The life of one of the country's most accomplished musicians, organist Marie Seymour Searle who died at the age of 98, was celebrated at a Requiem Mass at St Mary's Basilica in Invercargill this month.
As a teenager in Invercargill in 1931 Marie Searle created a record by completing all her music studies to gain her Letters, LRSM and FTCL in one year.
She was to create another, playing the organ at St Mary's Basilica for 70 years from the time she was 17 until, at 87, the steep climb up the circular iron staircase to the choir loft was too much.
But her touch on the keyboard continued to delight people at musical recitals in the city until she was in her nineties.
Born in 1914 she lived all of her life within a kilometre of the Basilica, St Catherine's college where she was educated and Sister Mary Borromeo OP taught her music and encouraged her to complete her qualifications in both Royal and Trinity colleges of music in one year.
All the music had to be learned by heart and later she recalled practising for eight hours a day to accomplish the feat.
She gained both her Licentiate of the Royal School of Music, LRSM, and her Fellowship of Trinity College London, FTCL, before her 18th birthday.
She continued to play the piano at musical recitals and played at funerals until she was 90.
But though Miss Searle loved both the organ and her baby grand piano at home in Conon St, she had a life well beyond the keyboard.
Like many women who lived through the war years she did not marry but when her brother, Jim, and his wife, Moira, moved in next door, she felt her family was complete.
After Jim Searle died and later Moira, Miss Searle continued to care for their sons, John and Jamie, as her own and their families became hers.
She had worked in administration for the government department Lands and Survey in Invercargill and retiring from there worked with Kevin Dell at city legal firm Hanan and Arthur, now AWS Legal.
Teaching was never her first love but Basilica archivist Wendy McArthur has a 1941 Southland Times newspaper advertisement listing Miss Searle among city teachers of music and dance - among them Renee Ward, later credited with being the first teacher of celebrated national ballerina Rowena Jackson.
Miss Searle is described as a "registered teacher of pianoforte and theory of music, LTCL, LRSM, Fellow of Trinity College, London, Final Grade Exhibitioner".
In those days there would be a wedding at the Basilica every weekend, a funeral on a couple of weekdays and four Masses on a Sunday. The organist was always in demand.
In earlier days Miss Searle played with Rose Shepherd and Mary Fitzgerald.
More recently she shared the roster with Sister Mary Gertrude OP, Marilyn O'Grady - and Stanley Burns Fox who played for her Requiem.
Marie Searle's great strength was her composure, her quiet sureness that all would be well and her ability to make it so with a forgiving non-judgmental nature and a generous unconditional love.
She is survived by the family she loved: her nephews, John and Jamie, their partners Ann-Marie and Gaye, great niece Catherine, great nephew David and a great-great niece, Natalie.
- © Fairfax NZ News