A great man
My Dad passed away on November 7th following a short and fairly unexpected battle with cancer. We had his funeral on Friday the 14th and though we’re all sad that he’s gone, everyone’s been saying that they thought it was a beautiful and celebratory service for a generous and warm man, and it’s only a shame that he couldn’t be there to see it – if the tribute speeches hadn’t made him well up with emotion, then the fact that around 300 of his family, friends and colleagues squeezed into the room to be part of the ceremony surely would have.
Along with my aunt & uncle, 2 of Dad’s best mates, and his financial adviser, I was asked to say a few words for him and several people have requested a transcript.
We have the entire audio recording of the service, so if anyone who wasn’t able to make it would like to listen to it please get in contact with me and I’ll give you the download links.
4th July 1946 – 7th November 2014
Dad’s illness came as a shock to us all: I was sitting at home in Bristol on October 17th when I got a text message saying that he had something he needed to tell me.
Here we are now, 4 weeks later with Dad gone and us reflecting on his life, and my question to myself preparing this was: How well did you know Bill?
It’s a tough question, because though I’d looked around at him my whole life it wasn’t until the last moments that I think I really saw him. It was quite challenging given his oftimes obstreperous nature, but in writing this I’ve learned a great deal – both new, and old.
The relationship between fathers and sons is one of the great frontiers of modern psychology. Though you’d never describe Dad & I as being particularly close, we both felt a very strong emotional bond. I moved to England 10 years ago and we’d generally talk on the phone about once every 6 months – with the dialogue usually sounding like something from a Samuel Beckett play. Dad always wore his emotions on his sleeve, and every time I came back to visit Adelaide from the UK when it came time for me to board the plane home he’d hug me and well up with tears. We used to rib him because he also burst into tears at the end of watching The Karate Kid on video, too. However when he told me about his cancer I cried for about 3 hours, and came back to be with him & Mum as quickly as I could.
In talking with family & friends in the last few days it became clear to me that one of the reasons for our disconnect was that though born in the Baby Boom, his values were very much those of his parents’ generation. Family comes first, and provide for the future. He was very devoted to his family – both immediate, and extended. A devoted husband, and very devoted to his mother, our granny, Winifred. Being Poppa to Harper in later years was his absolute pride and joy. He was the brother of Michael and Vikki, brother in law to Bob, uncle to Simon, Monique, Bianca, Jenny, Aaron, Leanne, Sharon and Natalie, and cousin to a network of cousins so vast that there’s no way we could name them all. But yes – Family comes first. Provide for the future.
His values were often glaringly different to what his peers had moved on to, which made him quite the enigma.
As a son you like to feel like you’re making your own way, striking your own path – though he never told me directly, Mum said that he was very proud of Tim & I for forging our own ways forward.
At the age of 22 when I had my first software development job I came home one night and he sat me down at the dining room table with a piece of paper and imperiously demanded I tell him how much I was earning. I defensively made up a number and he started drawing out a chart – “Right, so after tax that’s about this much, so you need to put away $X in voluntary super contributions, and private health insurance will be about $Y, and then you need to save this much a week…”, and having just found the buzz of my first ever salary and seeing it disappearing before my eyes I shouted “What in the hell for?!”, and he looked at me confusedly and said, “To provide for your retirement!”. I said, “Great! So I’ll live in the lap of luxury provided I don’t starve to death by the age of 25!”.
He was a very decent man – honest, trustworthy, driven by integrity, and followed the rules to a tee (much to the amusement and frustration of some of his contemporaries). That seems like something one might easily gloss over – however as a role model for growing lads I think it’s put us in good stead.
As we’ve heard and know, Dad was a chap interested and engaged with the world and people around him, and as well as a lengthy career teaching Tech Studies he was also heavily involved in the Sturt and the Bridgewater Bulls Baseball clubs, the parents committee up at Torrens Park Scout Group and also Netherby Kindergarten & Unley Swimming Club, he played cornet in a band for a time, played and umpired football, played golf, lawn bowls, ten pin bowling, worked part time at Mitre 10, and helped run the Technology Teachers’ Association and the Pedal Prix.
Quite a busy guy, and so sometimes my main awareness of what he was doing when he wasn’t thundering down the corridor at our place to issue instructions to us or flicking the bathroom lightswitch on and off to signal that he’d decided we’d been in the shower long enough was from hearing stories from various mates I’d met through Scouting who’d been taught by him: “Ah, is Mr Standing your DAD?”. Cue the inevitable story.
