“Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.”
— Seneca, On the Shortness of Life (49 AD)
This should never have been an obituary.
These pages certainly weren’t planned for this.
No one planned for this.
When we began brainstorming ideas for the current issue, Kelly Koochew was already at the forefront of our minds. Our theme for this edition is ‘Gippslandia getting industrious’, which acts as a way for us to showcase industry and local people that are making great things happen. Kelly was certainly the latter.
John Calabro and The View From Here design studio team, Gippslandia’s General Manager, Michael Duncan, and I all enjoyed working with Kelly. She made all our joint projects easier. I was the latecomer to working with Kelly, having only met her in the previous six months to organise some information from Kingbuilt for a previous release of the paper. At the time, the calls with Kelly stood out. You instantly felt as though you were in safe hands. Kelly had formed a plan, and that this was a person of substance and action, not hollow talk.
I’d barely been away from my emails, but not long after I read a note from Kingbuilt mentioning that Kelly was unwell, I received a message from Michael that Kelly had suddenly passed away. My stomach dropped. I could tell the news had hit the Gippslandia team hard. Quickly, you sensed the reverberations of this incredibly tragic news ripple throughout the community.
In talking to Ian and Glenda Koochew, Kelly’s parents, I learnt that Kelly had been at dinner with her husband, Nick. She’d had an excruciating headache and asked that they head to the hospital on the trip home. Not even an hour after leaving the dinner party, she collapsed and never woke up. There was no build-up at all. Kelly had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in her brain. Ian explained that, “Unless you had specifically had a head scan for it, you wouldn’t know it is there”.
I find the leading quote by the renowned Stoic philosopher, Seneca, so apt at this moment because of its duality – today, you can achieve something remarkable, but also tragedy can visit us. We must be prepared both, but our motivation should be with the positive action. As Massimo Pigliucci proposes in the current issue of New Philosopher, “Seneca reminds us that what’s important in our life is not how long it lasts, but what we do with it”.
Every conversation I’ve had on Kelly was filled with loving tales of a life lived to its fullest. Yet, we all wish that it was a life that could have lasted longer.
Kelly grew up in Hawthorn and attended Methodist Ladies College. Listening to Kelly’s friends from ‘Women In Gippsland’, a group that she was a founding member of, they spoke of her impressive emotional intelligence, empathy and interpersonal skills. Traits and talents that were seemed natural to Kelly, but were also enhanced by her undergraduate studies in psychology. Kelly achieved a Master in Marketing too and co-founded Honeypot Creative Solutions in Warragul with dear friend Sallie Jones.
Her parents easily shared the many ways Warragul had won Kelly over. “She loved the openness. She loved the big blue skies… She loved that Nick [Rowe] was there and Nick was just so important to her. She loved the fact that she met some fantastic girlfriends there – really beautiful people”, said Ian. Glenda adds, “She loved the community. The embrace she felt by the people there… Also, it was really important for her that her kids [Issie, Zoe and Lola] could get into the dirt and associate with the earth… she thought that was a really grounding thing”.
The Women In Gippsland ladies were frequently in awe of Kelly’s ability to multitask, never being rushed or flustered, and how she diligently prioritised time to be ‘Mum’. Her phone would be off and her attention completely focused on her girls.
Of the many stories that emerged, there are two stories that exemplify Kelly’s unique energy, positivity, vibrancy and ability to make others feel special. Sallie spoke of a Honeypot meeting with Courtney Baker of Flluskë handmade jewellery. Courtney wanted to kick-off her brand of earrings and she came to the meeting with her mum, as she was nervous to come alone in case her hearing impairment made it too difficult to hear. Sallie watched as Kelly turned something that made Courtney uncomfortable, her hearing, into Courtney’s brand’s greatest strength and marketing tool. In fact, the tagline for Flluskë became ‘love your ears’. At the 2017 International Women’s Day event, with some coaching from Kelly, Courtney blew the packed audience away with an amazing speech. Sallie explained that it was Kelly’s ability to make people feel safe and empowered was special.
Kelly had a rare skill in gently guiding others to find their sense of agency. Not only was she working away from the limelight to motivate positive change in our region, but she was inspiring others to do so too. As April Pyle succinctly put, “She made you feel very important”.
It is the power of this thoughtfulness that shines through in our second story. April continued, “As much as her life was so busy, she’d always shoot you a little message… For example, she’d seen my daughter down the street and she a little message about her. I just thought, ‘Far out. Who would do that? Who would take the time?’”. This simple, but beautiful, gesture demonstrates the immense love Kelly had for those close to her. And everyone just loved her back.
Kelly made great things happen in our community, and she achieved it through love, support and positivity. While she was known to bust out a hot black dress, she didn’t seek out attention. By believing in others, she nurtured their confidence so that they could follow their passions. So many people called her a friend.
From the Gippslandia family to Kelly’s – Nick, Ian and Glenda, Issie, Zoe and Lola, we offer our deepest condolences for losing this amazing spark in your lives. Our community is richer since her arrival, and her presence, despite being sorely missed, will always be felt.
The welcoming smile from Kelly’s bright pink lips is going to be missed by many for a long time to come.