99% perfect

This post is the text of the eulogy I gave at my mum’s funeral, and a poem chosen and read by my sister Cathy at mum’s burial. Mum was an incredible person and a wonderful, inspirational role model.

We love you mum and will miss you very much. Thank you for everything.


mum-atcafe

Judith Mary Martin


“Some people make things happen, some people watch things happen and some people wonder what happened” to paraphrase Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 astronaut.

Judith Mary Martin – whose life we celebrate today – unquestionably falls into the category of people who made things happen. Mum may not have flown to the moon, but she most certainly reached for the stars.

Born in 1934 in country Victoria, Judy had an older sister Faye, and a twin sister Joy. When still a little girl, her parents separated, and she moved with her mum and two sisters to Melbourne. It was the middle of the depression era: they lived in abject poverty, surviving on bread & dripping at times, doing midnight runners to avoid paying rent, and going to the pawnbrokers to get items out of hock when her mum – a factory worker – got paid. As a young girl, mum had already decided she would never work in a factory; she would get educated, work hard, and make sure that her family would have a stable and loving home life. She achieved all that and much more, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Having to leave school at grade 8 – aged 14 – wasn’t a great start. Mum’s first job was at the Imperial War Graves Commission, but she really wasn’t cut out for office work. She toyed with the idea of becoming a nun, but in the end chose nursing as her vocation. Once the decision was made, she then made it happen. Trouble was, nursing training couldn’t begin till she was 18, and mum was just 16. So she hounded the nursing director till she got a job as a probationer and then after significantly more hounding, she entered nursing training at the tender age of 17 years and 5 months. She was in her element, she loved the work, and she loved the girls she worked with. She said that those years were the best of her life, the most carefree, and loads of fun.

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Mum completes her nursing training

She worked hard, was determined to succeed, and eventually became Nurse Unit Manager (Charge Nurse) of the entire operating theatre department at a major Victorian Hospital. Although she left school at 14, she returned to study part-time aged 52, first to complete her VCE and then to graduate with a Bachelor of Nursing in 1992 aged 58; all the while working, and caring for her youngest children. She was still working two nights a week at the age of 72.

Life was anything but plain sailing. Two weeks after she started as a nursing probationer, her adored father died – he was 42 and she just 16; still a child.

Mum married twice, had 10 children and 8 grandchildren. For much of the early years, there was very little money, and life was a constant struggle. By mum’s account, her first marriage was very unhappy and didn’t last long. In her second marriage, it was mum that mostly set the family goals, she who made things happen to achieve her aspirations. She orchestrated family moves upward, including from a “hovel” to a housing commission home (the “lap of luxury”) in country Victoria, by literally begging the local MP who she collared at a school function. She also triggered a later move by reporting the house we lived in to the local council, who swiftly condemned it as unfit to live in.

Meanwhile, there were personal misfortunes to contend with. As an infant, Geoff nearly died from an infection in the mid-60s. Later that same year, Dad was also in hospital for months after a terrible logging accident, leaving mum with a family of 6 kids and one on the way, with no income and no insurance. On Christmas Day 1979, a car ploughed through a red light into ours and mum and dad ended up in hospital for many weeks. Much, much worse though was the loss of two children: in 1973, mum’s 10th child Gerard died in childbirth. And in 1991, her 7th child Peter died aged 25, in a car accident. These tragic events nearly broke her heart. But as she said in her own words many years later:

“There are always things in life you wish you didn’t have to go through, because they hurt so much. But you know what? That’s part of the journey too.”

“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward.”

family1980s

The whole family in 1984 – including the first grandchild

Mum did what she could, with the few resources she had, to improve the family’s lot: buying Lan Choo tea because it came with coupons to claim gifts in the store in town; getting her driver’s licence, and then helping teach many of her kids to drive – even if that did include falling asleep in the passenger seat with Steven at the wheel. In the 1970s, mum’s name was picked out of the barrel to spin the wheel on the Ernie Sigley Show. She won a TV, we think – and a trip to Sydney after Ernie found out she had so many children. Asked what message she wanted to send her family on national telly, mum famously said:

“I just hope someone remembers to make the school lunches”.

Perhaps it was the Ernie Sigley trip that started the travel bug: she began taking road trips with youngest children Jan and Cally – to the Great Ocean Road, Adelaide, Sydney. She took her first overseas trip when she was 47, with Cathy to visit Tony and Olga and grandson Eann in Israel and then on to Italy and the UK. Because she was going to be away such a long time, she left us a long list of things to do. Including a fire drill every evening. Which we promptly ignored. Mum took to the jetset life with gusto, soaking up history and cultures, and traveling around the world into her 70s. On one notable occasion, and despite family misgivings, mum set off to Bangkok, by herself, just after 9/11 – aged 67. She was on her way to visit Ian and Cally in London, and nothing was going to stop her from doing that.

callyianmum-1

“Swanning around Europe” with two family members

One of her greatest delights was creating things for others. After knitting her first jumper at age 11, the knitting needles hardly ever stopped. Look at any family photo from the 60s through to the 80s, and you’ll inevitably see kids sporting mum’s handmade knits. She was a prolific letter-writer too. Seeing her beautiful handwriting on a newly arrived envelope when you were far from home, was certain to lift the spirits – with family news, photos and mum’s life advice. In the 1990s, mum discovered patchwork quilting after a visit to an Amish Village in the USA. She created over 100 exquisite quilts, that are now our treasured heirlooms.

