First I would like to tell you a little of his background: Ted was of bog Irish stock on both sides of his family: one of his forebears, Cornelius Wholohan of Tipperary, was a convict, sentenced in 1831 to transportation for life. One of his great grandfathers, Thomas Kennedy, came freely from Ireland with two of his brothers in the 1850s during the gold rush and settled in Araluen. (The family has had connections with that beautiful place ever since.)
His mother’s mother, Mary O’Brien, we know as Wowie, came from Ireland with two of her sisters in 1875. Wowie, a Gaelic speaker, was a woman of great faith who Marnie says expressed a strong Celtic spirituality rather than any blind religiosity and that this was readily absorbed by Ted as a young boy.
His Irish heritage remained a powerful force throughout his life. He identified strongly with the Irish “travellers”, the “tinkers”, and often talked of the parallels between them and the aboriginal people.
His parents of course were a very strong influence and it was at the family home in Marrickville where he first encountered the reality of people in need who came to his father’s medical practice. Here poor people were given warm personal welcome and were not asked to pay for their medical care.
His mother, Peg, our Nonnie, lived into her nineties. She was also a woman of deep faith, intolerant of injustice, with a strong sense of what was right. She was one to fearlessly speak her mind. She cherished Ted.
He was also much loved by the late Maisie Rohan, another strong Irish influence, who nurtured him for most of her life.
His sister Marnie, who needs no introduction in this company, shared with her brother a very deep friendship. She describes him as having educated her to a new vision of the church and the gospels which allowed her to re-direct her focus and energies to the street retreats and to her ongoing engagement with the poor and the marginalised.
From my own perspective I knew and loved Ted, of course for his vision and his tireless work on this earth, but also as a somewhat unconventional uncle who surprised us and who understood us. When my three brothers and I were little children he arrived one day to surprise us with the gift of a puppy– of course without first consulting our parents; he would take us on long adventures through the countryside and he would often arrive unexpectedly at all hours of the day and night. He never travelled with any luggage; he was spontaneous and unpredictable and always made the time to be with us for family celebrations, even if he was on the way to somewhere else. He taught us what our faith is really about; he was always there for us at times of great sorrow in the family, as well as at times of great joy.
Ted was a complicated man, a man of many passions: he loved poetry and music, theatre, good food and wine and conversation, and he also had an obsession about second hand shops where he would scavenge for old books and old things of beauty and old things that “would come in handy one day.” This interest apparently was inherited from one of his grandfathers (and at times I worry that I feel the stirrings of it in myself.) It became a slight madness and anyone who has visited Burrawang in recent years will understand the extent of this, however he was delighted that the family in recent times has been able to use some of the many beautiful leadlight windows and old doors and old handles and taps and God knows what…he had collected over many years in the building of a little house at his beloved Araluen.
Ted was always able to respond to people with humanity and understanding. At the time of my wedding my father was gravely ill in hospital. I was upset that he would likely be unable to attend the wedding but Ted told me not to worry – he would marry John and I at my father’s bedside. Weddings at that time however were meant to be held only in a church and not anywhere else, but Ted’s paperwork looked fine – the entry in the church register states that we were married at “St Vincent’s” – he just left off the word “Hospital”.
He was not one to be constrained by convention or by regulations that had no relevance or compassion and he battled fiercely against intolerance, prejudice, racism and hypocrisy. His church was boundless and was nurturing of the human spirit, not strangled by empty or meaningless rituals for their own sake.
When he was in hospital a few years ago after one of his major strokes, a young occupational therapist told me that she was concerned that after having his shower Ted did not dry between his toes. She was worried that this indicated some bodily neglect caused by the stroke. I told her gently that Ted had probably never in his life dried between his toes and was most unlikely to start now because his mind was always concentrating on the bigger picture, on things that were important, on things that mattered.
The past few years have been a very difficult time for Ted and for all who have watched his gradual decline. The loss of his independence and particularly his mobility must have been deeply frustrating for him, though in the early times he managed to maintain his close contact with people, not by his usual personal visits, but by telephone, in our experience making more than forty phone calls in each day- just to keep in touch with people- just to make sure they were OK.
Finally, on behalf of the family I would like to extend our gratitude to all the friends, too numerous for me to mention by name, who have supported Ted so magnificently for many years; to the staff of St Ezekiel’s for taking care of him so very well (he ate more vegetables there than ever before in his life), and particularly for their care through the very difficult times of great challenge for Ted, and for them; and also to the staff of Concord Hospital who so gently eased him through his final days.
We love you, Uncle Edward, and we’ll very much miss your presence in our lives, however we will be forever grateful for your legacy.
May the wind be always at your back as you, the ultimate Irish traveller, continue on your journey.