This is the only writing I’ve done in the past week… a eulogy honouring my father, crafted with my brother which he delivered yesterday.
My father, Barry Donald Cook, was born in Maryborough on 4th April 1939, the second of three children to Dulcie Jean Boldery and Arnold Archibald Cook.
Older brother Adrian was born 3 years before Barry, and sister Sharon eight years later. From all accounts Barry was a typical older brother, slightly jealous of his younger sister and quite skilled in taunting her until she retaliated…. ensuring that it was she who usually copped the wrath of their mother, Dulcie
By his own admission dad was a bit of a scallywag growing up. Those that knew him later could only imagine the sort of boy he was, but it’s fair to say he wasn’t an overly dedicated student during his years at the Central Infants School, Primary School and Maryborough Boys High School. When dad regaled us with tales of his childhood, most related to the games he played with his school and neighbourhood mates and involved shooting at “things” with bows and arrows and slingshots.
He was, however, a natural and talented athlete and participated in cricket and athletics at school, annually awarded Age Champion and representing Maryborough, before eventually focusing on what was to become his great passion – Rugby League.
Finishing school as soon as it was feasible, Dad’s first job was as a messenger boy for Hecker’s Car Dealership, before later commencing work with the Railway.
It was around this time, in the late 1950s, that dad was approached to further his football career by moving to play in Toowoomba – then a Rugby League stronghold. After considering all the offers received he decided to play for Souths Rugby League Football Club, which he later captained to a premiership. His free board and 10 quid a game hardly compares to professional footballers’ salaries nowadays, but back then it was more than generous.
Anyone who has ever spoken at length to dad would know that these were his glory days. Playing for Toowoomba and Queensland in the early 60’s, under the legendary Duncan Thompson alongside some international reps, including his mate Elton Rassmussen; it was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling times of dad’s life.
In 1963 dad took a captain/coach job in Quilpie in the far west of the State. It was there he met local belle, Margaret Hennessy. Mum never exactly remembers when or how they first met (which – quite frankly – spoils a good story), but recalls that her father was impressed by dad’s prowess on the tennis court and said that ‘If the new coach can play football as well as he plays tennis, we will win the Wallal Cup.’ Well he could, but history reports they didn’t.
So at the end of that (otherwise unsuccessful) season dad left Quilpie, but not before marrying the woman who was to be his wife for the next 48 years. They settled back in his hometown, Maryborough, where they’ve remained ever since.
Once back in Maryborough Barry continued his love affair with Rugby League restarting his contribution to League in this city. In 1964 he coached ALL local teams over alternate weeks as well as representative teams. Despite playing his early years with local club Roos, much of his later involvement was with Rovers.
Though he loved football and coaching, he loved his family more and when we were young dad quit coaching to avoid being away from his family on weekends.
I was born during their first year back in Maryborough, and three years after that, my sister Deborah came along. On return to Maryborough dad found work at the Maryborough City Council – ostensibly as a soil tester. I recall, even when I was young, never exactly knowing what his job entailed, though I knew people believed him to be a person with integrity and a strong moral compass. He was given jobs like delivering the pays (in the days that the currency was cash). He often served as a conduit between the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ workers at Council and appeared to get along with everyone.
Barry spent the next 33 years with the Council, where he worked with many people he liked and respected.
Our childhood was mostly idyllic with both mum and dad working hard to give us everything we wanted or needed.
But Dad also suffered his share of tragedies. He was very devoted to his mother and she to him. Both athletes, my aunt talks about their special relationship. In fact, on occasions Nana reportedly taxied from Maryborough to Toowoomba to watch dad play in representative matches. I can only imagine his devastation when Nana died (aged only 52) in 1966. His father, our own Poppie, found happiness with Gwyn and her family a few years later. Dad’s older brother Adrian died tragically in 1973 and of course Gwyn and Poppie have passed away since as well.
And dad had his health issues in particular, his heart problems which were first diagnosed in the early 1970s. I suspect his patient files at The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane would probably weigh more and be taller than me by now.
