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Eulogy -  D.L. (Jim) GRAHAM


D.L (Jim) Graham.

8th September 1933 - 28th July 2016.


Dear Jim,

By now you have travelled ‘earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast’ [1], and surely are just about through the ‘Gates of Pearl’. I hope you held firm, as your ‘Chariot of Fire’ [3] lifted you like a whirlwind, to where you belong. Heaven.

As instructed by you, we are sitting here in St John’s Church, Nambucca Heads. You, are a long way away. But in our minds we are holding you close, taking time to reflect on the impact of your life, on ours. We’re singing the hymns you chose… the ones you loved and meant so much to you… and we’re listening to the words of John and Paul, that inspired your view of the world and how to act in it. Your family, friends, ex-students and colleagues, their partners, their children, friends of friends… we who come under your sphere of influence across 83 years, are here… for you.

You have been on quite a journey. And as we sit here and contemplate that journey, you no doubt will be presenting yourself and your ID at - the Gates of Paradise beside the crystal fountain. This may be a struggle. You haven’t had a driver’s licence for some time. In fact, having driven with you often, between Armidale and Nambucca, I’m astounded you were ever given a license in the first place.

So Jim, you’re probably having to explain that on the 8th September in 1933, your mother Myrtle Florence, ‘Florrie’, brought you into the world as a son to William Lisle, and a third sibling to Bill and Noni, and then later Keith, Nettie and Robyn, and, that your parents decided that Desmond Lisle Graham would be the perfect name for you. Strangely, and possibly thankfully, Desmond Lisle gave way as your time on earth unfolded and you eventually became known to us all as our Jim… Jungle, or to respectful acquaintances, and the younger, Mr Graham.

But good luck with the righteous up there. It may not catch on and you may be stuck with Desmond Lisle for the rest of time.

Speaking of time, what story did you use to explain your late arrival? I mean, you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease nearly 20 years ago and yet defied the usual trajectory and lived a quality and length of life way beyond the expectations of your greatly loved Doctors - Paul Darveniza, Bruce Menzies and Rob Paton. And then as your allotted time loomed closer, you stubbornly insisted you were far too busy for the final journey and went about cleaning more silver, rearranging the furniture, sorting files and photos, writing a book, watching another Somerset Maugham play on You Tube, devouring more oysters, prawns, blue cheese and crackers, yoghurt and banana, and a Gin and Tonic, while watching Antiques Roadshow and listening to a classical CD and ABC radio, all at the same time. You stalled for months, not daring to miss out on anything.

Then, when we thought the end was nigh, inspired by Lazarus or possibly Jesus, you rose up, and began the roundabout of life again, on your tiny playing field, battling your now frail and inert body… insisting on continuing on with your passionate love of life and not wanting the story to ever end. If it’s any consolation Jim, that story, your story, will go on, because it and you, found a way into each and every one of our lives.

Did you like the song we sang together on that last phone call? The last of what had been a daily routine for countless years. Did you love the music that the beautiful staff at Pacifica Nursing Home played for you - ‘as your last day ended and darkness fell at His behest, and like a morning hymn you ascended’? [4] I will take the opportunity Jungle to thank them on your behalf. - James, Jo, Silvia, Ivan, June - Let me know if I have missed any out – I know I have.

In the short time you were there, and even functioning at such a low ebb, these compassionate and loving nurturers at Pacifica, you were still able to inspire, to entertain and to become - a friend. This was the pattern of your life Jungle and it continued right to the end.

You had a way of making friends everywhere…including among your loving family! Besides your siblings - your nieces Karen, Noelene, Meryn, their husbands, children and grandchildren. To the closest and even to the more distant ‘You in the darkness drear, have to many of us been, one true Light’. [5]

As I write this letter Jim and it’s a letter that I hoped I would never have to write, I realise that your story is… huge. There is so much you have done and achieved and places you have travelled and people you have met, that I can’t begin to acknowledge it all. We’d be here for days. I also know that your genuine self-effacing modesty would want me to cut it short.

Luckily, encouraged by others, especially The Armidale School community, the stories and incidents of your life, you documented in your books - Word of Mouth and I Have a Song to Sing Oh. And your expertise as an historian you revealed in A School of their Own, a history of The Armidale School’s first 100 years. I know how proud you are of this, and so you should be – it’s wonderful.

Even though you wrote so much down, there was always more. You delighted many of your visitors with endless and sometimes hysterical stories of personalities and people, and answered probing questions about The Armidale School, or the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the history of Musical Hall, Gilbert and Sullivan, plays, classical music, films, politics, philosophy- on and on and on … with many coming away wishing they had never asked the question. It’s a little like how we felt in your history class over 45 years ago. I for one struggled to stay awake. It’s a credit to your hypnotically soporific teaching technique that many of us did so well in History, at The Armidale School during your time there. Let me confess to you, as you have me at a vulnerable moment…you were probably quite a good teacher. It’s just that I was never awake to witness it.

