AHSRI is deeply saddened to announce the death of staff member Sonia Bird.
Sonia died suddenly on 14 December 2021, aged 42. She is survived by her husband Ben and children Madeline and Vincent.
Sonia was a UOW alumnus, completing a Bachelor of Mathematics, Masters of Finance and a Graduate Certificate in Health Services Research. She was also an Accredited Statistician with the Statistical Society of Australia. Sonia previously worked at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as a casual academic, as a statistical consultant and as a mathematics tutor. Sonia took on new high school students to tutor each year, and felt a sense of real achievement as they developed their skills and confidence in mathematics and statistics.
Sonia joined UOW in 2007 as Research Fellow (Applied Statistics). She spent a decade as the statistician for the Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration. Sonia managed a suite of automated statistical reports which provided health services around Australia with individualised benchmark data. Her example reports for the imaginary “Bird’s Nest” hospital were one of her specialties, and their name a favourite inside joke. Sonia developed strong relationships with palliative care clinical leaders and academics across Australia. She was always willing to explain technical concepts and interpret the meaning behind the numbers, to support clinicians to improve patient outcomes. Sonia’s work on national palliative care benchmarks was seminal and continues to underpin benchmarks for palliative care patient outcomes in Australia and internationally.
Sonia moved to the Centre for Health Service Development in 2017, where her passion for mental health research blossomed. She contributed to research and evaluation studies to improve our understanding of how best to support people with severe and persistent mental illness, social connectedness, the mental well-being of people living in drought-affected communities and the role of primary care in mental health. Sonia worked extensively with mental health services to develop approaches to data collection and analyses that reflect the complexity of mental health care. Sonia brought not only her technical skills to every project but also her caring nature and wonderful ability to make her colleagues laugh often at absurdities found in the data or from life in general.
Sonia was midway through her PhD in the Centre for Health Research Illawarra Shoalhaven Population at the time of her death. She was investigating how modern statistical and machine learning methods could be applied to administrative hospital data to improve suicide prevention. Sonia deliberately chose a topic that was both intellectually challenging and that could make a difference to people’s lives. It is a tribute to her writing abilities that she was the first author on an academic paper in the first year of her PhD studies, a commentary accepted without revisions in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Sonia was very organised and committed to her family, friends and her work. But she was always ready to help others, taking time to listen to how your day was going and share a laugh or give advice. From joining AHSRI at the age of 26 until her death at the age of 42, Sonia built up a wide network of AHSRI friends, colleagues and collaborators. During that time she married, had children and made close personal friends with many of her colleagues. She also made a wider social circle of friends, including her daily gym group, and developed her reputation as a phenomenal cake maker and decorator. Her decorating skills extended to her office, which was decked out in stationery, devices and decorations that left you in no doubt her favourite colour was pink.
Sonia was a very hands on mother, organising many sport and extra-curricular activities for her children. She was also a social organiser, regularly bringing cakes for her colleagues to sample, hosting parties with incredible food and fancy costumes, and organising catch ups with family and close friends.
Sonia loved being a member of AHSRI. She was proud of the work we did and her contribution to that work. She loved working on projects that really had an impact and that improved people’s lives. For Sonia, everything was interesting and important. But it was our work in mental health that she valued most of all. Sonia dreamed of improving mental health services in Australia and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. She really wanted to make a difference.
Sonia was a truly beautiful person, smart, generous, warm and caring. She was great fun, had a child-like sense of humour and a wonderful ability to laugh at herself. We really miss her.