(My eulogy for my suddenly departed brother, Thursday 31 January, Melbourne)
Evening’s empire has returned into sand…
First let me thank you all for coming here today. Thanks also for the hundreds of cards, emails, phone calls, texts and Facebook posts that have been sent in condolence. It’s been a hard time for Philip’s wife Gaby especially but your messages have been a sign of the great friendship extended to my brother and a sign of the love of many people.
They are a source of great solace.
I should mention, as Frank said, he and Philip went back a long way, all the way back to a memorable appearance on New Faces when Philip and Frank seemed like just boys. The family beamed with pride
...Both of them had a lot more hair.
So it’s fitting that they should be together again for one last gig, notwithstanding the sad circumstances that have caused us to gather here today to remember the life and times of a remarkable man.
I keep thinking that this whole event here today just isn’t right. My “plan” was always that I would go first secure in the knowledge that my wife Karen would be able to find the current list of songs that I want played or sung at my departure and she would send them down to Philip who would find them and put together another of those wonderful slide shows and audio presentations that he loved doing.
But not to be.
Philip Gardner has been taken from us way too early and we will all be the poorer.
My brother and I did have quite different lives. I’m not going to go into where I don’t think I compare so well. But we both started from a family life where our mother was determined that we would have the best education possible, something from which she was deprived until quite late in her life.
I am sure that Philip took more advantage.
He was a dedicated student from the start and sailed through his tertiary education and it kindled in him a desire to be a teacher and a scholar for the rest of his life. He studied throughout and brought a discipline to his work and his study that I could only admire and envy. His dedication to a single job was, I keep using the word, remarkable. Hundreds of his colleagues admired and respected him.
Thousands of students came to know of him as a teacher standing up in front a class – always in the state education system, a system he supported and indeed advocated with considerable devotion and passion.
Some of Philip’s thinking about the virtues and necessity of a strong state education system were learned at the knee of one of our great Moreland High School teachers Bill Hannan, another passionate advocate for the teaching profession and for state education.
It was only after Philip retired that he was allowed the freedom to say what was on his mind about our education and political systems and what they got right and wrong. The letters columns of The Age were frequently used to make his point and on the odd occasion, for instance when the state government built the desalination plant, he could even be seen in the street demos opposing it.
One of Philip’s greatest gifts was his ability to make and hold friends. Years ago, possibly watching as I sat with my apparently usual sullen attitude we were out ‘visiting’ our parents’ friends, our mother noted then Philip’s ability to instantly mix and connect with others. It was something in his character that stayed with him from childhood throughout all his life.
A similar trait was his loyalty to friends and colleagues. It served him throughout his career and profession as a teacher. Later in life there were dozens of people who came to know him and depend on him to help master the deep secrets of the internet. Dozens of websites owe their birth and continuing life to him. Almost all were created for the love of it including my own little extravaganza in Sydney called Cinema Reborn. Among others there were wonderful websites he maintained for Karen and her Electric Shadows Bookshop, one for Bill Hannan’s poetry and another for Deborah and Kevin for their Mount Bernard olive oil farm. He even looked after one for his barber. Goodness knows what we are all going to do now that’s he gone.
Among us today are his friends Barry Swale who lived across the road from us in Tinning Street, and with whom he probably went to Mrs Woods’ kindergarten, Peter Thorneycroft whom Philip met at North Brunswick primary school, and Mick Otway whom Philip met at Moreland High School.
Then there is the larger than life Bill Conn, another from Moreland High School who’s here today. Bill managed to get out of Melbourne’s inner north and head off to NIDA. Bill became a highly regarded professional actor, teacher and dramaturg. Most will know him especially, and he’ll hate me for mentioning it, from those famous Sultana Bran commercials. But there are still some among us who remember Bill Conn and Philip in Bill Hannan’s remarkable translation and production of Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid at a Moreland High School speech night. ...Maybe not a lot remember any Moreland High School speech nights...but I do remember that one and I’m sure Bill does...Our family was again beaming with pride.
Those friendships stayed true all those years even when Bill Conn started supporting the Sydney Swans. Philip of course remained doggedly true to his beloved North Melbourne Kangaroos and even after Boomer Harvey’s inglorious exit, he still went to most of their matches and never once called for Brad Scott to be sacked.
Still four premerships in your lifetime aint bad..
I was told not to mention Wayne Carey...
Part of the reason for Philip’s longstanding friendships of course was because in his mid-teens he took the fateful first step to becoming a musician. The people I mentioned before were all part of various bands together and they stayed friends for life. It was for him, his most special thing, far more than a hobby.
Philip played professionally for decades and especially later in life devoted himself to composing and singing some quite unique songs of his own.
Franciscus Henri told me that one night when he and Philip were out playing some gig or other the duo were asked if they did any Bob Dylan. “No, said Philip, “and he doesn’t do any of ours!”
Dylan in fact was one of his idols and the shelves at Montmorency and Harmer’s Haven are packed with just about every version of every song the great man ever wrote or sang.
Someone who stood beside him for most probably all of his adult life was his loved wife Gaby. They shared their lives in a very close and loving way, supporting each other, working hard as a team. They pursued their own and supported each other’s interests. They travelled together, they both wrote stories. They enjoyed food and wine and the pleasures of each other’s company.
Philip and Gaby’s mutual friends were many especially the first Tuesday Wine Group and the Harmer’s Haven Old Buggers.
I should also mention that after a lifetime of taking in stray dogs and cats, Philip had recently joined Starting Over Dog Rescue, a wonderful charity and one to which you are encouraged to donate in Philip’s memory. Someone else will say a little more about that later.
So..to Philip’s legacy. What will we have as memories.
We will remember ...
A man who served the people and who dedicated his life to the teaching of others.
A man who never stopped learning, whose curiosity never faded.
A man who committed himself to family and friends throughout his life
A man whose gentle demeanour touched all those around him
A man full of love for others
A man taken far too soon.
I and many, many others will miss you dearly my brother.
Dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.
Quotes from Mr Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan