Port Stephens has lost a "beautiful stalwart" with the passing last Friday of well-known Anna Bay community volunteer and former Port Stephens councillor Shirley O'Brien.
Affectionately known as 'Aunty Shirl', Mrs O'Brien died after a short illness at her Williamtown home, aged 75.
Mrs O'Brien was elected as a central ward councillor in 2008, running as the number two candidate for then mayor Bruce MacKenzie. She served a full four-year term till 2012.
Mr MacKenzie described his former colleague as someone who "had a heart bigger than herself and who devoted her life to volunteering and helping those less fortunate".
"Shirley would help anyone out, she was a very giving person and she always gave 100 per cent of her time to others, particularly in the Anna Bay community. She was a beautiful stalwart for Port Stephens."
With her first husband Peter Broadfoot (deceased), Shirley was one of the founding members of the Anna Bay-based Birubi Surf Lifesaving Club following the death of the couple's son, Peter Jnr, in 1996.
As pioneer members, the Broadfoots became life members of the club and their memory and dedication to surf lifesaving will forever be etched in the history of Birubi surf club.
Former president Rob Duff said that "simply if it wasn't for the persistence and incredible efforts of Shirley and Peter Broadfoot there would be no Birubi surf club".
"In the very early days they operated the club from a truck on the beach. From there the original brick bunker was built [at the site of the current clubhouse] and the club officially opened in 1998," Mr Duff said.
"Shirley was a very generous community volunteer, if she wasn't helping out with the nippers training, she was cooking the barbecue or selling raffle tickets."
She continued that role with social organisations such as the Maori Culture Club and the Anna Bay Fishing Club
Close family friend Tiani Bishop said that New Zealand-born Shirley O'Brien had maintained a close connection with her Maori heritage.
"Aunty Shirl helped form the Maori culture group in 2000 in Williamtown, where she would teach the children Maori culture song and dance, fondly known as the haka boogie," said Tiani.
"After losing her son to a tragic skateboarding accident, Shirley became very passionate about safety and was a driving force behind the construction of the Anna Bay skate park at Robinson Reserve.
"She became a fierce advocate for riders to have a safe place to skate away from the roads and to wear helmets and she would educate children at schools. This safety focus extended to the water and the formation of the Birubi surf club."
Shirley O'Brien is survived by her husband Peter O'Brien and family. Her funeral service will be conducted at the Anna Bay lawn cemetery on Friday at 2pm.