What do you say about Dr Evelyn Billings (1918-2013), a woman who changed the lives of millions around the world? Who had a profound impact on marriages and families in more than one hundred countries? Who influenced for good all whom she met from the poorest of the poor in Kolkata, India, to dignitaries in places as diverse as the USA and Ethiopia?
Dr Lyn, as she was known to and loved by millions, could hold her own with popes and scientists but was unfailingly humble, gracious and good-humoured with all. She could be strong and tenacious when arguing a point of ethics - rarely bested in any such debate - but gentle and loving with disadvantaged women and children wherever she met them.
Dr Lyn and her husband, Dr John Billings, co-founded the world-renowned Billings Ovulation Method of natural fertility regulation (natural family planning). They were a formidable team whether addressing members of the Pontifical Academy for Life or of the Department of Health in the People's Republic of China. And yet it is the personal stories that have touched many people most deeply in the days since her death at 95 on 16 February.
At the Requiem Mass celebrated in St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, on Thursday, 21 February, two of Dr Lyn's sons, Jimmy and Peter, gave eulogies on behalf of their large family. They told stories of growing up in a family of nine siblings, with parents who had busy medical practices in addition to travelling and working to promote "the OM" as the family called the Ovulation Method which they had developed.
Jimmy explained that their mother was known as "Honey" among family members. He described the picture at breakfast with them all sitting around "the huge oblong laminex table" and "there is Honey, the porridge pot gurgling away on the stove, tomatoes and toast ready for the customary cooked breakfast, ... making cut lunches for us all. Can you picture all those sandwiches, pieces of cake, fruit, grease proof paper, brown paper bags for the mob of children?"
Peter spoke about when he was "studying the psychology of personality and learning about people who reach the pinnacle of mental health. They had certain characteristics - they accepted themselves as they were, were accepting and not judgemental of others, were open to change, creative and spontaneous and often humorous and spiritually alive. They tended to be unsentimental, flexible and not given to sarcasm or superiority. I began to realise I knew someone like this - my mother."
Mrs Marie Marshell gave a eulogy on behalf of the Directors of WOOMB International Ltd, the organisation founded by Drs John and Evelyn Billings to continue their work. Marie reminisced about travelling with Lyn and John in China - sharing a whisky and water after a long day of teaching while laughing at John's jokes, but also praying together for families far away and the work so ever-present.
Since Lyn's death messages of condolence have poured in from all over the world. From Cardinals Elio Sgreccia and George Pell, from France, Hong Kong, Canada, New Zealand, from Chile, Ecuador, Romania, Scotland, from Trinidad, India, Malaysia, Mexico, from Egypt, Peru, Pakistan, Sudan and many other nations too numerous to list. From people who worked with and taught with John and Lyn or just 'sat at their feet' and marvelled at the wisdom and truth of their words.
These messages spoke of the sadness of knowing that Lyn has gone from our midst, but also of the joy and privilege of having known her. They used words like "the extraordinary power and peace" of the message she proclaimed, but also of "the simplicity and humility" with which she espoused a Method which she and John had not created but only revealed - giving all the glory to the Creator of us all.
Most of all, when people speak of the late Drs John and Evelyn Billings, they use the word "love". Based on their own deep love for each other and for the God they believed in with their whole hearts, they radiated love in an often loveless world.
One had only to watch them both on a podium, anywhere in the world. When one was speaking the other would sit gazing at the speaker with such a look of delight and pride for all to see. They didn't just finish each other's sentences they embodied what the other was speaking about. Of course they sometimes spoke in situations where not everyone in their audience agreed with what they were saying, but no-one doubted the strength of their convictions and the ovations were far more numerous than any rumblings of disagreement.