My Pop passed away earlier this week. While very sad for all of us, it wasn’t tragic, as he’d been going down hill a fair bit over the last couple of months – his heart had finally had enough, and just quietly, I think he had too.
Mum – his oldest daughter – asked me to give the Eulogy, and since Pop never had anything to do with the internet or online, I though it would be fitting to leave a little footprint of his life here on my blog.
Rest in Peace old boy – we’ll all miss you.
Pop used to love a bit of a flutter.
He had a greyhound when he was younger, and he and his mates would drive from Tamworth with a few mates down to the track at Newcastle to watch the dog go around and put a few bob on.
Later, he enjoyed taking his daughters to Harold Park Paceway to see the trots.
So reflecting on his life, I don’t think he’d mind me saying that to have made it to the ripe old age of 89 was beating some pretty tremendous odds. But more about that later.
Pop was born on the 10th of February, 1921, the youngest of 6 into a family that lived on the land – a dairy farm at Loreton, not far from Taree.
Upon leaving school, Pop only had a couple of choices, and since he wasn’t keen on working at the Bank, he trained to be a teacher, studying at the Teacher’s College in sunny Armidale, right on the eve of WW2.
When war broke out, Pop tried to enlist. Fortunately for him – and the rest of us – the army wouldn’t have him because of his flat feet. The air force wouldn’t have him because he was colour blind. And the Navy was out of the question… because it was the Navy.
Pop’s contribution to the war effort then was to apply his training as a science teacher at Farrah, near Tamworth. There he taught the many young men from 460 Sqn destined for the battles of Europe and the bomber command as much physics as he could in the time he had.
It was during his time in Tamworth that he was introduced by a mutual friend to his future wife, Molly, who was working with the local newspaper.
They fell in love and married on the 5th of May 1951 – they were due to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary early next year.
Now married, Pop had to leave his bachelorhood as a Hall Master at Farrah behind, and he and Nan moved to Tumut. They had Anne and then Trish shortly afterwards, however it seemed both girls wanted to be a bit closer to the City. Anne gave everyone quite a health scare when she ate a bunch of delicious looking ant poison, and Trish was quite sick with some mystery allergies.
Putting his family first – a hallmark of Pop’s life – they moved to Sydney in 1957 to be closer to quality medical care for the girls.
Pop spent a lot of time working to provide for the family. He worked at many schools through those years as a science teacher, and even taught at TAFE at night to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, in 1975, his lifestyle caught up with him, and he suffered his first heart attack. At this point, the odds on a long life lengthened significantly, but with a stroke of luck, he was admitted into what was then an experimental procedure, and became one of Australia’s first heart-bypass recipients.
With his health scare, he decided to retire, and so he and Nan moved down to Kiama on the south coast in 1977 – part of the original sea-change brigade and ahead of their time.
After getting into the lawn bowls in a big way – it was kinder on the heart than squash, and besides, you could have a beer while you played – Pop and Nan decided to open a school holiday camp for their increasing brood of grandchildren. I used to think of it as “holidays at Nan and Pop’s” when I was a kid – I now know mum and dad thought of it as respite.
In any case, it was great when I’d go and visit to enjoy time with Nan and Pop.
My memories of those years with Pop have three main themes – sport, newspapers and cards.
My father wasn’t much of a sports junkie, so I’d never really had someone watch a game with me and explain the tactics and crazy rules. Pop was surprisingly patient, and I remember sitting there for hours watching cricket and being taught to love the slowest game in the world.
When it comes to newspapers, I think Pop kept Fairfax in business for quite a few years there. Out the back in the sitting room was always a pile of newspapers – and I really enjoyed (once I could read) sitting there and pouring through News Review, Column 8, and realising that Spectrum was complete rubbish.
Then there were cards. Pop taught me Gin Rummy and many others, but I’m sure he was most proud when he taught me Patience – like Solitaire, but with cards. It kept me quiet for hours – he must have been stoked.
In the Christmas of 2001/2, Pop’s health took a turn for the worst. No one had expected the bypass to keep him going as long as it had – 25 years by this point – so when he had a bunch of other heart problems, we feared the worst. He’s already beaten pretty serious odds, but then he beat them again.
Pop spent a lot of time over that Christmas at Wollongong hospital, and I lived just down the road, so I in turn made sure I visited pretty regularly. We formed a pretty good bond and relationship through the period of fear, uncertainty and hallucinations, and being from the silent generation, I think he appreciated the fact I was now a man and he could talk to me, man to man.
I remember one occasion a day or so after he’d been put under, as he sat there recovering in the ICU. He was completely convinced that there were black webs on the roof above the bed, and that people were out to get him. We talked, I made him demonstrate how strong he was by shaking my hand vigorously, and then I told him firmly to be nice to the nurses and that no-one was going to get him because they’d have to get through me first. That seemed to calm him a bit, but when I raised it a bit later, it was clear he had absolutely no recollection of the whole experience.
But he always remembered that hand shake.
After coming back from the brink – again – in the early 2000’s, it was then time to look at better accommodation for he and Nan than their house in Kiama. His strong-willed daughters had decided that the best spot was a retirement village, but the old boy wouldn’t have a bar of it. I remember taking him for a walk, and after convincing him it was actually his idea, and that he wasn’t going to be bossed around in his dotage by girls, he went along with the plan.
Pop’s health had a few more close calls over the intervening years – he even managed to get a 2nd bypass operation, and this one was performed by the junior understudy from the first one! But in the last few weeks, he’d really started to go downhill.
You beat the longest odds anyone will get, you provided for your family in a way that makes us all so proud and grateful, and now it is your turn to rest in peace. It was your time mate, we’ll miss you but most of all we’ll never forget you and all you’ve done for us.