To this day when someone greets me, “Good morning Mr Standing”, I reflexively correct them – “No, that’s my Dad’s name”.
Dad retired from teaching at the age of 58 ½. There had been a staff session at the end of that year with an educational psychologist, who had told them how you had to relate to the kids and behave more like them in order to get them to engage and learn. Dad put his hand up and said, “What about teaching them values? Are you telling me I can’t teach them the values, manners and conduct that my parents passed on to me?”. He packed up, left all his teaching references and materials at the school, came home and said “The teaching’s gone.”. And retired, able now to enjoy the life he’d worked so hard for.
So what have I learned about my Dad over the last few weeks?
It’s fair to say that he was always conscious of a bargain. I hate to think what effect his passing will have on Cheap as Chips at Mitcham will have on their bottom line. Mum said that they very nearly didn’t get engaged as a result of Dad’s thriftiness – she wanted him to get a pair of fitted black trousers from Fletcher Jones for their engagement party, and exasperated he said “But I can get THREE pairs for the price of those!”. Mum said “If you don’t go in there and get a proper pair of trousers, we’re not getting engaged”. So we’re all glad she won that round.
Dad also had a penchant for bright colours and for hats: something which seems to have made its way down my branch of the DNA. Tying these 2 things together, I can’t help think he’d be envious of my outfit today, not only for its obvious visual appeal but also because I got it for 50% off at Harris Scarfe.
In the short piece I wrote for Facebook to announce Dad’s passing, I mentioned that he was a man with 4 sheds – to me that’s very important. In trying to make some sense of life in a world without Bill Standing I stood in shed 2 and looked around and realized that everything in there was a work in progress, an artifact of a past endeavor, or to be repurposed or put to use at some future point. There are things out there that the knowledge of how to use has been lost to the thoughts and ken of mortal men.
In your home you display the things that you think are important. Dad’s office was in Shed 1: it could’ve been in the house but he preferred the shed. Whether it was for space, for proximity to the fridge, or the solitude we’re not entirely sure but if ever there was an archetype for the bloke and his shed, it was Dad.
If you look around that office, you won’t find an ego wall. You see photos of family and friends, his certificate from the Premier for service to the Pedal Prix, and his nomination for Australian of the Year in 2009. It wasn’t important to him whether he won – but it meant the world that someone had nominated him.
If you come and visit the Standing Ranch, take a look around and let it sink in – Bill did nearly all of that. He helped build the extension on the back of the house, and built the carport (both of which are still as structurally sound as they were the day they were put up). He designed, planted and maintained the gardens through a variety of incarnations and was an avid fruit & vegetable cultivator. He looked after the lawns, and then when he couldn’t be bothered mowing the entire thing he built the fence across the back yard so he didn’t have to look at it. He built most of the furniture in the house, from the telephone stand made of Burmese Teak that he’d reclaimed from an old milk churn in Byron Bay, to the beautiful rolltop desk he made at trade school. He installed carpet, dried fruit, had a small business making denim aprons to sell to high schools, fashioned things from metal (he won 1st prize at the Royal Adelaide Show for the silver tea set he made), he’d develop & print photographs, and he maintained and ran a seemingly never ending fleet of cars.
If you’re prepared to accept the idea that there’s such a thing as a renaissance that’s non-cultural, Dad truly was a genuine Renaissance Man.
One of his best friends who may be in the room said, “Bill wasn’t a bloke interested in cultural sophistication”. That’s not to say he was a complete philistine. He loved music from all parts of the spectrum (albeit nothing GOOD like Beatles or Led Zeppelin that we were interested as reappropriating as teenagers – what 14 year old can impress their schoolmates with the collected works of Neil Diamond?). Folk, rock, classical, jazz… He got very shirty with me when as a 16 year old I nicked a couple of the cassettes from the 32 piece copy he’d acquired of the recording of Beethoven’s Symphonies by Karl Bohm and the Berlin Philharmonic – not that he ever appeared to listen to them.
He professed to being a huge fan of Charles Dickens, and in the early 1970s bought the splendidly bound collected works in green you see in the top cupboard at our place. Last year when Mum & Dad came to visit me we discussed seeing some Dickens stuff in London, and he said “I’m looking forward to starting reading some of those now that I’m retired”. Dad had been retired 9 years at this point.
