – banded together to write the following appreciation of their Aunt Dorothy’s life. The principal author is elder son John Thomson, who now lives in Scotland:
Dorothy Frances Kearsley – who died in Suva on August 3rd – was born in Suva on March 13 1916, the eldest daughter of William and Constance Kearsley. She was from one of Fiji’s old European families, her great-grandfather, Captain Petrie, having arrived in Fiji in 1880. Her grandfather, Herbert Ambler, was Town Clerk in Suva at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her mother, Connie Kearsley, was born in Suva in 1892 and died in the capital in 1972. Her father worked as a telecommunications engineer for Amalgamated Wireless Australasia, which became Cable & Wireless, and the family lived at wireless stations at Vatuwaqa, outside Suva, Vaturekuka, outside Labasa, and at Waiyevo on Taveuni.
In the 1920s and 30s, young Dorothy was sent to Suva Girls Grammar School where she excelled academically and was top of her year, receiving a gold medal as dux of the school. For part of her education, Dorothy stayed at a boarding hostel in Suva and only saw her family during school holidays. On a boat journey home at the age of 14 to spend Christmas with her family on Vaturekuka Hill, the CSR vessel carrying her, the Rani, lost radio contact at sea in a hurricane. Her worried parents had to wait two days before hearing that the ship had run aground on the west of Ovalau and all on board were safe.
After leaving school, Dorothy trained with Mrs Kermode in Suva as a stenographer and court reporter. She worked in that role for the initial part of her career, first in Suva with Morris Hedstrom and then with the Fiji Government before she left for England. There, she worked for a time for the distinguished ballerina, Margot Fontaine. Then Dorothy headed for Africa and the British colony of Tanganyika, now Tanzania. She worked in the capital, Dar Es Salaam, as a Hansard parliamentary reporter and then joined the private office of the independence leader, Julius Nyerere. Dorothy finally returned to Fiji in her forties and became the World Health Organisation’s office manager in Suva.
Dorothy was an accomplished artist throughout her life, painting mainly in oil. She was awarded various prizes for her art, including the Fiji Arts Club annual prize. In her retirement, she lived at Suva Point in the same house that her parents had lived in. It was not far from the wireless station and home where she had grown up with her four sisters – Betty Gurd, Joyce Scherrer, Nancy Thomson and Elima Higgins - and her brother Peter Kearsley.
In the twilight of her life, Dorothy was lovingly looked after by her carers, Akosita Seniyevo, Elena Rawatanaveitarogi-Whiteside and Joanna Alania and her Suva Point neighbours, Anne and Bob Harness. She is survived by her two younger sisters, Joyce and Elima, who live in the United States, and by her brother, Peter, who lives in Auckland. The family’s connection with Fiji continues. Her grandniece, Nicky Thomson, lives in Suva, and her nephew, Douglas Thomson, lives in Nadi.