A birthday quilt, one of over 100 quilts mum made, five of them for me

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Close-up of text on the birthday quilt “Made during a time of old age and ill-health” Oct 2007-Nov 2010 “From Mum”

Mum didn’t just create tangible things like jumpers, letters and quilts, she also created intangibles – memories, moments, merriment – especially around celebrations of birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. She truly cared about people, and she enjoyed having a bit of fun too! She loved movies and music, and would sing or dance at the drop of a hat.

“Life is to be lived” she said, “to be enjoyed right to the end. Make the most of every moment.”

Coming from good Irish stock, Mum had a fine sense of the absurd. When Tony Abbott announced that he was bringing back Knights and Dames, mum’s planned morning tea morphed into a Royal Tea Party and she crowned herself Lady Muck of …… Some years before, she came to my New York–themed fancy dress party in QLD when I was about to leave for America. There was King Kong, Crocodile Dundee, several movie stars, and as guest of honour I was Madonna. Much to my embarrassment, the guest-of-honour’s mother turned up as a New York bag lady. Oh how she laughed remembering that story recently! Going back even further, when we as kids would ask how old she would be on an upcoming birthday, it would always be 29. Or 28. Or 25.

When mum first let me know a few years ago that she wanted me to give the eulogy at her funeral, I wondered if there was anything particular she wanted me to say.

Mum simply said: “Don’t sugarcoat it; just tell it like it is”.

Me: “OK….. so you don’t want me to say you were perfect?”

Mum, after a moment’s pause: “Hmmm, well, let’s say 99% perfect”

I asked what she was most proud of achieving in her very full life. This time without hesitation, she said

“My family. I feel very, very fortunate with my children. I have a very blessed life. And I love my grandchildren to bits. There’s not a one of them – kids or grandkids – that you wouldn’t be really glad to know. So I am twice blessed.”

Always fiercely independent, after succumbing to side-effects of treatment for multiple myeloma, mum had to let go, to allow her children to arrange her affairs, chauffeur her, take her to appointments, feed and look after her, as she had done singlehandedly for all of us so many years ago. What she didn’t seem to understand was that far from being a burden, doing these things for her was a privilege and an honour. Looking after each other – well you taught us that mum, that is what families are for.

Despite being in constant pain, mum accepted her lot, remaining positive and curious about the world, right to the end. She was anxious about one thing though. Late last year, when Christmas was coming up, followed soon after by several family birthdays, she said:

“I’m looking forward to Christmas so much, seeing everyone together again. It’s extra special this year as I wasn’t meant to be here for this one.  I just don’t want to die on anyone’s birthday.”

Well, mum, you successfully navigated that minefield. Your death was the way you wanted it, peaceful, quick and not coinciding with a family birthday. You were ready to go, even if we weren’t ready for you to leave. We will be reminded of you every day by the simple things you always loved: a Richmond scarf, a cake stall, a flower garden, an old movie, a cup of tea with sympathy.

Personally, I will treasure the times we spent together recently, especially our last day – when you laughed over taking selfies. How many other 82 year olds have an iPhone, I ask you?

Mum, I will never forget that it was you who inspired me to reach for the stars, you who put that first precious sprinkle of stardust into each of your children’s hands, so that we too could aspire to be people who make things happen.

Judith Mary Martin, Judy, Mum, Granny

What an extraordinary life you lived, a life that touched so many

Now, you are, without doubt, forever 29 years old

and 99% perfect

mumme_stevesbday2010

Mum and me together a few years ago

 

The text below is the poem read out at mum’s burial, by Cathy Martin

“Remember me” David Harkins 1981

Do not shed tears when I have gone but smile instead because I have lived. Do not shut your eyes and pray to God that I’ll come back but open your eyes and see all that I have left behind. I know your heart will be empty because you cannot see me but still I want you to be full of the love we shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live only for yesterday or you can be happy for tomorrow because of what happened between us yesterday. You can remember me and grieve that I have gone or you can cherish my memory and let it live on. You can cry and lose yourself, become distraught and turn your back on the world or you can do what I want – smile, wipe away the tears, learn to love again and go on.

 

reaching for stars

My beautiful, beloved mum passed away. I owe her everything and will miss her terribly.

In 2006 I gave a graduation speech at the University of Queensland, inspired by her life lessons. The text of that speech, is given below. I hope to post more about this extraordinary woman over the next week.

“Chancellor, Acting Vice-Chancellor, Master of Ceremonies, Dean, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman,

I am *delighted* to be the first to congratulate our new graduates – so congratulations – you’ve made it, *well done* everyone.

Your hard work over the past few years has now been rewarded with the conferral of a degree in Science, and you, your friends and family deserve to be enormously proud of your achievements. Today is a day to celebrate those achievements and I trust that each of you *will* celebrate in an appropriate manner this evening and that this day will be one to remember for the rest of your life!