But let’s face it, you must have been doing something right. After spending time at the New England University between 1952 and 1955 you went on to teach at The Armidale School for 43 years. Headmaster Gordon Fisher hired you, and then you served under Alan Cash, Geoffrey Andrews, Ken Langford Smith and Murray Guest. That’s quite a line-up of Headmasters you were able to hoodwink into allowing you to produce 133 plays, melodramas and musicals in your time there. What an astounding legacy Jungle. But also, in your time, you ran the Outward Bound program, coached sporting teams, created pageants and events, ran expeditions, debating, were a Head of Studies, a Housemaster, and for a while Deputy Headmaster. I could go on… but …

How did you do it all?

What drove you to serve with such energy and humility? I’m glad you did. I wouldn’t be standing here overwhelmed with gratitude for your influence and inspiration. And I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of ex-students and colleagues who came into your orbit. We all thank you Jim for the many different ways you mentored, advised and supported us, not only in your 43 years as a teacher, but the next 20 years as a friend. You had an uncanny knack of making us all feel we had a singular connection to you. Our partners and our children were included in this gossamer web of kindly inclusion, that extended threads of friendship into a lifetime. How did you do it?

How did you rise out of the parochial, but blissful nest that is Nambucca Heads, to receive a Medal of the Order of Australia; to teach the princes of Great Britain and its Commonwealth - Charles, Andrew and Edward; direct in plays the grandchildren of theatre royalty, Peter Finch and Vivien Leigh; and end up having a major impact on private education in Australia, initiating many school’s memberships to the Round Square Conference, as a result of your time at Gordonstoun School, Scotland?

Was it all because of your Grandmother, Winifred, with whom you lived for most of your childhood? She, with her love of Dickens, Victorian music and her spontaneous outbursts of singing, in response to... well… anything. Was it she? She, who made you weep while reading the death of Little Nell. [6]

Was it she, who gave you your intuitive understanding and insight into the hearts and minds of others. And is this why so many of us have come here today to cheer you, as you step through those Gates of Pearl? ‘As, hour by hour, with my lips, I make Thy wondrous doings heard on high’. [7]

Your generous hospitality to your friends was quite the thing. But let me remind you Jungle, that it wasn’t all one way. I know for a fact, your sisters Noni and Robyn, were the magicians behind the smoke and mirrors of this hospitality. For 30 years or so in Armidale, and then at Bald Hill Macksville, hot meals, salads, biscuits and cakes appeared on groaning tables in your dining room; as you hosted - Princes, parents, friends, headmasters, prefects, the whole cast of The Mikado, a Musical Hall or a sporting team or two - for dinner, supper, lunch or afternoon tea. Noni and Robyn made it happen.

And in later years as you held Parkinson’s at bay and we planned book launches and birthday parties, speeches and re unions and the unveiling of a statue, they passed the baton of care and support between them, magically making it possible for you to fight off the inevitable slowing of your failing body, so you could continue your obsession with life and living. They served you well Jungle. And in your final weeks, when Robyn held onto your bruised and bony hands, and you battled the pain and fear, her strength was ‘your Rock, your Fortress and your Might’. [8]

I am sure you are boasting about your sisters, as you say hello to many old friends. Maris and Alan Cash, Else Coventry, Keith Lawrence, Christopher Kemp, Julia Thomas, Marge Cousens, David Tilbury, Ken McConville, your brother Bill, Cath Vickers, and your childhood crush, Miss Kemp.

I do hope you see dear Julia. And at the risk of overstepping the mark I feel it is only right that I mention Julia. Julia, who you first met at Gordonstoun School Scotland, in 1966 and with whom you quietly and secretly fell in love. It took another 30 years for that love to be expressed and reciprocated. But as you so aptly describe it in your short allegory, The Unkind God,[9] fate stepped in and gave you Parkinson’s Disease on the eve of your retirement and at the beginning of your planned new life, with the love of your life, Julia. This impossible dilemma saw you give way to the hand you had been dealt. You retired to Bald Hill, alone, and began to play a different sort of game, on your ever shrinking playing field.

Dignity, grace, courage, resilience, faith, creativity, a sense humour and large scotch, combined well to keep you on the winning side for a long time. You confessed your attitude to your disease, after many wines on the veranda at Bald Hill cottage. You told me ‘The playing field is shrinking, but that doesn’t mean I stop playing hard at life. I just adapt to the size of the field’. I thought this sporting metaphor a little unusual coming from you my artistic friend. But you’ve always been full of surprises.

