Malaysian Airlines MH17 anniversary: Sunbury tribute for Albert and Maree Rizk

Sunbury Football Club vice president Hedley Duhau, captain Andrew Duhau, James Rizk with the MH17 memorial trophy, coach Rick Horwood and secretary Kelvin Muir. (Shawn Smits)

When James Rizk hears the flight number MH17, his first thought is not of the senseless act that claimed the lives of his parents, Albert and Maree, along with those of 296 others.

Instead, he immediately pictures the loving couple who gave him and his sister so much.

They were more than simply their parents – respected in business and the community, the couple were an example of a way of living that inspired others.

‘‘Sometimes it’s in the morning, sometimes it’s in the afternoon, but you do think about them every day,’’ James said.

‘‘When I hear the flight number, there’s not really any anger or grief, so much … I just picture them and everything that they were.’’

It’s been a difficult year for James, 22, and Vanessa, 23, who will mark the first anniversary of the MH17 tragedy this week. Albert and Maree were returning from the Netherlands on board the Malaysian Airlines plane when it was shot down over Ukraine on July 18 last year.

The couple’s local legacy will be celebrated during a memorial football match at Clarke Oval on Saturday.

James and Vanessa worked closely with Sunbury Lions Football Club and Ballarat Football League to plan the event, at which their parents’ names will be painted on the ground. Vanessa will speak at the club’s pre-game lunch, and release two balloons ahead of a minute’s silence.

James plans to take to the field for the Lions against Redan to play for a memorial trophy.

The family’s ties to the club run deep – Albert was a committee member and Maree worked in the canteen.

James said the support of the Lions, along side the broader Sunbury community, had been invaluable.

‘‘And for [club president] Jack Ogilvie and the committee, along with the Ballarat league, to organise this special day, our family is very grateful,’’ he said. ‘‘Their support over the past year has been everything.’’

James, who now works in the Raine and Horne real estate office where his father had much success, said he relished the chance to take to the football field.

‘‘Footy has been one of those things that’s helped keep my mind off everything,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s the great thing about footy clubs, they enable you to take a break from what’s going on and just have a good time with your mates.’’

Lions’ vice-president Hedley Duhau said about 180 people had booked for the pre-game lunch, three times’ the regular figure. He said a post-match function would wrap up the club’s efforts to honour two ‘‘extremely community-minded people’’.

‘‘Albert and Maree were just good, hard-working, honest and reliable people,’’ Duhau said. ‘‘They always had a smile and a kind word to say.’’

James and Vanessa will attend a national memorial service in Canberra on Friday.