I certainly remember my graduation day when I wore this gown for the first time 16 years ago. This beautiful scarlet and peacock number is an Oxford University Doctor of Philosophy gown! I’d like to tell you how an Australian girl came to be studying at Oxford for a postgraduate degree. After completing a pharmacy degree in Melbourne and doing well at the course, I made up my mind that I wanted to further my study overseas, by doing a PhD¹ at the University of Oxford. I knew that achieving this dream would be difficult, since it would require obtaining a competitive scholarship to fund my studies. But I did have a backup plan (and it’s always good to have a backup plan). In the case of no scholarship I would travel overseas anyway on a working holiday.

I applied for any scholarship for which I was eligible, probably about 25 over the 12 months. Initially, I received rejection after rejection. But this just made me more determined, and it also meant that my applications became more polished at each round. Finally, on the day I was at the airport, literally boarding the plane to take me overseas, I received a phone call from the Dean of the Pharmacy College in Melbourne to let me know that I had received a scholarship to go to Oxford. The evidence that I duly completed the PhD is here before you now.

The message here is, to achieve your dreams requires focus and determination. Or in the words of my dear old mum – Never give up!

 

You will have found during your study and research for your degrees, that it always looks much easier than it actually is. There are hurdles to jump, obstacles to remove and often your own demons to overcome – these trials and tribulations generally go unnoticed by friends and family who do not see the hard work and toil that you put in. It was no different for me. After I was awarded a PhD from Oxford, you would think it would be plain sailing. I returned to Australia in 1990 to the science and technology school at Bond University on the Gold Coast. Some of you will be saying “there isn’t a science and technology school at Bond Uni”. That’s correct, it was closed three months after I arrived. I was absolutely devastated. A PhD from Oxford and I was unemployed. But I used this situation as an opportunity to develop my career further, by taking a position at very short notice at Rockefeller University in New York, a city that (to be honest) I would never have chosen to live in except that I was in such dire circumstances. This turned out to be a great career move and I subsequently returned to Queensland in 1993 to establish my own lab here at UQ.

The point I’d like to make is that even when life and circumstance get in the way of your goals, you can sometimes turn these obstacles into opportunities. Or in the words of my dear old mum, when one door closes, another opens.

 

Now that you have a tertiary degree in science, whether it be Bachelor, Master or PhD, you will have many opportunities opening up to you – because you are now part of what is being termed the innovation economy, or the knowledge economy. Knowledge and innovation are the new currency in world economics. You are the unit of that currency and it will be up to you to apply your knowledge and to derive a better future for yourself, your family, your country, your world. We have the opportunity to shape a better world by addressing the big issues – improved quality of life and developing a sustainable environment. A science degree also brings with it responsibilities. It is our responsibility to work ethically, to inform scientific debate, to mentor younger scientists and to raise awareness of science and technology among the general public.

A major concern in science is the role of women. You will have seen today that around 50% of our graduates are women. Our University medallists are women. Our valedictorian is a woman. But if you look through our hierarchy or any hierarchy whether it be science, academia, industry or government the percentage of women reduces at each level so that by the time we get to the top of the tree the percentage of women is around 10%. This is a vexing issue. We are losing half of our most brilliant people. In a report that was tabled earlier this year, The US National Academy of Sciences said that in an era of global competition we simply cannot afford “such underuse of precious human capital.” They found that American women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and “outmoded institutional structures”.

My challenge to you – both men and women – is to ensure that this situation changes, so that when you are my age there will be no such anomaly.

This will surely require all your knowledge and innovation. Or as my dear old mum would say, two heads are better than one.

 

I would like to leave you with a final word of advice from my most inspirational role model, my dear old mum. Unlike you or I, my mother did not have the opportunity to undertake tertiary study. In fact, she didn’t even finish high school. She left school at grade 8 to go to work. After a year or so, she was accepted into a hospital to undertake nursing (one of the few professions available to women in those days). She worked her way up the ranks through sheer force of will and determination to be charge nurse in surgery in a major hospital in Victoria. In the meantime, she married, had nine children², and supported this family by working night shifts. She is now 72 and continues to work two nights a week in surgery.

 

My mother is a genuine role model. She never gives up, she always maintains a positive attitude and she takes no nonsense from anyone, including surgeons! She has succeeded against the odds. Her advice to us when we were growing up was “Reach for the stars – you never know what you’ll pick up on the way down”. It has certainly worked for us, with 12 tertiary degrees between the nine of us and high profile positions in academia, investment banking, IT and government.

So my final words are to encourage you to take my mother’s advice, and aim high!

Thank you everyone.”

 

  1. Actually it’s called a DPhil in Oxford, but who’s counting
  2. Mum gave birth to ten children; the last of the ten died in childbirth

goosebump moments

It’s been rather hectic these past few months. There’s been little time to sit back and reflect, to prepare for and write a blog post. So, apologies for the delay if you’ve been waiting. You see, I need a chunk of thinking time before I write these things. Finally, I have a few hours to contemplate and muse.

