Reflections on the Life of Jack Callahan
Delivered by Don Callahan at the Requeim Mass held at St.Patricks Cathedral Ballaarat on 23rd March, 2002.
Thank you Monsignor Nolan
Friends and Family of Jack
Welcome. This is a day of intense emotions. We grieve the loss of a gentleman and a gentle man. We gather to reflect on, and rejoice in, his legacy.
My name is Don Callahan, the eldest of Jack’s nine children. This reflection is a snap shot of the memories and feelings of my sisters: Christine, Bernadette, Rosemary and Louise, and my brothers: Philip (aka Ned), Stephen, John and Julian.
Two and a half years ago, we said goodbye to Kath, the eternal love of Jack’s life; and many of you are here again today to honour the death of the man himself. The generation has changed, the baton has been passed on and his personality and values live on in each of his children, his 38 grandchildren and his 3 great grand-sons.
Dad died in a week after contracting pneumonia following prostate surgery. We didn’t expect this to happen. We boasted proudly to our friends: Jack plays 18 holes of golf 3 times a week! We assumed immortality. But his God has called him to account and his balance sheet and P & L will reflect his careful attention to the details. This mattered to him greatly.
As our dear and eloquent friend Jack Pearce stated at Dad’s bedside vigil: Watch carefully! The old lion has taught you all how to live, and now he is teaching you how to die. His daughters sang softly, close to him like angels, as he took his final breath. Dad’s lessons in life were subtle, refined and reflective, he taught by example, he led an exemplary life alongside Kath, his soulmate in their 53 years of marriage.
Dad’s advice to us in his speech in response to a toast at their golden wedding anniversary celebration in January 1996 was “When someone comes up to me in the street and asks: Jack, What has been the secret of your successful marriage? He would say: Well, there are three things that a man should do: earn a good living, love his children and do what you’re bloody well told!
Jack Peter Callahan was born on 29 October 1920 at Nova House in Ballarat, the second son of Jim and Iris Callahan. Soon called “Jack”, because John sounded too close to “Don”, his elder brother, Dad attended St. Patrick’s Primary School in Drummond street and then St Patrick’s College in Sturt Street where he excelled at his studies, especially in Latin, Greek and Roman History, English Literature, and of course Music. In 1937, aged 16, he was awarded first class honours for Intermediate Violin. The yellowing framed parchment hangs proudly above the grand piano at Landsborough Street.
Young Jack, or “Skeeter”, or the “flea” as he was nick-named by some, matriculated to Melbourne University where he completed a Diploma of Commerce part-time while working as a clerk in the Navy Offices at Victoria Barracks. Australia was at war, and times were tough.
A young petite blonde called Kathleen Forte was one of Ballarat’s finest who worked in Melbourne and came home on weekends. They met on a train. With an eye for a well-turned heel, Jack fell in love with her and they became engaged to marry after several years of courtship. Mum told me in recent years that she initially thought he was pretty “nerdy” but his soft charms won her over in the end. They were 25 and 23 when they married in this beautiful place on 12 January, 1946. After honeymooning at Lorne in a caravan (those dammed mosquitoes put Mum off caravanning forever!), they settled in a little 2 bedroom house in Doveton Street. Philip (Ned) was born in 1951. We moved to a 3-bedroom house at 501 Drummond Street and then to a 5-bedroom house at 106 Dawson Street in 1963 on the arrival of Louise, the ninth of us.
When Jack was just 23, his father Jim died suddenly at age 53. In the same year, his elder brother Don died a P.O.W on the Burma railway. Amidst these devastating losses, Jack and his mother Iris developed and ran a successful real estate and insurance agency, Early & Co, at an office at 44 Lydiard Street. Dad was “in loco parentis” at this time, helping his mother raise a large and young family as well as starting his own in 1946. He remained a devoted, generous and supportive son to Iris and brother to Carmel, Basil, Francis, Peter, Maureen and Paul throughout his long life.
In the 1950s, Jack played bowls rather than golf and entertained many with his comic antics on guitar with Dan Gavin. Their renditions of “My Old Man’s a Dustman” or the “Hawaiian War Chant”, both dressed in grass skirts and tutus, while tossing old carrots, parsnips and cabbage leaves into the audience, were in the spirit of the great clowns of classic vaudeville.
Mum once remarked: “Your father plays five instruments – piano, violin, guitar, recorder and the fool!” Paul Callahan reminded me just yesterday of Jack playing peek-a-boo through the drying nappies on the clothes-horse while Nanna tried vainly to keep us focussed on saying the family rosary! The giggles were infectious and the rosary was often abandoned to convulsive laughter!
