“She was such a marvellous, wonderful woman. Everybody loved her and if you ever met her, you’d know why,” Ismini (Pitsa) Parrett OAM’s husband, Mr Colliss Parrett, tells The Greek Herald.
On Australia Day this year, Pitsa was recognised for her service to community health through exercise therapy and aquatic rehabilitation. Sadly, she was awarded an Order of Australia posthumously as Pitsa had passed away almost one year earlier in February 2020.
To honour the life of this incredible woman, The Greek Herald reached out to her husband, Colliss, and he didn’t hesitate at the chance to speak about his “marvellous wife.”
Meeting Pitsa and Living in London:
Colliss, a former migration officer, was on a posting to the Australian embassy in Egypt when he first met Pitsa and hired her as his secretary. After marrying, Colliss was asked to move to the Australian embassy in London and in November 1964, the happy couple landed in the United Kingdom.
For four years, Pitsa enjoyed living in the city and as Colliss says, she was “making new friends every day.” But eventually, they had to return to Australia by sea on the Italian ship, Galileo Galilei. It’s on this ship where Pitsa did the unexpected.
“The minute we got on the ship Pitsa goes to me, ‘Colliss, I think I’ll go ask the ship captain whether he will allow me to conduct exercise classes.’ And I said, ‘Okay, he can only say no, I suppose,” Colliss tells The Greek Herald.
“The captain agreed and gave her a pretty big room. On the first day, one woman turned up. The second day, two. The third day there were four. On the fourth day there were about seven and after about a week, the place was full. There were about 20 women doing Pitsa’s exercises.”
On arrival in Australia, Pitsa was able to continue her exercise classes in school and church halls across Canberra for a short time, before the couple returned to London two years later for Colliss’ job. Eventually, they returned to Australia permanently in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s, had twins (their daughter Melinda and son Marcel), and never looked back.
Making waves in the fitness industry:
After finally calling Canberra home and giving birth to her children, Colliss says Pitsa was determined to go back to work.
“Pitsa says to me, ‘I’m going to look after my kids, but I’ve got to go to work and I’m going to get someone to help look after them.’ We ended up employing an English lady who was retired and off Pitsa went,” Colliss says with love in his voice.
“Pitsa was a good woman. She looked after the kids, but she made sure she went back to work.”
Pitsa started her own full-time business as an exercise therapist and fitness instructor. The business was run from the couple’s home, which had been upgraded to ensure women were able to exercise with no interference or obstruction.
“Eventually the word spread and Pitsa was highly successful there. She used to have two to three classes a day and then we decided to extend. We put a heated swimming pool in, a sauna and a little sunspot area,” Colliss explains.
“It was so ideal and you know, she just kept getting bigger and better and more loved by her family and I.”
Pitsa’s lasting legacy:
Pitsa got so big and loved in fact, that she was later offered a job as an Instructor of Aquatic Rehabilitation, Aerobics, Aqua-Aerobics and Pilates at the Australian Institute of Sport. In this role, Pitsa came across some inspirational people, including a young man who wasn’t easy to forget.
“There was a young boy who was brought in by his mother and she goes, ‘I’ve heard how good you are Pitsa and I want you to please help my son.’ He was in a wheelchair. Pitsa said yes, of course,” Colliss says.
“… Pitsa got him in the water and slowly, slowly, after he’d been with her for about 14 months, he got better and he went back to work and didn’t have to come to her classes anymore.
“But one day, a few months later, Pitsa was conducting one of her classes and he walks in, goes straight to Pitsa and says, ‘I have no way of thanking you except to give you these two things.’
“He gave her a massive box of chocolates and the biggest bunch of flowers you’ve ever seen and later said, ‘I have no way to repay you, but I will love you for the rest of my life’.”
It’s clear that Pitsa had a lasting impact on all those around her and it’s for this reason that her passing last year left a gaping hole in not only the local Canberra community, but also the fitness and exercise therapy industry.
“There were 240 people at Pitsa’s celebration of life, nearly all her customers. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Colliss says.
“She was unbelievable, that woman. She wanted to do the thing she loved and always found a way to do it. I was so proud of her and honestly, everyone loved her.”