Daiva Labutytë - Bieri
8 August 1939 — 29 October 2008
Daiva Bieri late in her life
Photo courtesy of Harry and Carol Rootsy
Daiva Kazimiera LABUTYTË or LABUTIS was born on a warm summer morning at 8am on 8 August 1939 in Kaunas, Lithuania. Her father, Kazys, was a Barrister and a Colonel in the Lithuanian Cavalry. Her mother, Marija, was a scientist and biochemist. The family also had a country estate, south of Kaunas, in the Suvalkai region. Here she spent the first happy years of her life as the country prospered. According to relatives she was a robust and pretty child, much like her grandson, Natas.
Those early years of tranquillity came to an end with the invasion of Lithuania by the Soviet army. In their quest to establish the perfect communist society, the Soviets proceeded to systematically execute the intelligentsia, those with a university education, and those in the military and public service. Her family fled into Germany in a covered wagon and there endured the last year of the war, where they were frequently bombed by American and British forces. It was a time of death, destruction and fear. She once remarked, with childhood innocence, that for a while she ceased making little friends, because they often seemed to get blown away the next day.
As a child in Germany
As they travelled on, word spread that there was a safe haven from the bombing - Dresden, which had been spared from allied bombing throughout the war. However, when approaching Dresden, the faithful family horse pulling their wagon refused to move any further. Her father, being a Cavalry Officer and a believer in good horse sense, decided the family should camp the night just short of their destination. That night Dresden was bombed into oblivion and not thousands, but tens of thousands, of people were incinerated by phosphorus bombs, whilst others were simply blown away.
At war’s end the family resided in refugee camps, where food and medical supplies were in short supply. Anaesthetics could only be used for life saving operations and childbirth. From a young age Daiva possessed a philosophical optimism about the good things in her life, even in the worst of times. In the refugee camps Daiva was suffering from malnutrition and walking barefoot began to develop infected toenails. It was determined that her toenails had to be removed, otherwise gangrene would develop, resulting in the amputation of her feet. And so [and think of this when you slide into your bed tonight feet first] her little feet were held down and her toenails were extracted one by one with a pair of pliers [sterilised, of course]. I said “Darling, that must have hurt terribly”. She replied “It hurt a little bit, but I got a whole bag of lollies afterwards”.
With her parents and brother Vidas soon after settling in Canberra
Soon Australia accepted Lithuanians as the first large group of non-British migrants. Daiva arrived with her family in Sydney on 25 March 1949, aboard the ship Protea, whereupon they were taken to the Bathurst Migrant Camp. Her father was given a two year working contract in Canberra, whilst the remainder of the family moved to the Cowra Migrant Centre. Soon the family was reunited in Queanbeyan and later they moved to Canberra. Daiva entered Queanbeyan Public School speaking no English and topped the class at the end of the year. Her academic success continued throughout her schooling in Canberra - topping her class and graduating from high school at the age of 16. Too young for university, she was employed for a year at the National Library.
Having been accepted to study medicine, Daiva was reluctant to pursue this profession because she knew herself too well:
  • She could not stand the sight of blood and
  • She did not care for the conservative attitudes of the people who practised in the profession.