What comes to mind most prominently are the awesome women and men I have had the privilege to meet recently. People who carve their own path, challenge and disrupt societal norms, rewrite the rules, and leave others awestruck. There have been a bunch of mesmerising, goosebump moments for me recently; I’d like to share just three of them with you.

wonder woman

Perhaps the most surprising encounter occurred a month or so ago. After returning from an overseas trip, I found a 5-page letter waiting for me in my office. The first two pages were handwritten in pencil. That was decidedly odd; I don’t often get mail that isn’t electronic and, well, who uses pencils to write with these days? It was all very curious.

Dear Prof Martin”, the letter read,

Our Big Hero 6: from Hypatia to Honey Lemon.

We have been learning a lot about different female scientists throughout history – our scientific heroes! We have read several biographies about women such as Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, and Rachel Carson to try and understand their scientific work and lives.

We would really like to meet you as a modern-day scientific hero and hear about your work. We are making a film to share with our classmates so they can learn about our heroes too. Mum has written a letter to you as well. We have included some of the questions we would like to ask you there. We really hope we can meet you. We will be happy to come to you at the University at a time that suited you. Thank you for reading our letter.

Yours faithfully

Scarlett (age 10) and Clementine (age 8)

Well who could resist the charm of that appeal! Not I. In the accompanying (typed) letter, their mother Karalyn went on to explain:

I am a mother of four very enthusiastic young scientists (Harry, Scarlett, Clementine, Violet). The children have been active members of the CSIRO double helix science club and also, are keenly involved with science programs at their schools. Every year since Harry started school, we have researched enthusiastically as a family, different science topics at home, too, including: energy; flight; chemistry (molecular gastronomy and also, testing lunchbox contents for the presence of fat, sugar, protein and starch); nanotechnology; light and pinhole photography; space science and astronomy; leukaemia; sport science; the mathematics of origami; nuclear science and “plastic” oceans. In addition to our own background research, we also get creative and make short documentary films…….

This topic (from Hypatia to Honey Lemon) was prompted by Scarlett commenting to me last year that all the scientists we had met/interviewed to date had been men.

I can tell you confidentially that I nearly fell off my chair whilst reading those letters. Who does this? What a super-family. What a wonder woman. What creativity, originality, what a delightful family occupation. It was truly a goosebump moment. Of course, I arranged a meeting as soon as possible.

So during their school holidays in July, the family visited the Martin Lab (as well as many other women scientists’ labs, I might add). We found out then that Karalyn had trained as a lawyer but had always been fascinated by science. She had stepped back from her promising legal career to take on caring responsibilities when the family moved overseas for her husband’s business. Now that the family were back in Australia, and the children all at school, she was about to embark on a new adventure, undertaking a university science diploma – she is enrolled in the UQ School of Mathematics and Physics, taking first year courses, and loving it.

Shaw_family_visit

I couldn’t help but be fascinated and spellbound by the energy, strength and sheer uniqueness of this incredible woman. In one of those uncanny coincidences, Karalyn had baked and decorated a #crystalcake themed morning tea (see above) for the Martin Lab. Not surprisingly, their visit made it onto our lab website, and Karalyn is now an honorary Martin lab member. I’m looking forward to catching up with her on campus very soon.

blue-collared woman

Saturday, another goose bump moment. After being introduced electronically in May, with every intention of catching up soon thereafter, I finally met with the awesome Teagan Dowler, founder of The Blue-Collared Woman (BCW).

In her own words (well somewhat paraphrased) “BCW began a couple of years ago following my experiences as a HR professional, leadership coach and consultant in the construction and mining industries of Australia. As a young woman fresh out of Uni I was motivated to achieve, ready to take on the world and make positive impact on the industries I was passionate about. However after a few years it became apparent that I was experiencing challenges that didn’t seem to bother male colleagues. At the time I thought it was me, that I was failing and that I wasn’t good enough. But then other women began coming to me, talking about their own similar experiences. This made me realise there are gender specific challenges women must navigate when working in a masculine environment.

From this experience I thought there must be other women, all around Australia and across a whole range of industries, that could be feeling the same thing. I started a Facebook page and website/blog as a way to reach out to them. My approach has always been to tell the truth of what it’s like, in all its ugliness and awesomeness and this seems to have resonated with people.

Teagan’s blog describes the realities of being a woman working in a testosterone-rich environment. The BCW website provides advice on how to navigate and overcome problems, how to influence and build relationships. Was I thrilled to find that Teagan runs workshops and information sessions? Yes, I was! How valuable is that going to be for those undertaking the SAGE/Athena SWAN Australian pilot? Teagan is also writing a book which “captures the experiences and advice of a range of women across traditionally masculine industries (resources, construction, engineering, manufacturing).” I cannot wait to read it!

We discussed impostor syndrome, self-awareness training, strategies to develop diversity and many, many other things besides. I was captivated by the powerful, self-confident message this young woman was presenting. Through her own ingenuity she had developed a toolkit of skills for success and influence, and by sharing these was empowering other women and men. So much understanding, so many great ideas, such a clear vision for change. Goosebumps! We will meet again Teagan 🙂

champions of change

The third goosebump moment was last week. I was privileged to attend a lunch forum in Sydney held in honour of Elizabeth Broderick, one of my heroes. Liz is about to step down from her highly successful role as Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner after two terms and eight years.

