“Just to let you know how much you are loved, we fought the last cancer together and we’ll face this together. You are not on your own, you are my one and only – your Gezza.”
My Mum wrote these words to her husband – my Dad – following an X-ray at a local GP. He was told a spot was found on one of his lungs, and had been referred to the Peter MacCallum Centre for an official diagnosis.
In February 2017, Richard Brown was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. It is a rare, and aggressive cancer with a low average life expectancy of 2 to 4 months without treatment. Currently, there is no cure for this type of cancer.
It was not until late January 2018 that a minor stroke meant that professionals at Peter MacCallum Centre believed chemotherapy and other forms of treatment were no longer a safe option for Dad. The following months were spent in and out of palliative care until Dad’s passing in the early hours of May 6th, in his home surrounded by family.
This year will be our first Father’s Day without him.
Dad was the epitome of everything you could possibly want in a father. He was brave, incredibly protective, and could make anyone smile in the darkest of moments. Life was an adventure by his side whether it be a simple car ride or going out for a meal, you knew you were bound to end up in fits of laughter. From bike rides to the park and playing tag at the playground, Dad made every moment a lasting memory. When I was younger I sat in his shed playing a small unplugged electric guitar, strumming with the ring off an old beer can while we sang ‘Better Be Home Soon’ by Crowded House over and over again. It became our song throughout the years. I now sing solo.
We were taught valuable life lessons from Dad, like maybe spiders weren’t so scary, and that McDonald’s was a well-deserved treat after a trip to the doctor’s. He was eager to help us with any task or homework that was thrown our way, and then wondered what grade ‘HE’ got. Time spent together was time well spent. It’s also impossible to not mention Dad’s alter-ego, ‘Grand Master’, a character he portrayed when we were little which resulted in us being tackled, tickled in pillow fights, and often one of us injured and Mum telling Dad off. No amount of injury would belittle the excitement whenever Dad said “Grand Master has returned”.
Picturing Dad over the years we can see him in his blue overalls ready to find something to fix. It didn’t matter how much was paid for an outside professional service: Dad would wait for the tradie to turn up, have a long chat, offer them a coffee and quickly run off to put his overalls on and be ready to help and get his hands dirty.
The past year was a struggle and really tough with many obstacles thrown Dad’s way, but through all the adversity he never failed to remain strong and positive, only further exemplifying the resilience of his spirit. He made sure to tell us all every night how much he loved us.
Mum and Dad had been married 26 years. Mum says she feels that she has now lost the love of her life, her “one and only”.
“Richard and I met in 1984 at the Customs House Hotel in Williamstown when I was 20. That night he serenaded me with ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd, a band I never failed to hear enough of throughout the years. He was charming, had a great sense of humour, was an excellent conversationalist and was completely carefree.
“We spoke for hours that night, and as he drove me home I knew he was the one. From that day onwards, we were inseparable.”
After getting married on September 21, 1991 they built a life together in their home in Yarraville, and brought my siblings and I into the world.
He wasn’t just my Dad. His death has left a gaping hole in many lives. His legacy lives on in fond memories shared by many, including his older sisters Sharon and Leigh.
“Richard was the voice of reason and a calming influence in our family. He was extremely funny, a people person who loved a chat and a party. He made many friends, and those who knew him well, will know that Richard had a gentle and sensitive soul. He was laid back and kept his many talents under wraps.
“During childhood, Richard’s best friend and loyal companion was Bessie, the wonder dog. Many adventures were had by the two of them and Bessie never left his side, making it particularly handy for us during our hide and seek games.
“He achieved Scout of the Year award in 1975, and became a Queens Scout in 1980. He had a true interest in history and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of military history. He not only knew every detail of famous battles, he could reel off any dates, stats, battle plans and war heroes from ancient to modern times.”
“Richard really loved a shed so after leaving high school he became an Electrical Apprentice at the Williamstown Naval Dockyards. This was the perfect career for Richard with lots of maths, complex machinery and problems to solve. During this period he won Victorian Electrical Apprentice of the year and represented the state at the nationals in Canberra. When Richard finished his apprenticeship at the dockyards he moved to Toyota and became a leading hand. He thought the best part of this job was the friendships he made there.”
Doug Anderson was friends with dad for 38 years and recalls their teen years growing up with his relentless antics in the workplace.
“I met Richard in 1980 when we started our apprenticeships together at the Naval Dockyards Williamstown. He had just turned 16. I knew he had a silver spoon from the government for being a New Year’s Day baby and that he rode a skateboard down the Westgate Bridge before it was opened.
“In the 90s Richard and I were employed at Toyota – I couldn’t get away from him. I would walk past him each day and get a very loud ‘hello Douglas’ with a big smile. He would be flat out doing a crossword or reading one of his little war books. He rose up through the ranks at Toyota [throughout his 23 years there], always remembering where he started from and sticking up for his work mates and his team.
“We had some interesting times at Toyota. For example when he found out about one guys belief that you shouldn’t read horoscopes. He would chase him around the plant reading out the guy’s horoscope to him. (And if you saw him run, it wasn’t pretty.)
“I popped a button on my pants when I was in the toilet one day. The button rolled out under the door. When I opened the door the button was between Richard’s boots. Of all the people it had to be him to see it. He ran out the toilet to the workshop to tell everyone, at what he called ‘the speed of a startled gazelle’.
“We always had a laugh, he never lost his sense of humour as can be seen in his wheelchair dash cam while in palliative care.
“I will miss our talks about how the kids are going and what they are doing. He was extremely proud of you all. It has been an honour to call him my mate, I will miss him.”
Adrian Hunter, Bruce Dowse and Craig Hardeman had been friends with Dad since they were just boys in scouts or through mutual mates. They describe their mateship of over 35-years as more like a “brotherhood”.
Hunter says, “Since his passing I feel empty, in his company I felt that I belonged. I think about Brownie every single day and I have kept the handout from his funeral in my car – he rides with me every day. He was just a classic Aussie larrikin and good bloke.”
The trio said, “The tribe is now one less, the gatherings will never be the same, the laughter will never be as loud, and the wit will never be as sharp. The many years we all have shared, just wondrous times, from the massive card nights to the floors, tables and sweaty nights at Nicabella’s. From the camping trips to the New Year’s Eve parties, to the engagements, marriages and the birth of kids – crikey it’s been a wild ride.”
If they could say one last thing to him, they say they would tell him, “for now keep the garage door open, the darts at hand, the frothies chilled, the BBQ gassed up, the spit turning, the campfires burning, and the wit sharp, for we will be there soon enough.”
Adrian recalls the last conversation he shared with Richard as a “very special and unforgettable moment that will stay with him each day”.
“With what little strength he had, he mustered up the courage to hold his hand out to shake my hand and then placed his other hand on top of mine and patted it a few times. If I had realised that he was trying to say goodbye I would never have let go. The last few words we shared were ‘see you in a couple of days Brownie,’. He responded ‘okay’.”
Everybody hates cancer, but losing your most precious bond and best mate to the disease is nothing less than bitterly heartbreaking.
This Father’s Day on September 2nd, spend quality time with your dad. Tell him how much you love him – do something, for those of us who no longer can.
In honour of my dad, Richard Brown. Happy Father’s Day mate.