Our beloved Gillian Bird – or Mama G or Gills, as she was affectionately called by the 2019/20 fellows and hub team – passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving everyone who knew her in utter shock. Gillian was a committed and passionate member of Embrace, getting involved in all aspects of the movement over the past few years. She was also an integral part of the inaugural cohort of Mamandla Fellows.
Gillian joined Mamandla as the eldest fellow. That being said, she never lauded her age and experience over us. Mama G knew all the popular tunes, had a wicked sense of humour and a love for all things glam and gorgeous. If you needed to borrow a lipstick, Gillian was your lady and her generosity meant you’d probably end up taking that lipstick home.
The Mamandla Fellowship brought together a group of women from across the country. We were all there because we believed in the power of collective motherhood and the opportunity for a strengthened network of leaders who believe mothers matter in South Africa. We came to the fellowship with excitement, but also often with the struggles of our individual circumstances weighing heavily on our shoulders. Gillian took the time to get to know every single person. She counted it a privilege to listen and create space to hear both pain and joy. She guarded secrets, remembered birthdays and I witnessed her wipe many, many tears with the tenderness of a mother.
Gillian was a woman of deep faith. A self-described and unashamed “Jesus girl”. Her faith compelled her to serve those around her, never drawing attention to her deeds and often taking on actions that I know scared her. In 2019 I asked her to step up and lead at Mother’s Day Connect. We gave her the project’s founding hospital – one that holds a special place in my heart. She was nervous, but oh, how she shone – loving every new mother sitting in her hospital bed and serving every woman on her team.
Gillian had an infinite capacity for people. In spite of having a tough 2020 in which she lost her beloved sister, she still took the time to care for everyone around her. She was gifted with words of encouragement. In these days after her passing, we shared her voice notes in our Fellowship group and I continue to be amazed by the words she offered to each person – bespoke messages to comfort tired hearts. Even now, after her death, her words and voice notes and podcasts continue to encourage us.
Gillian, our dearest Mama G. We were not ready. The ache in our hearts is so very real. Your impact on motherhood in South Africa is a legacy your family can be proud of, as you were so very proud of them. We love you and we miss you. May you rest in peace with your sister and our Maker until we meet again.
Julie Mentor, Embrace Movement Leader