So I mentioned the devotion he had to his family – which very much covered current relatives, but genealogy was very much a passion too. He’d done extensive and active research into both his side of the family (Boehms and O’Connors), and Mum’s family (Walls). He had an almost tangible appreciation for the history of it all.
During Mum and Dad’s visit to Europe and the UK last year Dad experienced an absolute life highlight: travelling to the Menin Gate in Ypres (memorial of the first World War) to see Great Uncle Herman’s name on the honour roll. You can see in that picture the pride, excitement and joy he felt in being able to do that. In his trip diary it says “7th of October: BIG DAY TODAY!”. He told me with pride in his eyes, “I’m only the second person to have gone and seen that.”
Also on that trip they travelled up to a place just outside Liverpool called Wallasey to visit the house where Mum’s father lived and was born – a pilgrimage of sorts. I got a phonecall at work that afternoon from Dad, saying “Do you have a copy of your Grandfather’s birth certificate to hand? We’ve found the street, but we didn’t write down what number”. I’m baffled by the idea that you’d travel to the other side of the planet with singularity of purpose and not write down where it was you were meant to be headed. Anyway Dad knocked on the door of the place started talking to the woman who lived there, and were put in touch with an old lady round the corner who was a local historian, and spent the afternoon getting a wonderful bit of context and detail to the story. In hindsight, I’m very glad that I had a copy of the birth certificate stored online, and didn’t just make up a random house number.
Dad would happily talk to anyone and everyone – if he didn’t immediately know him, he’d generally win them around. “Hello, you’re so and so aren’t you? Or are you related to them?”. If they weren’t, then the discussion would soon go somewhere. Or in Europe it’d be “Is that an Australian accent? Where are you from?”. For someone who didn’t think he had any friends we were constantly amazed (and often bored as small children) at how long it would take us to get through Rundle Mall on a Friday night as Dad randomly ran into people from past or present and stopped to talk to all of them.
Another very important time in Dad’s life was the cruise to Fiji they went on in April 2013. They visited some schools on the island, and Dad had read that you could take money or things to donate to make their lives easier, so he rolled up with great bags full of pens and other stationery – collected from endless conferences and functions.
On the boat Dad would also stay up late listening to the musicians & talking with them, and befriended Waisale – a young man working on the cruise ship. Mum & Dad have more or less adopted Waisale as a son, and were delighted to fly him to Australia for Christmas, and gave him a guitar, a laptop, and a tablet. Make sure you’ve got your tissues ready, because to go with the slideshow in a minute we’ve got a song about Dad that Waisale’s recorded, and I’ve heard it 10 times so far and I think I’m down about 6 litres of salt water so far.
Mum & Dad also took 3 days to look around Fiji and went to another resort, and befriended Tonga: a barman at the resort. It was a hard life, and Dad was very proud to be able to help him out with minimal inconvenience to himself, but A$50 and it’d paid his childrens’ schoolfees.
So we now have extended family in Fiji as well.
Speaking of Fiji, I don’t know how many people know but Dad’s got a fountain named after him there. At the resort he was walking along playing Angry Birds or something, and managed to walk & fall face-first in the fountain – phone floating listlessly across the surface. Mum phoned the resort to ask something and said “Hello, this is Robyn Standing – you might not remember us, but my husband Bill and I stayed there, and…” and was cut off by the girl saying “Oh! Bill from the fountain?! Yes, we remember you – we’ve just had a staff meeting, and we had a vote, and we’ve renamed the fountain “Bill’s Fountain” in his honour!”.
We’ve all got our favourite Bill stories – from his persistent going down the street in his gardening clothes (much to Mum’s chagrin), and the unorthodox sight in the early 70s of Dad walking their Siamese cat around the block on a leash, through to his penchant for burying bizarrely large sums of small change in the back yard.
I’ve been talking about Dad for 10 minutes now and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. We could talk for hours – and I hope that you will come up and do so afterwards either here or at The Edinburgh – and we’d not stand a chance of covering the life of this unique and extraordinary man.
The morning after Dad’s passing my eyes sprang open at 6:30am and I thought “That tree on the front path needs trimming –we’re going to have a lot of visitors over the next few days!”, so I pulled on my pair of lairy tartan shorts, an I LOVE FIJI shirt, and some lime-green Crocs and went out trimming. Suddenly I stopped and looked at what I was doing, and realized – maybe we weren’t that close, but we’re very, very close.
Bye Dad. We love you, and we will miss you.
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