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Mushroom chef’s ex breaks his silence

Don and Gail Patterson passed away after ingesting suspected poisonous mushrooms. picture: supplied
Don and Gail Patterson passed away after ingesting suspected poisonous mushrooms. picture: supplied

As she lay dying in hospital after eating a suspected poisonous mushroom lunch, Gail Patterson posted a final message in her family group chat.

“Lots of love to you all.”

The final text was revealed by her son Simon Patterson at a memorial service for his mum and his dad, Don Patterson.

At least 350 mourners braved torrential rain to hear tributes to the late couple at Korumburra Recreation Centre on Thursday afternoon.

Simon’s ex-wife, Erin Patterson, had invited her former in-laws Don and Gail, along with Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson and husband Ian, to lunch at her home in Leongatha, Gippsland, Victoria, on July 29.

Simon was also invited to the lunch but did not attend.

After Ms Patterson served a beef wellington thought to contain fatal death cap mushrooms, Don, Gail and Heather were rushed to hospital, where they died a short time later.

Ian, a pastor at nearby Korumburra Baptist Church, remains gravely ill in hospital awaiting a liver transplant.

Don and Gail Patterson passed away after ingesting mushrooms suspected to have been poisonous. picture: supplied
Don and Gail Patterson passed away after ingesting mushrooms suspected to have been poisonous. picture: supplied
Simon Patterson revealed his mother's final text message. Picture: Seven
Simon Patterson revealed his mother's final text message. Picture: Seven

Simon revealed the final message he received from his mother in an emotional address to the crowd on Thursday.

“It was no fluke that mum’s final text message on our family group chat as she lay in Dandenong hospital was: ‘Lots of love to you all’,” he said.

As rain thundered onto the roof of the hall, he said his parents were always “a team, working at life together”.

“The fact they died on consecutive days is fitting in some ways, as it reflects their togetherness as a couple that they always worked so hard to grow,” he said.

Don and Gail’s strong Christian faith gave them a “pretty healthy view” on death, he said, and they believed there was life beyond the grave.

“They acknowledged life’s transience and death’s reality as something that is not right about the world and very sad but also knew that death is not final,” he said.

“They would always wave goodbye when they parted ways. It was partly because one day would be the last wave.”

Simon Patterson revealed his mum’s final text message in an emotional address at a public memorial for his parents.
Simon Patterson revealed his mum’s final text message in an emotional address at a public memorial for his parents.

Simon said while his father was able to survive an emergency liver transplant following the suspected poisoning, “the rest of his body was already too sick to go on past that point”.

“As Mum and Dad lay in comas in the hospital in their final days and each day … we were unsure if they would recover or not, it was comforting to know that when we said: ‘See you later,’ we knew it was true,” he said.

“The only thing we didn’t know was when.

“In the meantime, we’ll miss them.”

The couple were well-liked in Korumburra, a town of about 5,800 people, two hours southeast of Melbourne.

Thursday’s service was led by local reverend, Dr Fran Grimes, who described Don and Gail as “pillars of the community”.

This was echoed in words from Richard Collyer, who had been a colleague of both Don and Gail at Korumburra Secondary College.

Don had inspired “generations of students” with his wacky methods as a science teacher for nearly 25 years, Mr Collyer said.

Don was a “respected voice,” and a “caring mentor to staff young and old”.

Gail also spent many years at the school, first as a volunteer in the Learning Assistance program and then in the school office.

The audience also heard how Don and Gail had spent a lot of time abroad, living as missionaries in Botswana in their twenties and teaching English in China after retirement.

There were several church hymns scattered throughout six addresses to the grieving crowd.

Loved ones from around the world sent in letters which were read out by Simon’s younger brother Matthew.

One of the couple’s former English students, Amy, from China, recorded herself paying a glowing tribute, describing them as “like real parents of another country,” before thanking them for their “generous love”.

“It gives me comfort to know you are now with our Father,” she finished.

Memorial Service of Don and Gail Patterson
Many braved the rain for Thursday’s service. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Memorial Service of Don and Gail Patterson
Mourners gathered outside the memorial service. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Don’s brother Colin gave the first speech of the service, reflecting on their happy childhood together.

Don was the second of two brothers.

Colin told the crowd about Don and Gail’s mutual love of tennis, and their devout Christian faith.

Having attended the same Sunday school, it wasn’t long before Don and Gail “quickly became inseparable” according to Colin.

They married in November 1973, meaning that they died just a few months short of what would have been their 50th wedding anniversary.

A special thanks was listed on the order of service to The Austin Hospital, particularly Dr Stephen Warrillow “and his amazing ICU team”, and Professor Bob Jones and the hospital’s liver transplant team.

The local community and members of the Patterson family were thanked for their support, as well as the team at Korumburra Cemetery.

The Pattersons have already been laid to rest in private funerals, but given the outpouring of support from the national community, their family wanted to give the public a chance to mourn their loss.

“The upcoming public memorial will be an opportunity for all who knew Don and Gail to come together, share memories, and celebrate the lasting legacy they have left behind,” a notice for the service said.

“In keeping with Don and Gail’s wishes and character, the family has chosen to commemorate their lives in a manner that reflects their values and the love they shared with their community.”

Erin Patterson hosted the lunch for her former in-laws, Don and Gail Patterson, and two others.
Erin Patterson hosted the lunch for her former in-laws, Don and Gail Patterson, and two others.

Homicide detectives from Victoria Police are still investigating the deaths and no charges have been laid.

Ms Patterson is a person of interest to the investigation, as she cooked the fatal lunch.

It is not suggested Ms Patterson deliberately poisoned the dish, only that police are investigating the deaths.

Earlier this month, a detailed statement made by Ms Patterson to police, obtained by the ABC revealed the mushrooms were a mix of button mushrooms from a supermarket chain and dried mushrooms bought months earlier from an Asian grocery store in Melbourne.

“I am now devastated to think that these mushrooms may have contributed to the illness suffered by my loved ones. I really want to repeat that I had absolutely no reason to hurt these people whom I loved,” she said in the statement.