Early last Thursday morning, my step-mum, Rene Conner passed away peacefully in her sleep at the Ringwood Private Hospital. She was 89 years of age. It was really hard to see her go but we are glad that she is now free from pain and discomfort. My 91-year-old dad found it very hard, as you can imagine.
Today we have a public thanksgiving service for her at CityLife Church at 12.30 pm Melbourne time (UPDATE 17th October: you can watch the video recording of the service online at this link).
Here is a brief eulogy of her life:
Victorene Marie Arrowsmith was born on the 8th March 1929 in the rural township of Boort in Victoria, located to the north-west of Bendigo.
Rene’s parents, Cyril Arrowsmith and Louise Forster, met and married in Boort. Cyril, an immigrant from the UK seeking a new life in Australia, was staying at a boarding house for itinerate workers while her mum, Louise, was engaged with domestic duties. The family remained in Boort for 10 years and Rene started her school years there.
The family relocated to Red Cliff’s near Mildura then on to Melbourne in 1939 due to lack of the work and employment in Boort. Rene recalled being at the train station the day World War II was declared. It was a traumatic time in her life. The family resettled in the Brunswick area and her dad became a sign writer for the Royal Melbourne Hospital and her mum worked for Miller’s Rope twining factory.
In 1949 at the age of 20, Rene married in East Brunswick. A short while later she and her husband moved to Bendigo. Unfortunately, the marriage was not successful due to physical and verbal abuse. Rene fell pregnant and took take the train to Melbourne, never to return.
Gregory Charles Arrowsmith was born in 1950 in the old Royal Women’s Hospital. At this time the family was living in Brunswick in a Victorian terrace that Louise’s step-mother owned.
In the early 1950s, Rene and the Arrowsmith family attended a church fellowship in Rathdowne Street, Carlton. It was here in 1952 that she was baptized in water by Kevin Conner and Rob Wheeler.
The 1960s found Rene very active in church, in Bible studies, and open-air meetings on Russell Street in the city. In time, she felt called to go to Bible school to train for the ministry.
Rene went to Sydney where Rene worked with at a growing church there. After that Rene was part of a church that started in Dandenong in a shop. Rene and her son Greg, along with Rene’s parents, Cyril and Louise, and her niece Lorraine, lived above the shop together with a close friend, Elaine Simmonds. Richard Holland, with Cyril and Rene, led the church services.
In this season, Rene found employment at places such as General Motors Holden, a chicken factory, and International Harvester.
Later on, a church was started in Frankston with Bob and Bernice Holland who lived in the area. Sunday school was set up and Rene took a leading role in establishing and running the church.
Rene was a pioneer and a woman of courage. In the early 1980s, she felt directed to start a small church in Rockhampton, Queensland. She did this with the support of Richard Holland and Waverley Christian Fellowship. Rockhampton Christian Fellowship became a haven for many people, including a large number of young people and young adults. Rene faced many difficulties and challenges during this time and she did so with strength, courage, and integrity. It was also a season of much joy and reward. Lives were transformed. Young people whose lives had been negatively affected by alcohol, drug abuse, and other issues, found the saving grace of Christ. Rene, with a team that included her mum, Louise, and Ross and Lorraine and their family, cared for each of them. Many of these people have lived very different lives as a result and I am sure, are eternally grateful for the work that Rene had started.
In 1987, Rene returned to Melbourne and assisted Richard and Garry Holland and Kevin and Joyce Conner in the ministry at Waverley Christian Fellowship. She was active in leading a healing meeting, women’s meetings, as well as preaching and teaching and pastoral visitation. She also went on a number of missionary trips to Fiji and saw God work in amazing ways among the people there.
In 1990, the senior minister of Waverley Christian Fellowship was Kevin Conner. Kevin’s wife, Joyce, passed away suddenly that same year leaving a huge gap in his life and that of the church. Kevin and Joyce had a forty-year friendship with Rene so it was not that surprising that after Joyce’s death Kevin approached Rene about the possibility of marriage. This is quite a story in itself, told in full detail in Kevin’s auto-biography This is My Story: With Lessons Along the Way.
Rene eventually (!) said YES and in 10th April 1992, Kevin and Rene were married by Richard Holland. This was a cause of much celebration by family and the church.
For 39 years, Rene had been on her own and had many lonely times in her life. Her marriage to Kevin brought much joy into both of their lives.
Over the last couple of decades, Kevin and Rene have ministered locally and globally, traveling the world together, speaking at churches, conferences, and seminars. They were happily married for 26 years.
Rene was an amazing woman, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, minister and friend. Right into her later years, she was always ready to give a word of encouragement or a prayer for people, bringing passion to whatever she did. We thank God for her today. She will be greatly missed.