One of the many initiatives she established was the male champions of change (MCC). Some have questioned why these champions of change are male. The reality is that CEOs of major national companies in Australia are almost exclusively men. As MCC Gordon Cairns has said “Men set up the system, men largely run the system, men need to change the system”. Champions of change – whether male or female – recognise that winning the war on talent means supporting all of the population, not half of it. Champions of change disrupt established norms, and rewrite the rules. They develop action plans that support careers of women and men, policies that support work-life balance for everyone, pledges that ensure women’s and men’s voices are heard equally.

The event was a stirring celebration of Liz’s extraordinary, remarkable leadership; of charting a course that will change the world. “We need more decent, powerful men to step up beside women in building a gender equal world” she says. I’d had the honour of meeting Liz earlier this year, and on the occasion last week I was also introduced to another hero of mine, male champion of change David Morrison, former Australian Army chief and star of the viral video that called out sexism in the army.

The MCC message Step Up Together is powerful and consistent. Below are quotes from speakers at the lunch or from the MCC website that hosts videos screened at the event.

Listen. Learn. Lead. Listen to women. Learn what to do. Commit to action. This must start with leaders and executive teams. Fix the system, not the women. Leave excuses at the door. The idea that addressing gender equity will compromise on quality is fanciful. The Australian workplace is deeply embedded with a male way of being and a male way of succeeding.

  1. develop targets with teeth

Gender equity is often last on the list of priorities. This needs to change. Set targets, track progress, incentivise with bonuses, and consequences for failure to act. Remove assumptions about what’s possible. Set stretch targets. Aim high. 40% across all levels. Ensure a balanced short list for new appointments. Ask for daily, weekly, and monthly reports. Targets and merit are not mutually exclusive.

  1. take the panel pledge

Women have important, vibrant and different things to say. If women are not heard, everyone misses out. Commit to increase gender balance in internal and external forums – aim for 50:50 100% of the time; insist on including women; call out imbalances; support balanced conferences – tie sponsorship to diversity. Don’t accept excuses.

  1. all roles flex

What if flexibility was the starting point not the exception? In 2013, Telstra adopted a new and disruptive attitude – all roles were advertised as flexible. Without exception. Other organisations have now followed suit. Ask for flexibility and choice for all.

  1. take action on violence against women

800,000 women in the Australian workforce today are living in, or have lived in, an abusive relationship. For many, their only refuge during the day is their place of work. Violence against women is a workplace issue. A focus on safety and zero harm must include tackling violence against women. Establish a framework. Listen without judgement. Make a start.

not cold, captivated

The dictionary definition of goosebumps is “small raised areas that appear on the skin because of cold, fear, or excitement“. I got goosebumps meeting these three awesome, thought-provoking, inspirational women, and hearing from dozens of male champions of change. I was not cold. I was not afraid. I was captivated, awestruck, spellbound. Each time, I was thinking “this is how individuals change the world for the better – locally, nationally, globally“.

life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

A week or so ago, my family stood in the cemetery in roughly the same place we’d stood more than two decades earlier. Though we were laying to rest a second family member, the scene could not have been more different. This time, the sun was shining. There was sadness, but no tears. The container of dad’s ashes – labelled with the metal panel from his coffin – was placed gently into the space dug near the 23-year-old plaque. Petals collected that morning from flowers in mum’s garden were sprinkled over the container, some falling on the weathered old plaque nearby. Mum commented that dad would have liked the simplicity of the ceremony.

The attendant – John – carefully filled the hole, saying he would put fresh turf over it the next day. In a broad Aussie drawl, he apologised for not wearing something more formal. Normally he would be in a suit, but he’d been called in at the last minute. Cemeteries have emergencies too. He needn’t be worried, someone said. If anything, the weekend work clothes he had on were more appropriate for dad, a working-class man. John had worked at the cemetery for many years and remarked that he sometimes stopped by the plaque and wondered about the man pictured there. The photo was of a handsome young man, taken at his best mates’ wedding where he’d officiated as best man, a month before he died.

Peter

At that time, I was a post-doc at Rockefeller University in Manhattan, New York. I’d started on April 1, 1991. I could have taken up the post a few weeks earlier, but had delayed a little so I could attend a sister’s 21st birthday party. I’m glad I did. As it turned out, the celebration was the last time all the family would be together.

By Oct 1991, six months after arriving in New York, I’d furnished my studio apartment on 63rd and York, successfully navigated the subway to find all the places I needed to get to, and had hosted several visitors from Australia. One visitor asked whether I would consider returning to Australia as a group leader. “No way,” I replied “not as a group leader. That’s far too stressful, too much work.” Strange thing to say really, I was already working days, nights, weekends in New York. I did, though, take time out to enjoy the incredible diversity of museums, cultural centres and restaurants that the city had to offer.

Friday, October 25, 1991 started off like any other. I got into the lab around 8 am, and spent a few hours purifying proteins from bacterial cultures, preparing to set up crystallisation trays later in the day. By late morning, I needed a break. I returned to the office I shared with three other postdocs. Unusually, there was no one else around, but a note had been left on my desk. It said that I should call the number written below. It was a Melbourne number, but not one I recognised.