Dad was a devout but not pious Catholic. His contribution to the choir in this very Cathedral, and to his pastoral work in the church community, are both matters of record and reasons for gratitude.
Dad’s version of fun was whimsical, droll and clever, just like the man himself. After Mum died, he advised me that he wanted Pat Cashin to arrange his funeral and bury him but there was one condition. “And what’s that?” I enquired. “I have to be dead first” was his dead-pan reply.
There are 31 grand and great-grandchildren here today, kids who remember some of Pa’s routines. Here are 3. Spider up the arm, ball toss, nose and tongue. Children loved his style of entertainment. He was child-like but not childish.
Jack never tired of meeting new people – visiting Bern and Dave in Townsville, Rose and Phil in Sydney. He could approach the humble and the famous equally warmly and confidently. To our astonishment, he once brought Johnny O’Keefe home in 1961 to visit a disabled friend, Patricia Morris, who was staying with us and was a big fan of the young rocker. JOK gave Pat a ring from his hand, in the spirit of the song, “She wears my Ring”, and Pat’s love for Jack was confirmed forever.
His reading tastes were truly catholic. He was fascinated by foreign places, a vicarious traveller with an encyclopaedic recall. A wordsmith of elegance, eloquence and erudition. I once asked Dad: “Do you know the only English language word that contains the five vowels in sequence!” (I knew the answer was ‘facetious’) He thought for a moment and replied ‘facetious’. “Very good Dad’, I replied, a little patronizingly. ‘And there’s another”, he proffered, ‘abstemious!’.
He was tolerant of race, religion and colour.
Music. Where do I start? Classics, jazz, swing, folk ballads and sacred music. Today’s musical selections reflect some of his broad interest. Images of Jack playing his guitar and singing on a beach at View Point in the 60s and 70s, while we romped around will stay forever. “Franky and Johnny’ – years of brotherly collaboration. Playing guitar with the Golden City Jazz Band. Herb and Mal Jennings, Ron Rosser, Bob Pattie. Jamming with his grandchildren. Always interested in the instrument and the performance.
Community Service. Jaycees – life long friendships with Dan and Claire Gavin, Stan and Marion Bracks, Alan and Merle Widmer, Ken and Jean Picot, Lee and Eileen Coutts, Tom and Kay Gurry, Les Kennedy and so on.
Pastoral Work. Jack expressed his love for his God through music and service to others less fortunate than himself. In essence, the Good Samaritan. Meals on Wheels (but not wanting to eat it himself – not up to Kath’s standard of cooking). Playing music for the folks at QEH where he tended to Iris several times a week. A doer, not a do-gooder.
His touch was light, tender, sensitive. In music and style. He was a Sensitive New Age Guy ahead of his time.
Ned recalls accompanying dad along his country hotel rounds as an estate agent in the 50s. The hot days and the sweet memories of a cool raspberry and soda delivered by dad to the car for his young son. (Children not allowed in the pub).
In year 10, Ned doing his homework on a Sunday in the lounge room at Dawson St, with special permission to listen to Don Lunn on 3UZ. Dad answering the door to a salesman. Salesman: Good afternoon Sir, do you have an encyclopaedia?” Jack: “No, but what would you like to know?”
Sadie Callahan recalled dad saying in recent times “One day I won’t be able to pick you up Sadie”. And she said on Wednesday “That day has come!”
The Fogarty family called him Phil Silvers. There was a bit of Bo Jangles and Buddy Holly in Dad, but of course he was uniquely Jack.
He amazed Phil Proops with his knowledge of South America and Asia. An armchair traveller and a terrified pillion passenger on John’s Suzuki Katana.
Every day we read about so-called heroes in the papers, who are often little more than celebrities flirting with, and becoming victims of, the inanity of fame.
I reckon our dad was a hero. Terry Callahan said that Jack and his brothers and sisters had great integrity. We have indeed been fortunate to be their children.
Jack loved his family, his God, his music and people. To the end, he remained perplexed by golf.
Thank you family and friends.
Order of Service
Entrance Hymn - God Gives His People Strength.
Opening Prayer – Monsignor Nolan
Eulogy – Don Callahan
Lighting of the Pascal Candle
Placement of the Pall
First Reading – Matthew Chapter 6 Vs 25-27, 31-33
Responsorial Psalm – My soul is longing for your peace
Second Reading – John, Chapter 6 Vs 35 – 40.
Gospel Reading – John Chapter 14, Vs 1-6
Prayers of the Faithful
Procession of Gifts
Offertory Hymn – Love divine, all love’s excelling
Communion Hymns – All people that on earth do dwell.
Reflection – Ave Maria, Frank Callahan