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Mushroom victims farewelled as 'pillars of community'


As rain fell on a small Victorian town nestled among rolling hills, the son of a couple who died from suspected mushroom poisoning bid them farewell in front of hundreds of neighbours.

Almost 300 people packed the Korumburra Recreation Centre on Thursday to say goodbye to Don and Gail Patterson, who were remembered as "pillars" of the community who spread their generosity and kindness to different corners of the world.

The couple, both 70, died in hospital after their daughter-in-law Erin Patterson cooked them a beef wellington at her Leongatha home in Victoria's southeast on July 29.

Simon Patterson said his parents, who were recently laid to rest during a private burial, were devout in their faith but with humility rather than arrogance.

They lived by the mantra: "Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary".

They were adventurous, always open-minded about people of different faiths and cultures, and pacifists.

"Mum and Dad were very much a team," an emotional Mr Patterson told the service.

"The fact they died on consecutive days is fitting in some ways, as it reflects the togetherness as a couple that they always worked so hard to achieve."

The couple spent seven years in Botswana before they came to Korumburra.

Mr Patterson spoke about overseas trips with his father, including to the Mount Everest base camp, where younger climbers admired Don's fitness even in his 60s.

His father was fit enough to have an emergency liver transplant during his final days in hospital.

While his parents acknowledged the reality of death, they also believed it was not final.

Mr Patterson reflected how their family would say "see you later", and suggested the phrase took on new significance in their last days at Austin Hospital.

"It was comforting to know when we said see you later, we knew it was true, the only thing we didn't know was when," Mr Patterson said.

In Gail's last message to her family, she wrote: "lots of love to you all".

The couple's many grandchildren also spoke in pre-recorded messages to the service.

Reverend Fran Grimes noted such a massive gathering was not "Don and Gail's nature or style" and described them as "pillars of the community".

Neighbours greeted each other with smiles and embraces at the recreation centre and shared happy memories of the couple's lives over tea and homemade lemonade.

"They just got on with living generous lives quietly and without fanfare," Rev Grimes said.

"This community has a lot to be thankful for because of the lives of Gail and Don."

Rev Grimes reflected that while many media who flooded the town described Korumburra as a "tight-knit" community, what they found was a community which - above all - was shielding and protecting the family from heartless speculation.

"Behind every story that we hear on the news every night, there's families and communities reeling from that event," she said.

The community also had Gail's sister Heather Wilkinson, 66, in their thoughts after she too died following the July 29 lunch.

The Korumburra Baptist community has been praying for the recovery of Mrs Wilkinson's husband and local church pastor Ian Wilkinson, who remains in hospital in a critical but stable condition after he also ate the meal.

There was a small police presence outside the community hall during Thursday's service amid strong public interest.

Police believe the four people were all poisoned by death cap mushrooms.

Ms Patterson, who has not been charged, is considered a suspect.

The 46-year-old claims she made the beef wellington using button mushrooms from a major supermarket and dried mushrooms bought at an Asian grocery store.

Simon Patterson, her estranged husband, was due to attend the lunch but pulled out.

At the end of Thursday's service, he thanked local churches, friends and family, the police in attendance and the Austin Hospital's ICU and liver transplant teams.

He also thanked the broader community for giving them love, support and space.

Bob Dylan's Death is Not The End played over a slide show of photos near the end of the service.