“That’s odd” I thought “why would anyone want me to call now, it’s the middle of the night in Melbourne”. No alarm bells rang. Completely unprepared for the devastating news that was to come, I called the number and heard that I’d reached the emergency department of a major public hospital close to my family’s home. My mum and sister both worked there, so perhaps it wasn’t that unusual to get a call, but it was strange to come from the emergency department in the early morning Melbourne time. Maybe the number had been written down incorrectly, maybe mum/my sister were working night duty.

I explained to the voice on the other end of the line that I was in the USA and had been left a message to call that number. I half-expected the voice to say “Oh, sorry, there’s been a mistake; we’ll put you through to theatre (where mum worked) or CCU (where my sister worked)”. But that didn’t happen. There was a few second’s silence, then “Just a minute, we’ll put you through”. It was about then that the alarm bells started clanging.

My sister came on the line. “Jenny……something awful has happened.”

WHAT. NO. NO. PLEASE NO. WHO? MUM? DAD? The questions tumbled out.

“There’s been a car accident. Peter suffered severe head injuries. He’s just been declared dead. We are all here.“

Within a few hours, I was on a flight from JFK to MEL via LAX. It was surreal. That morning I’d been purifying protein, now I was on my way home to help organise my youngest brother’s funeral. My brother Peter. So full of life and mischief.

The service would be held on 31 October, Halloween. That day now forever linked to sorrow. Etched in my memory of that week is the physical pain of the raw grief, the utter anguish and despair that – together with the overwhelming perfume of condolence flowers – filled my parent’s home; the hundreds of “in sympathy” cards; the pathos of a phone call dad made to explain why Peter wouldn’t be coming into work any more. Choosing the clothes Peter would wear for the last time. Viewing his lifeless body. Saying goodbye.

The funeral was witnessed through a blur of tears, though some memories stick: the hundreds of young people in attendance; the sight of brothers and cousins waiting patiently with the coffin resting on their squared shoulders at the end of the service while the music master scrambled to find the recessional music; the solemn procession under racing grey clouds, of dozens of cars en route to the cemetery; the vivid green grass and muddy soil surrounding the final resting place; the gentle descent of the coffin into the earth; the bright red roses cast into the deep pit. I remember too the counsel of a friend at the wake “This is a time for grieving. When you think of Peter now there will be tears. In time, though, you’ll be able to think about him and smile.”

In loving memory of Peter William Martin. 20.4.1966 - 26.10.1991 Beloved son of Jack and Judy.  Loved brother of Anthony, Ian, Steven, Jenny, Cathy, Geoff, Jan-Maree, Carolyn and Gerard (dec) A cheeky grin, twinkling blue eyes, strategist, car enthusiast, active, helpful, loyal, gentle Peter.  These things we will remember of you with love.  The measure of your life is the love you left behind.  In God's care.

In loving memory of Peter William Martin.
20.4.1966 – 26.10.1991
Beloved son of Jack and Judy.
Loved brother of Anthony, Ian, Steven, Jennifer, Catherine, Geoffrey, Jan-Maree, Carolyn and Gerard (dec)
A cheeky grin, twinkling blue eyes, strategist, car enthusiast, active, helpful, loyal, gentle Peter.
These things we will remember of you with love.
The measure of your life is the love you left behind.
In God’s care.

Peter was 25 when he died. The same age as Phil Hughes, the Australian Test cricketer who passed away recently. Like Hughes, Peter’s death was a tragic accident. Like Hughes, Peter’s character was defined by his cheeky grin, and twinkling eyes. He had a wicked sense of humour. As a boy, he was a walking encyclopedia of facts about World War II, often interrupting movies we were watching to explain anachronisms – “that tank is wrong, it hadn’t been built at that time”. As he grew older he developed the gift of drawing you in to his world, charming you with the delight, the joy he took in whatever had captured his imagination, a book he’d just read, a historical fact he’d just discovered, a painting he was working on, his dungeons and dragons obsession. Whatever it was, in his presence it became the most important thing in the world.

Peter was 5 years younger than me, and the youngest of the 5 boys in the family. Like many brothers he could be most annoying at times, and then at other times he would be extraordinarily generous and considerate. When my black and white cat (named Sylvester, what else) disappeared I was devastated. Peter, all of 9 or 10 at the time, brought home a tiny black kitten for me, a stray he’d found on a light industry site where he delivered newspapers after school.

Despite scorning my music preferences, he offered to tape the entire 3 hour soundtrack for my 21st birthday party, and followed my instructions to the letter. As a birthday gift that year, he gave me the ugliest figurine you can possibly imagine, of a cockatoo. It was his idea of a joke, to remind me of his pet budgie Billy. A badass budgie that nipped anyone that came near him. Except Peter. He loved Peter. And yes, I still have that figurine.

figurine

When I moved to the UK to undertake a DPhil at Oxford in the late 1980s, I was desperately homesick and asked family to send Christmas gifts that would remind me of home. Peter and I both supported the same football team; he sent me his cherished bombers flag, the one he’d waved at the Essendon premiership a few years before. Sadly that flag no longer exists.

His untimely death impacted family members in different ways. For me, it meant insomnia for several weeks requiring medication, and relentless guilt for not being there when he died. It also cemented in my mind that I would not choose to live overseas for my work, even if the opportunities might be better. I vowed to knuckle down, complete the work I was doing in the US, and then return to Australia. So it was that in mid-1993, two years after declaring I didn’t want to be a group leader, I took up an ARC QEII Fellowship at the University of Queensland where I established my own protein crystallography group. Of course, there were many other reasons to select UQ. But the choice of country was not negotiable.