Jim, who else inspired you, other than your dear Grandmother Winifred? Certainly St Paul’s Corinthians Chapter 13 you adored. Not only as a beautiful piece of writing but an ideal for living, distilled in the one phrase. ‘Love never Faileth’ And the number of people who have come here to celebrate you, is a testament to your trust and faith in love.

And, tell me if I’m wrong, but your approach to education came from the Ancient Philosopher Plato. You quote in your book Word of Mouth this advice from Plato - 'Young citizens should live in a beautiful and healthy place; from everything they see and hear, loveliness, like a breeze should pass into their souls, and teach them without their knowing it the truth of which it is a manifestation. In such an atmosphere they will not only acquire a natural grace and proportion of bearing and character, but an instinctive sense of what is fair and what is foul in nature and in art; and this instinctive sense is a kind of anticipation of a rational understanding of the nature of good and evil’. [10]

I am right, aren’t I? We have been your students and you passed through our souls like a breeze and taught us an instinct for good, without us ever knowing.

To go one further Jim, let me suggest that W.S. Gilbert, also informed your approach to life. You love his lyrics and stories full of social commentary, romance and mathematical wit. Could this be one of the reasons why you produced 32 Gilbert and Sullivan productions in your lifetime. Your favourite quote was from The Yeoman of the Guard - ‘There is humour in all things, and the truest philosophy is that which teaches us to find it, and make the most of it’. And you did Jim, you did … and how we laughed. You made us laugh and laugh and…

At the bottom of your garden stands a statue, created by the wonderful Tanya Bartlett, that will eventually have a new home at The Armidale School, for which it was originally destined. That statue is of you, the teacher, and a young pupil. It has lived in your beautiful place for four years; its bronze warmed by the lovely breezes and cloaked by purple Jacaranda blossoms. As you know, it depicts the instant, inspiration flickers in the fleeting moment the teacher lights the spark that stirs the imagination of his pupil. It’s a beautiful thing. But you were so deeply humbled by it, you refused to let it go to The Armidale School until …well now.

But to me, and I am sure to others who have seen it, it captures everything that you represent. For most of your adult life you lit the spark of Faith, Hope and Love in all our lives. We are so very grateful Jungle. We will always remember and always celebrate.

How I will miss the endless hours on the veranda looking out across those smoky paddocks or drinking in the shining starry nights, in your company. It is a familiar, visceral memory for many of us, who floated to Macksville to spend time in the wash of your wisdom and wit. I am going to embarrass you by quoting back to you a little of the poem you wrote about that view, that enchanted all who came to see you. You said in an unguarded piece of eloquence. ‘...I am part of this, for closer than the hills, are fields and trees of grass which I can touch and feel and smell… I see and touch and feel and drink the air which gives me life, and stirs my soul to song. I know my land and I belong’. [11]

I spoke to you on the phone four days before ‘the still dews of quietness, took from your soul the strain and stress’. [12] You asked after Suzie and my girls and then we sang together, the old Music Hall song, ‘All the nice girls love a sailor...’. Then before you went, I sang once more for you. Do you remember? Let me remind you.

(sing) ‘When I go grow too old to Dream, I’ll have you to remember,

When I grow too old to dream Your love will live in my heart. So kiss me my sweet, And so let us part, And when I grow too old to dream, That kiss will live in my heart.

After you’ve gone, Life will go on, Time will be tenderly melting our tears.

Yet will I find, You in my mind, Beckoning over the years.

When I go grow too old to Dream, I’ll have you to remember,

When I grow too old to dream, Your love will live in my heart.

So kiss me my sweet, And so let us part,

And when I grow too old to dream, That kiss will live in my heart.’ [13]

Jim as another, but lesser Bard than you, put it…

‘Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’. [14]

Love to you Jim, from all of us. There will be no other like you.

Best wishes and safe travels. We’ll see you sometime soon.

Yours always,

Pete. xx.

[1] Hymn - For All the Saints Who from Their Labours Rest by William W. How, 1823-1897

[2] ibid

[3] Hymn – Jerusalem by William Blake, 1757-1827

[4] Hymn - The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended by John Ellerton, 1826 - 1893

[5] Hymn - For All the Saints Who from Their Labours Rest by William W. How, 1823-1897

[6] Character - The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, 1812 - 1870

[7] Hymn - The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended by John Ellerton, 1826 - 1893

[8] Hymn - For All the Saints Who from Their Labours Rest by William W. How, 1823-1897

[9] Word of Mouth by Jim Graham. Envoi – A Tale of Thwarting the Disciple of the Unkind God. An Allegory.

[10] Word of Mouth by Jim Graham. Chapter 1, page32.

[11] Word of Mouth by Jim Graham. Chapter 1, page33.

[12] Hymn - Dear Lord and Father of Mankind by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807 – 1892.

[13] Song – When I Grow Too Old to Dream by Oscar Hammerstein II, 1895 – 1960.

[14] Play – Hamlet by William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616.

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