Farewell Charmaine

The CAH team wishes Charmaine happy retirement via Zoom…. 

On the 25th of June this year, Charmaine Sambathkumar completed her 25th year of work with the Centre for Adolescent Health. She recalls the day she started vividly, as the date is also her wedding anniversary.  

After migrating to Australia from Sri Lanka in 1993, Charmaine noticed a small ad in the paper for an administration job-opening, and 25 years later claims she has never wanted anything else.  

“I worked for 15 years back home, but in Sri Lanka we were still working on typewriters, so that didn’t count here. So I learnt new skills. I used to be mortally terrified of phones- but I managed to survive that, and my position description has changed vastly since I started.” 

As an administrator at the Centre for Adolescent Health, Charmaines dedication to her work allowed the rest of the Centre to function seamlessly. When reflecting on her time at CAH, Charmaine says getting up and going to work was never a problem for me because I always enjoyed what I was doing. Were just like a big family. Everyone is on the same level, and for me it was all about the people. 

Throughout her time at the Centre, Charmaine has been a backbone of the friendly and inclusive environment that exists at the Centre. Going along to Christmas lunches at staff-members houses, and cooking for colleagues to bring people together at work. Most will never forget the first curry lunch she prepared at Gatehouse street- not only because the food was amazing, but because the kitchen was smoked out, everyone coughing and spluttering when the chilli powder hit the oil. Her generosity did not stop there; writing recipes for co-workers and sourcing ingredients for those who wished to try her recipes at home.  

In return, she recalls many times when the generosity of colleagues was outstanding. While working in the Gatehouse Street office one day, she had a searing pain in her chest. The ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital and before she could climb in, Professor Susan Sawyer, co-director of CAH at the time, appeared at her side, adamant she would be accompanying her.  

“I don’t know what she had on her plate that day, but she just came in the ambulance, waited with me in the emergency room, and then she stayed until my husband came.” 

The most important thing she will take away from CAH is the many friendships that have been formed here. 

“I’ve kept in touch with quite a few who have left the Centre more that 10-15 years ago. That’s what I keep telling the staff; just because I’m not working here doesn’t mean I’m not going to see you guys.” 

When asked to reflect on Charmaine’s time at the Centre, co-director Prof. Susan Sawyer offered many beautiful words. 

“It will be hard to conceptualise life at the Centre for Adolescent Health without the quiet presence of your gentle good self. You have been at the Centre the entire time of my own tenure, which formally started when I returned from the States in 1995. You were always there when I popped downstairs to catch up, with the photos of the children taking pride of place on the bookshelf behind you. My warmest memories of you are out the back of the old Centre in the garden, standing over your huge saucepans, your generous ‘Cooking with Charmaine’ sessions quietly introduced us to the delights of Sri Lankan cooking. 

So Charmaine, my very warm thanks to you for all you have done for all of us at the Centre over the many decades that you and your family have been part of the Centre’s family. May you have all the peace, health and happiness that you so richly deserve,” she said. 

CAH co-director Prof. George Patton made similar remarks about Charmaine’s warm nature and friendly presence that will be dearly missed around the office. 

“Given our work in research, we can, as a group and as individuals, get a little caught up in ourselves and lost in detail. Your low-key, no-nonsense approach has been a great antidote. I always appreciated the quiet chats over signing forms or writing cards. You have been a fixture in our lives from the Centre’s beginning. In your time, you have seen hundreds of staff move through: you have been there from the initial orientation through to eventual departure. In between, you have been a constant in all their working lives. No surprise you became a standing member of the social committee.”

“I will miss the catch-ups and updates about kids and their progress in life. It’s been great to see Dishan and Tish thrive in Australia: and your family has now grown again with the arrival of the next generation. It’s been a privilege to know and work with you. I am hoping that, once the pandemic eases, we can see you face-to-face – virtual farewells are not the same,” he said. 

On a final departing note, Charmaine says “they’re a really great bunch of people and I really love them all. I will still keep in touch, and I will be inviting them all for meals at my house.” 

For people outside of the Centre Charmaine has been is the one who answered the research phone number and always knew who to put you in contact with.  

For the team at the Centre we will all miss Charmaine, her warmth, her smile and her care for the team and wish her the best of fun spending time with her two grandchildren in her well earned retirement.  

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