Daiva and Dan Bieri on their wedding day
Instead, Daiva turned to Physiotherapy. Within a few years of graduation she would become the youngest ever Assistant Director of the largest School of Physiotherapy in the country. During this time a young man came from Darwin riding into Sydney on a red BMW motorbike. On his third day in town he had the good fortune of attending a Lithuanian picnic. When asked who he was, he simply replied, “I’m the Man from Montana”. Amongst the other attendees at the picnic was one particularly beautiful and intelligent young lady with common sense. They were interested in each other and after a courtship they were married in North Sydney on 21 March 1970.
Unfortunately, a short time after our marriage Daiva was diagnosed with a rare muscular disease known as Myasthenia Gravis, which she would carry with her for the remainder of her life. Some said it was like living her life with one arm tied behind her back, but Daiva’s resilience, cheerfulness and optimism meant that few realised she was so ill. Eventually, Daiva had to abandon her Physiotherapy because of the disease. But, against family and medical advice, she was determined to start a family. After three miscarriages, we were blessed with the arrival of a 10 pound son, Aistis.
Daiva in her youth
Daiva returned to university as one of the first mature age students and despite a young family and her continuing disease, she graduated in Psychology from Macquarie University and focused on medical research in the areas of arthritis and rheumatology at the Universities of New South Wales, Sydney and Western Sydney. Later she went into the area of the psychological aspects of pain in children and co-authored the monumental study on The Faces Pain Scale of the self-assessment of the severity of pain experienced by children. Her Faces Pain Scale has now been accepted as the benchmark in the assessment of pain in children in 23 countries of the world. Her intelligence and common sense created an intuitive system by which children could identify their level of pain with the distress portrayed on cartoon faces.
Daiva was a proud Australian having been accepted as a Citizen as a teenager at a ceremony in Canberra, where a handsome young man, Harold Holt, the then Minister of Immigration presented her with her certificate. However, Daiva also remained proud of her Lithuanian heritage, participating in its sports, cultural and youth activities with enthusiasm. Another joy of her life was that her son speaks fluent Lithuanian and by a series of lovely circumstances married Jurgita, who comes from the same city in Lithuania where Daiva was born.
Many remember when the famous American-Lithuanian basketball team visited Australia in 1964. Daiva, as an organiser of the tour, arranged a reception for them at a Rose Bay Harbourside residence due to the generous hospitality of her long time physiotherapy friend, Jenny Harrison. The organiser of the American team was a handsome dark haired man, whom Daiva frequently worked with on the Tour. She was very impressed with him and, being a fine judge of character, said the world would see more of him later. The world certainly did, as he is now the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus.
Daiva and husband Dan a few years after their wedding
She also excelled in the Lithuanian theatre as an actress and Director. I know so, because when performing the lead role in the Lithuanian translated Neil Simon’s play, Lady in a Dressing Gown, two hard drinking Lithuanians came into the Hall of the old Lithuanian Club and said they would view the first few minutes and then go to the bar. They never got to the bar and remained for the entire performance. You’d have to say that any person that could pull a hard drinking Lithuanian away from the bar with any cultural activity is doing an excellent job.
In 1986 she organised the Opening Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral for the Lithuanian International Youth Congress, which involved 20 countries of the world and over a thousand people. She liaised closely with Cardinal Clancy who asked, at the termination of the Congress, if the distinctive Lithuanian religious decorations could remain for an extra fortnight, because tourists were entering the Cathedral and taking pictures. He reported they were onto a good thing, because even the Japanese tourists were coming and taking pictures.
In her more recent years at one of her stays at St Vincent’s Hospital, before she was transferred to a nursing home, she had a short and chance visit with the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The Prime Minister was very gracious and after a brief chat he thanked her for her work in medical research which, he said, undoubtedly, made Australia a better place in which to live.
Her last years were not enjoyable, as the muscular disease began to debilitate her. She spent the last 8 years in a wheelchair and the last 4 months in a nursing home, not before her grandson, Natas, was born. With his arrival she said “Now I can die, my replacement has arrived” and in her last days enjoyed his youthful company. Her health continued to decline and she passed away at 1.2Opm on Wednesday 29 October 2008 with her family present.
I am reminded of one final anecdote that occurred during the early years of our marriage when we were attending a Lithuanian Cultural Festival in Adelaide. We had visited a winery and I had returned early to the bus. A young lady commented on my accent and asked how did I happen to be in Australia. I related the story of how I came riding down from Darwin on my red BMW motorbike, met this beautiful young Lithuanian lady on the beach and after a wonderful courtship were married. She remarked to me that it sounded like a fairytale - and you know it was. However, as you know a fairytale needs a Prince and a Princess. Today I have lost that Princess, but my memories of our fairytale remain.

Goodbye ir sudiev, Daiva.

Dan Bieri
Mary, Mother of Mercy Chapel and Crematorium, Rookwood Cemetery - 1 November 2008

“I enjoyed my visit with Daiva very much and we had a great conversation. Daiva’s contribution to medical research in Australia has been outstanding. All of us who benefit from her sacrifices and endeavours throughout her life were inspired by her accomplishments.”

The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia - 1 December 2008

“Daiva most certainly made a great contribution, not only to Australia, but to the lives of children in many countries around the world. She was a remarkable example of the commitment that many former migrants have shown to our nation and those qualities have been a key part of Australia’s growth and prosperity. I was moved by Daiva’s story, particularly her continuing determination to overcome any obstacle to improve the lives of many people that she would never meet. As a proud citizen, she espoused all of the values which make our nation’s multicultural society so successful while, at the same time, celebrating her Lithuanian heritage.”

Chris Evans, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship - 21 January 2009