Benalla mother and daughter Isabel and Judy Stephens full with endless love

Family, friends and much of the Benalla community will not forget the warmth and strength of Isabel and Judy Stephens.

Four weeks after the bodies of the mother and daughter were discovered in bushland near Samaria, they were farewelled with a memorial service in front of more than 300 people on Monday at Benalla’s Lakeside Community Centre.

Tributes to Isabel all described her as an inspirational woman, especially in her devotion to special needs daughter Judy and love for her extended family. 

Daughter Helen Stephens described her mother’s involvement in setting up Benalla Pony Club, volunteering at the op shop and getting the ball rolling on what would become Ballendella  - now known as Central Access - for people with disabilities.

“Mum, you were so very loved and you’ll be sadly missed, together forever with your beloved Jude,” she said.

“Isabel’s tireless and endless support for Jude was indeed inspirational.

“She was one of the founding members of the carers and parents support group in 1989 and remained an active member of the group.”

Merran Burke lovingly spoke of her younger sister Judy’s love of playing piano for an audience, creating art and her time as a star playing basketball and bowls at the Special Olympics.

“We’ll miss your beautiful smile, squeezy hugs and your unconditional love,” she said.

Judy’s nephew Merrick Hide finished his tribute at the service by asking everyone to stand and hug the person next to them, just like his aunty would have wanted.

Family and friends all wore a piece from her collection of beaded necklaces as a tribute.

Niece Amanda Hide said Judy was a “true ray of sunshine” with a smile and laugh that could light up a room.

“Such a beautiful spirit who had so much love to give to anyone and anything that crossed her path - a quality so unique and rare and one we can all learn from,” she said.

She also said she “hit the jackpot” by having such a selfless person as her Grandma in her life.

“Her endless support and unwavering love, she made me feel like I could take on the world and there is no measure to explain the happiness she brought to my life,” Ms Hide said.

Amanda Burke said the love from both women was “strong and never-ending” and her Granny always made her feel like she could take on the world.

“She taught me how to be true to myself and strong, yet compassionate, to work hard for my dreams, but make time for my loved ones - overall to be kind to myself and others,” she said.

Judy and Isabel Stephens

Judy and Isabel Stephens

United in final moment of living

If there was one comfort to the loved ones of Isabel and Judy Stephens, it was the inseparable pair had each other in their final moments.

Heather Edwards, the former director of Ballendella which provide disability support to the family, said their devotion to each other was something that should be celebrated.

“We can be comforted that Isabel and Judy’s compassion towards each other would have given them strength in their final hours of need. The grieving process will go on, but we were thankful that they were together at the end of their lives,” she said.

“Judy and Isabel showing great devotion to each other’s wellbeing had a quiet, yet strong and determined, side to their characters. 

“This strength was a positive attribute that kept them going through the difficult moments of life. 

“I admired greatly the courage and determination of Isabel, and the other Ballendella parents, in seeking the best for their adult children diagnosed with a disability.”