Remembering Lilly

August 5, 2021 by  
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This is a really sad day for us who have been working with Lilly for a very long time – she was a such strong person – you were never unsure of whose presence you were in when you were with Lilly…writes Valerie Rubel.

Lilly Skurnik

Lilly Skurnik was a typical happy go lucky 14-year-old, and cherished daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants living in Sydney’s Newtown when in 1944 doctors discovered a tumour on her brain. The operation to remove it was successful, but Lilly woke up blind.

I have known Lilly since 1995 – more than 25 years.

At that stage the Lapid Club for vision-impaired Jewish Seniors, which Lilly ran, came under Lana’s Volunteer program – so I was only involved when there were special events at JewishCare. Sometime after that, the transport arrangements for the Lapid group became part of the Burger Centre fleet volunteers.

And finally, when all JewishCare’s many Friendship Clubs and Club 50 were coordinated under the Community Club Network my contact with Lilly became frequent.

Aside from assisting with access to the regular weekly meetings we also organised the buses and lifts to take the Lapid group to the many special events Lilly had organised for them – the bi-annual Seniors’ Concerts at the Town Hall, excursions and picnics to Centennial Park, lunches at Gaden/Holdsworth Centre, and attending celebrations and festivals at JewishCare.

At times Lilly herself needed a lift – and there was never a no when Lilly asked!

She was always on time – immaculately dressed ready and waiting to go! And after the event, there was often another arrangement or place she needed to be  – meeting a friend for coffee, another meeting, or hurrying home for an important call. She was tireless!

Lilly looked after her ‘people,’ – her Lapid goup –  like a tiger!

She always got the best entertainers and most interesting speakers – and no matter how busy or how important they were, when Lilly called, they turned up.  On a Monday.  At 11am.

Lifts were always organised so no one was ever excluded or missed out. She had her own team of dedicated volunteer drivers and JewishCare as a backup. And when she needed a bus – we were there for that as well.

I have so many memories of Lilly over the years – but there are two things I especially noted about her:

First of all was her unequivocal dedication to JewishCare. She always spoke about us with pride and with gratitude.

The other thing was her confident ability to speak publicly –  Lilly could talk anytime, anywhere, about anything, with no notice!

The last time I heard Lilly speak was at her 90th birthday celebration held at Fischl House last year organised by Helen Skurnik and Tanya Fox.

She had moved into Moran by then, and was in a wheelchair – but you wouldn’t have noticed – Lilly was so full of laughter and happiness and enthusiasm!

And that’s how I remember Lilly – in command and full of life.

Lilly – it was a pleasure ‘doing business’ with you!

She was awarded the OAM in 2014:

For service to the community, particularly those with low vision.

President, Lapid Friendship Group (a friendship group for the sight-impaired), since 1990.

Public Speaker, Vision Australia.

Committee Member, Waverley Probus Group, for 6 years.

Counsellor, Child Abuse Prevention Scheme, for 6 years.

Author, This is Lilly, Random Book House, 1990; and Out of Sight, Verand Press, 2003.

Awards/recognition include:

Seniors Week Award, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, 2009.

Lilly Skurnik has been blind since she was 14. She told J-Wire: “I remember the days when the cinemas would not let me in with Lucy my guide dog. I used to love listening to the films.”

Lilly Skurnik has written a book about how she “crawled out of the darkness” and learned to love life and help others. You can read her remarkable story “Out of Sight” through the National Library of Australia. Just click on

She passed away earlier this month.

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