So when I’m asked at career forums about my career decisions, why I returned to Australia after a very successful PhD in the UK and a very successful postdoc in the US, I say I made the decision for family reasons.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

for dad

If you’d known dad only in the past few years, you’d think of him as a frail and sometimes grumpy old man. But let’s wind the clock back more than 50 years to when I first knew him. In looks, dad was tall [1], dark and handsome. In manner, he was the strong and silent type.

dad-008

1960s; kids, cats and home. Photo credit, Judy Martin

Mum says that when they first met in the 1950s, he would visit her at the nurse’s lounge and stay for over two hours. If he said more than two words in that time it counted as lively conversation. It’s a good thing that mum easily does the talking for two, otherwise none of the next generation of Martins would be around today. But things did progress; the family eventually included Tony (stepson), Ian, Steven, Jenny, Cathy, Geoff, Peter, Jan, Cally and Gerard.

Dad was born to a very poor family, and left school aged 14. It was 1944, towards the end of WWII. He took a job in a paper bag factory in Melbourne and later worked as a courier for an engineer, an odd-job man at a guest house – milking cows, catching rabbits, and doing the gardening – and finally landed his dream job driving trucks and buses. By the time he was 18 he was driving trucks interstate – delivering beer from Adelaide in SA into NSW and QLD. Some 10 years later he drove the bus connection from Sale to Bairnsdale in Victoria, delivered logs from Bullumwaal near Bairnsdale and then returned to interstate trucking.

To me, dad’s occupation as a long-distance truckie – or cartage contractor as he liked to refer to it – really suited his character. It gave him time on his own to think and contemplate. What’s more, he could spend the long days driving his White “Road Boss” semi-trailer through the beautiful Australian countryside he loved so much. At the same time though, traveling around Australia meant he was away from home. He was often torn between work and home, because he would be gone for more than a week at a time. On some occasions, leaving home for a long trip was a huge effort. Mum remembers he would find excuse after excuse to get out of the truck and come back into the house for something he’d forgotten, finally admitting “I really just want to stay here”. I think that’s why his favourite song, the song he expressly asked to be played at his funeral, was John Denver’s “Back Home Again”.

The White "Road Boss" Photo credit: Jack Martin

The White “Road Boss”
Photo credit: Jack Martin

I worried about dad being on his own so much. For one birthday in the early 1980s I gave him a soft toy wombat to keep him company on the road, and to remind him that his family was thinking of him. That wombat travelled everywhere with dad, and stayed with him long after he stopped driving trucks in the mid 1990s. It went with him into aged care two years ago, and literally followed him to the grave.

For someone whose formal schooling was so brief, dad had a remarkable intellect. He read widely, could do complex maths in his head or on paper and he had the most beautiful copperplate handwriting. He loved puzzles, cryptic crosswords, and jigsaws and when we were young there were loads of board games too. Dad also had a photographic memory for the country roads of eastern Australia – he knew them like the back of his hand. In the early 1990s when I first moved to Queensland, I planned to drive on my own from Brisbane to Melbourne one Christmas, a journey of 1600 km (1000 miles). However, I got stuck halfway down with floodwaters in New South Wales. I called dad from a payphone. Yes, this was a long time ago. There were no mobiles. No GPS. No Google Maps. But I didn’t need them – I had dad – and when I explained my situation, dad knew exactly where I was. He gave me detailed instructions on which roads to take to avoid the floodwaters so that I arrived home safe, dry and on-time.

Dad also visited me in Brisbane on several occasions over the years, usually when I was in some sort of a pickle. Once or twice that meant helping me pick up the pieces of a broken heart. The last time though was the very happy occasion when Michael and I were married, in 2005. Dad stayed on for a week after the wedding to take on cat-sitting duties while we went away on honeymoon. At the time, dad was 75. Thinking about it now, I can’t imagine many other 75 year olds taking on that task – traveling interstate, and looking after two spoiled cats for a week – yet it seemed so natural to ask dad because he knew Brisbane so well and he loved animals. He did it with pleasure, and took the opportunity to call on some old mates from his trucking days who lived in south-east Queensland. He didn’t meet up with all of them though, because like many country folk of his era, he didn’t let them know he was in town, he just turned up unannounced.

A country boy at heart, when we lived in suburban Dandenong dad would take us on Sunday drives in the old Rambler Matador station wagon up to the nearby hills, or to south Gippsland or the Mornington Peninsula. On summer holidays, he’d drive us to Lake Tyers in East Gippsland where his mum had a holiday house. The kids would run along the shady wooded path down the hill to the white hot sandy beach, with the noise of the pounding waves providing the soundtrack, and dad would get the fishing rod out for a spot of surf-fishing.

The kitchen was always the centre of the home in our house. Dad was an excellent cook, specialising in comfort foods. Although he had trouble expressing his feelings in words, he had no trouble showing his love for us through food.

