When Lauren Brownlee left her hometown in regional NSW and embarked on her great Melbourne adventure, she left a letter for her father.
In it, the former Wagga woman, thanked her dad for raising her and supporting her.
The 25-year-old said that she loved him and that she couldn’t wait to come home for Christmas.
Six years later and just weeks before Christmas, part of the letter was recited in front of hundreds of mourners at her funeral at the Alan Harris McDonald funeral home in Wagga Wagga.
The end read: “This letter was pretty much to say thank you for … being the best dad possible. I love you with all my heart.”
Ms Brownlee had been watching a freak thunderstorm in Sunset Drive in Chirnside Park in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs with her boyfriend Ben Hollow on November 24 when she was tragically struck by lightning and killed.
The couple both worked at Stockdale and Leggo’s Croydon office, Ms Brownlee as an office manager and Mr Hollow in sales and marketing.
A grief-stricken Mr Hollow, who was also severely injured in the incident and still recovering, attended her funeral in a wheelchair helped by family and friends.
Not a dry eye could be seen in a bitter-sweet farewell to a woman described as kind, beautiful, willful and selfless young woman.
Those closest to Ms Brownlee shared the cherished stories and anecdotes that would “live on” in their hearts.
Choking back tears, her cousin, Aylah Bronwnlee, said Ms Brownlee was her father’s “curly-haired kid” – “a country girl in the back of the ute with the wind in her hair”.
Of all her passions and interests in animals, skulls, alternative rock, cosmetics, incense and oils, Aylah said the love of Ms Brownlee’s life was always her dad.
“He was ever so caring and supportive,” Aylah said. “He was always trying to make all her wishes come true … They were the A team.”
Often pictured with a walkie-talkie around her neck as a child, the farm girl was an adventurer; running, roaming, dreaming and exploring.
But it was her smile, the look that spoke without words and the hands on the hips that said: “I mean business”, that would be painted in the memories of those who loved her.
The bright-eyed young country woman moved to the big city to pursue a career in real estate, eventually working her way up to office manager.
Despite her success in Melbourne, it was always her dream to return to Wagga.
“I told her recently how proud I was of her,” Aylah said. “She always wanted to move home.”
Compassionate, intelligent, elegant, witty, honest, beautiful, ambitious and caring, were just a few words Ms Brownlee’s cousin used to describe the woman who was more like a sister to her.
“She believed life should be built with memories and experiences, not objects,” Aylah said. “She always put people above herself.”
Ms Brownlee’s father Glen was solemn when he stood to face the small gathering.
He said he wasn’t a religious man, but he hoped his daughter was looking down on them from above.
“If you see your grandmother – my mother – give her a big hug from all of us,” he said.
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