Women We Love- Vale Danya Ellinghaus


From the first moment we met, Danya, who had been on the scene a while longer than me, went out of her way to make me feel so welcome, and we spent that first night exploring the deeper connections that would form the foundation blocks of our friendship. It started with the obvious – law degrees from Melbourne Uni, working in big law firms, sun worshippers (although she out lasted me every time!!!), and a thing for fine dining, fashion and travel, oh, and we didn’t mind some socializing, especially with boys who happened to be best mates! And so it followed that we spent time together baking on Tamarama beach, sipping champagne and cocktails at Rockpool, exchanging notes on accommodation and restaurants in Paris and NYC! We also leveraged the opportunity to work together, me obviously identifying Danya as the most competent lawyer in Australia to advise me and the Corporate Express Board on all employment matters! Of course, it was really just a ploy to get me to the then Blakes Oaks Day car park! When we moved back to Melbourne from Sydney in June 2009, it was a time of great excitement! Steve’s 40th, we were about to welcome our first baby, Fitz, and Steve and Danya were planning their wedding. We got to see more and more of each other – MCC lunches in the Dining and Committee rooms, and our own coffees and lunch dates because of course, I was a client! And there was certainly never any complaint from the boys about catching up! Danya’s friendship was certainly a gift from God, making her an easy choice of Godmother to our first-born.

Earlier this week, as we were looking through all the photos, Steve forwarded me an email I had sent to him and Danya the day after their wedding. I’d attached some photos, and wrote, “Seriously you both just looked so happy and in love I was really emotional!” I then added how Ben and I were a bit flat because it was over. If only I could just feel a little bit flat again today. Because of course, it was not much more than a week later, that Danya found out the lump she had discovered on their honeymoon was cancerous.

In facing adversity, Danya’s generosity really shone through. Towards the end of June 2010, I somewhat surprisingly discovered I was pregnant again. Perhaps cowardly, I let Ben share the news with Steve. From my perspective, it was supposed to have been Danya’s turn. Well boy did Danya let me have it when she realized what I’d done, making me promise to always, and especially then, share all our news, good and bad, with her. She was genuinely - and generously - excited for us. You see, Danya was wholly fulfilled by the love she had found with Steve. Self-pity was not on her agenda.

Even, and perhaps especially during the past 4 years, Danya and I found ways to continue to share beautiful moments - from sitting in the sandpit at the park, to celebrating her birthday and the end of chemo at Rockpool, to a quick coffee when I was in town. And while many of the occasions were shared with Ben and Steve, we also snatched moments to bare our souls to each other, sharing confidences and making plans. We also found many occasions to laugh. For such a highly intelligent couple, some of their domestic decisions really flawed us! Take, for instance, their cooling system – an industrial strength fan literally capable of blowing Danya off the bed! No wonder she sent me such an excited text early this year when the air-conditioning man was there!

Just a month before Danya passed away, Steve called Ben and proposed brunch, here, at the Boulevard. Wild horses couldn’t have kept us away, not having seen much of Danya due to the precarious state of her health. I had desperately missed her companionship.

9 July 2014 is a day we will cherish forever. It might also have been the first time we’ve ever been on time! As we arrived, Danya rushed out to greet us. With a sparkle in her eyes and a smile on her face the greeting was so familiar albeit this time Danya bearing what I’m sure must have been unimaginable pain. But spirits were high. And as the sun came out on that cold July day, we watched our husbands laughing and playing ball outside, while we sat inside sharing a meal – our favourite past time – snatching what would be our last private moments together.

Mostly, however, I will remember July 9 for the privilege it was to bear witness to the love and devotion Steve and Danya had for each other; their loving glances and gentle hand gestures and touches; each expressing a need, a desire and a response. It consoles me greatly that Danya experienced so much love – from her family, friends and colleagues, and of course, that she and Steve were so in love. Nobody can ever take that away from her, or us.

Danya once told me that when she was initially diagnosed, she asked, “Why me?” only to reverse it to, “Why not me? What’s so special about me that it couldn’t touch me?” I was very tempted to argue the injustice of the situation with her and tell her how much she meant to me, but as I started to speak she gave me one of her looks that said ‘don’t you dare go there”. So I shut up.

But as her spirit no doubt continues to hover over us I want to tell her that in life she gave so much. And in passing to the next world, she is a constant reminder to us all to treasure each moment and the wonder of this precious life. I pray and believe that Danya has now found freedom, peace and feels our enduring love.

Danya, our tiny dancer, we love you and we will miss you. Thank you for your courage, bravery and tenacity, for your thoughtfulness and generosity, and mostly, for your love. You will live in our hearts forever.

Gender EqualityPrue Gilbert