Let me tell you about my beautiful, brilliant friend, Effe, who passed away just before Easter. We’ve known each other for over 25 years and I’m still trying to process never seeing her again. Her death was quick and unexpected. She was 61 years old and full of plans, including a dream of retiring to Greece; a collection of post-it notes scribbled with the names of places she wanted to see (Chios – birthplace of Homer, Patmos – John wrote revelations) stuck in neat rows on her office wall. Effe’s odyssey.

Efterpi was born in Moree on March 2, 1962; the first-born of Stavros and Evangelia Soropos. At the time, Stavros and Evangelia owned a Greek café called the Omega, which still operates today. Effe’s sister, Martha, was born in 1963, and brother George in 1967. Later, the family opened the first Greek take-away in Moree called Cornelius Gourmet.

When Effe was 14, the family moved to Port Macquarie, where she attended St Joseph’s regional high school until Year 10. At age 16, she moved to Sydney to pursue her dream of attending the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

Working in a solicitor’s office by day and attending night school to gain her Higher School Certificate, Effe applied three times to NIDA (her young age initially working against her) before eventually being accepted into the Bachelor of Technical Production and Stage Management.

As is often the case with friendships, our lives existed in kindred parallel before meeting each other. Effe graduated from NIDA in 1987 and I graduated from a Theatre/Media course at Charles Sturt University in 1988. We circled each other by reputation, never quite connecting in the Sydney theatre scene of the late eighties and nineties. I think back on this today and wonder how, in such a small community, this was even possible. But we were theatre nerds, and it was only a matter of time.

What I didn’t count on was running into her, a decade later, while walking my dog in Debney Park, Melbourne. Apparently, we were neighbours, four houses away, and I couldn’t have imagined a more wonderful coincidence.

We were pregnant at the same time (our sons born three months apart in 1999) and attended the same mothers’ group. Neither of us were ‘young’ mothers and we were winging it. We sat on our respective porches, fussing over our babies, talking about art, watching our boys grow up. There were barbecues, Christmas lunches, and birthday parties with children running around and neighbours swapping gossip. Effe would come prepared with platters of homemade dolmades, octopus, corn, bread and taramasalata, always the embodiment of calm hospitality and easy warmth. It was a world away from Melbourne’s sophisticated, independent theatre scene where she created lighting designs for some of Australia’s best-known theatre makers. She made it all look so easy.

From 2001-2003, Effe taught Lighting Design at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. I missed my neighbour, but it wasn’t long before she missed Melbourne.

In 2007, Effe completed a Masters in Community Cultural Development at the Victorian College of the Arts, researching the effects of interior environments on palliative care patients. As part of her degree, she became artist-in-residence at Monash Medical Centre in Clayton, creating a space at McCulloch House, Inpatient Palliative Care Unit called the Disambiguation Room. Originally conceived of as a temporary space, it was so successful that it became a permanent fixture, winning the Primary Care Award at the Australian Arts and Health Awards in 2009.

Efterpi Soropos passed away unexpectedly and suddenly leaving the Australian arts community in shock. Photo: Supplied

During this period, an idea was forming in Effe’s mind, the genesis of which was her mother’s death from cancer in 1995; she hated that Evangelia’s last days were spent in a fluoro-lit room, with constant interruptions and loud noises. Effe wanted to fuse her passion for immersive, multisensory design with a desire to provide comfort to people when they needed it. Nothing could have been more in tune with her gentle, caring soul; blending compassion with technical and artistic skills to alleviate human suffering.

In 2008, Effe was awarded an Ian Potter Cultural Trust grant to travel to the UK and Holland to conduct research into innovative environments for palliative care. Off the back of this experience, she returned to Melbourne and established a ground-breaking new venture called Human Rooms. Over the next 14 years, she created ‘human rooms’ across Australia, expanding her vision beyond palliative care to create rooms for the very old and the very young. She worked with First Nations communities, migrant communities, parents, babies, patients, doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and artists. She understood that no matter age or circumstance, all humans seek peace, joy, and beauty.

Effe’s work through Human Rooms has been researched by academics in the arts and health sectors around the world. In 2014, she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship, travelling to Japan and the UK to investigate culturally specific environments for patients with dementia. In 2018, she was selected to participate in the Australia Council for the Arts’ Arts Leadership Program. But you wouldn’t know any of this; Effe was the archetypal quiet achiever.

Beyond the heartbreak and shock of her death, I feel nothing but pride in Effe. She wasn’t materially wealthy, but she was generous to a fault and generated love in abundance. She made a material difference to people’s lives, and she did it with grace, warmth, intelligence, and kindness.

Vale Efterpi Soropos. My beautiful, brilliant friend.

Effe is survived by her son, Ulysses, her siblings, Martha and George, her nephew, Alexander, her niece, Madeline, and her large network of friends and colleagues.

Jennifer Barry is an independent arts manager and consultant based in Melbourne.