  • On a cold winter’s morning we’d often wake up to dad cooking porridge on the stove;
  • He made a mean lasagne, and the best pea and ham soup ever;
  • There was egg and bacon pie, sausage rolls and meat&veg pasties – all favourites of the family to this day;
  • Many, many sweets: orange cake, raspberry coconut slice, hedgehog;
  • And batches and batches of scones that would go as quickly as they came out of the oven.

Since the late 1990s, dad lived alone on acreage in countryside about 50 km south east of Melbourne. He surrounded himself with animals – dogs and cats, as well as horses on agistment – and his garden; vegies and herbs, Australian natives, rhododendrons, proteas. He loved the animals, the garden, the space, the peace and quiet, the solitude. Despite urgings for over a decade from family members that he move closer to family, he refused to leave his paradise.

His own paradise Photo credit: Cally Martin

His own paradise
Photo credit: Cally Martin

Like his mum before him, dad was keen on astrology. His star sign was Gemini, the twins, characterised by a dual nature. Whether you believe in astrology or not, dad certainly had two sides to his character. On the one side he could be stubborn, uncommunicative, quick-tempered, unkind. On the other, he could be gentle, helpful, caring, supportive. No doubt some of this duality was a consequence of depression, which he struggled with for decades. More recently, he battled dementia. This meant short-term memory loss. Dad couldn’t remember things that had just happened. His older memories though were vividly intact. On a trip to the Dandenongs two years ago, just after he moved into permanent care, we drove through The Basin where he had spent time as a boy and young man. Dad pointed out the street and the house where he used to live, he remembered where he was standing when he saw bushfires coming down the mountain towards the town and he described the dance hall at the top of the hill.

Dementia didn’t touch his trademark understated dry humour either. Soon after the diagnosis, his GP asked dad a series of questions to assess his memory. To questions like “What day is it?”, “Who is the prime minister?”, “How old are you?”, dad gave a straight answer – but when the GP asked “What state do you live in?” he simply replied “A state of confusion”.

One of the saddest things about dad moving into care was the institutionalised food. But he found a simple way around this problem. He left. Late on Christmas Eve 2013 he disappeared from the nursing home. When the police brought him back 4 hours later he had travelled several kms, had no money with him, but was carrying two grocery bags filled with cold cans of coca cola. I happened to be there when the police returned with him. Worried sick for his safety, I said that he really shouldn’t go for walks without telling anyone because he didn’t know how to get home again. “Yes”, he said pulling his sleeve up with a wry smile on his face “Perhaps we could get tattooed here “Inmate of ……”.”

Early this year, he was moved to high care, and even there he would attempt to follow visitors out as they were exiting. When the staff caught up with him he would say “I’m just going out for fish and chips” or “I just wanted a meat pie”. Realising that discretion is the better part of valour, the good staff ordered food in especially for dad, and we brought him the food and drinks he liked too, which made a big difference to his comfort. In this respect, we completed the circle, showing him our love by providing food he most enjoyed.

On Friday last week, dad was admitted to hospital with acute pulmonary oedema resulting from chronic kidney failure. Most people on their deathbed being fitted with an oxygen mask and told “You might die without it” would accept the advice obediently. But not dad. He refused, saying “I might die with it too”. He was moved to palliative care for the last few hours of his life. I arrived from Brisbane late on Friday evening to join most of his family who had been at his bedside all day. He was unconscious when I got there, and passed away barely an hour afterwards.

Dad died as he lived. His own man. Uncompromising. Doing things his way. Sorting through some of his possessions this week, I came across a stamp he had used for many years to mark cheques “Not Negotiable”. In some ways, that phrase described the way he lived his life too. Perhaps the most succinct description of dad came from a staff member who looked after him at the nursing home: “He was a nice guy. A bit of a shit at times, but a really nice guy. And he will be missed.” Yet there was more to him than that too.

He was a complex man. The most precious things to him were family, home, kids, animals, his footy team (Essendon) and nature. He battled demons we cannot know about. He was father to a brood of strong, and strong-minded, women and men. He was fiercely proud of and loved every one of them.

Reading a paper; cat on lap. Photo credit: Cathy Martin

Reading the paper; cat on lap. Photo credit: Cathy Martin

Now that he is gone, this man I once thought invincible, I will think of him through simple things that we both enjoyed: a quiet cup of tea, a native flower, a cat on my lap. I will miss those enormous, all-encompassing bear hugs with the sloppy kiss on the cheek when he said goodbye. I will treasure the times I spent with him recently – too few – helping him when he couldn’t help himself. And I will remember dad the way he was when I first knew him. Tall, dark and handsome. The strong and silent type.

 

MARTIN — Allan John “Jack”

18.6.1930 – 27.9.2014

Passed away peacefully.

Will be sadly missed by his family Judy, Tony, Ian, Steven, Jenny, Cathy, Geoff, Peter (dec.), Jan, Cally, Gerard (dec.), and their families.

Now at Peace.

 

This post was prepared in part from text used in the eulogy (Cally Martin) and tribute (Jenny Martin) given at the funeral of Allan John “Jack” Martin held on Thursday 2 Oct 2014 at Wilson Chapel, Springvale Cemetery, Victoria.

[1] Well, OK, maybe not that tall, but then I’m pretty short