‘We are so proud of you’: Lilie James farewelled in Sydney

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Lilie James was independent. She loved water polo. She loved to dance.

“Today we are celebrating the life of Lilie James. This day is all about her,” her father said in a statement on Friday morning as school friends, teachers and family gathered at her old school to celebrate the life of the 21-year-old, who was killed last month.

“She was an independent, vibrant young woman who was always on the go and lived each day to the fullest.”

Lilie James friends gather at Danebank.Credit: Nick Moir

Some carrying flowers, most wearing bright colours, Lilie’s school friends filed in to Danebank School for Girls through a foyer festooned with fairy lights.

Her coffin was taken into the school at 9.30am.

Premier Chris Minns arrived a short time later accompanied by an office staffer.

James’s body was found in the sports centre bathroom at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, where she worked as a sports assistant, on the evening of October 25. She was believed to be murdered by her colleague Paul Thijssen with whom she had previously had a brief relationship. Thijssen took his life following the murder.

James’s casket is taken to the Danebank service. Credit: Nick Moir

James’ father, Jamie, released his statement via police.

“On top of working and studying, Lilie loved coaching and playing water polo,” the statement said.

“She loved to dance. Even with her busy schedule she always still made time to support her brother Max, her friends and her family.

A father’s tribute.

“We cannot thank the community enough for their thoughts, prayers, generosity and messages through this difficult time. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you for the many great memories we all share of Lilie.

“Lilie James, we are so proud of you and thank you for sharing a wonderful and jam-packed 21 and a half years together.”

The head of St Andrew’s Cathedral School, Dr Julie McGonigle, told parents in a newsletter that James was “full of vitality, energy, enthusiasm and a natural fit in our community”.

She shared that staff close to James had described her as “bright and bubbly”. “Lilie’s bright, bubbly personality will be dearly missed. She was a vibrant, smart, compassionate young lady who impacted the lives of many at our school and we are utterly heartbroken by this news.”

McGonigle and some staff who were close to James, as well as students she coached in water polo and netball, attended the Danebank service in person.

The service was live-streamed backed to St Andrew’s Cathedral where at least 500 students, parents and staff from the adjacent campus gathered for the memorial.

Premier Chris Minns arrives at the service.Credit: Nick Moir

McGonigle told students the service was optional but urged “as many of our community as possible to attend,” adding that was an “important part of our grieving process as a school. We understand that how you and your family best grieve is a very personal choice”.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, arrived at the cathedral as the school’s choristers sang before the service started just after 10am.

McGonigle said the James family were deliberately calling the service a celebration of Lilie’s life. “They joined us this week to share stories from staff about Lilie’s time with us, which was a welcome moment of joy and laughter, at this time of deep sorrow. Lilie was a ray of light, and we are coming together to celebrate her life.”

The school was closed on Friday.

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