By the late nineties, the doctors had determined that it was worse than they thought – as the wall of the pumping chamber was damaged by rheumatic fever he suffered as a child. Thankfully he was otherwise healthy and he was able to continue his normal active life still playing tennis regularly.
Finally in 2000 we first received the news… that the only real option available to dad was a heart transplant. By December 2000, dad’s health deteriorated and he underwent a barrage of tests. There was little else the doctors could do to improve his condition and he was officially added to the organ donor list.
Then on 11 December 2000 a donor heart was found and dad underwent a heart transplant. Miraculously his health improved and dad continued to do all of the right things and was even able to recommence his regular tennis games for a few years.
Those who knew and loved him would not understate the generosity of the organ donor and their family who allowed my father almost 11 more years with us. And I am personally grateful that he got to see my own daughter grow from a cute 4 year old to a beautiful and intelligent 15 year old.
Of course there are always trade-offs and dad suffered vascular dementia as a result of his illness and operations; along with recurring skin cancers, exacerbated by the medication he took daily to suppress his immune system.
The last few years have been difficult ones for mum and dad at times. Mum has remained devoted and – I can only imagine – her patience tested as dad asked the same questions or made the same comments again and again. And again.
His lack of short term memory must have been particularly difficult for him, as he prided himself on his recall ability in his younger years. He had an amazing knack for remembering number plates and telephone numbers. In fact, we continued to roll our eyes in recent years and months as he proudly rattled off our phone numbers – many of which had long-since lapsed or changed. And… he also regaled friends and family again and again with the names of railways stations he obviously learned when working in the railway as a youngster. Names and places unforgotten over four decades when he was unable to remember a conversation from one minute earlier.
Late last year dad was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive type of cancer and, although he underwent radiotherapy, it appears it returned and weakened his body over recent months. After a couple of weeks at St Stephen’s Hospital under the care of his devoted doctor, Dr Carole Rayner, he was transferred to The Prince Charles Hospital for further tests. On discovering the spreading cancer dad spent his last fortnight there in palliative care with mum by his side.
Many (so many) well-wishers have been in contact over the past few weeks and days. It’s humbling and heartening to hear the same comments coming from so many of them. “He was SO polite and respectful,” people have said. And he was. He was unfailingly deferential to those he thought his superiors and continued to refer to his bosses (or others) as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’. My sister still tells of her frustration when she was young because when they were walking dad constantly maneuvered her to one side. It wasn’t until many years later that he explained that he did it in case a car veered off the road. So it would strike him first.
Dad could be tremendous fun – and my cousins probably still have nightmares as a result of his torment of them when they were young. He delighted in terrifying them and teasing them mercilessly. He gave us all nicknames: Craig was Crag, Fraser Florrie, Deborah was Snugs and I was Fat-tummy. So he was a big kidder, a sign that he really was a big kid. He loved children and always had a way of connecting with them. I saw it with my own daughter (Emily, known to him as Tinkerbell or Tinkers) to whom he was deeply devoted.
He was passionate about so many things, including his family and his friends. For most of his life he was a people person, known for his sense of humour, his integrity and generosity of spirit.
He was a devoted family man and committed friend. He leaves behind many who loved and liked him, many of whom are here today, including:
- those who remember him from his football days
- old colleagues from Council
- my and Deborah’s childhood friends
- my mother’s extended family
- dad’s step family
- his and mum’s many, many friends – some of whom have been around for most of our life, and others, such as those from the church breakfasts, more recently
- his devoted sister Sharon and her husband David, more like a brother than a brother-in-law as well as their family and Adrian’s family.
Finally, he leaves behind two children, a grandchild and a wife who he cherished and who – despite any faults or frustrations – continued to love him dearly.
On behalf of my mother and sister, my wife and my daughter, I’d like to thank you all for the kindness and care you have shown my father over recent weeks, months, years and (in some cases) decades. And I know many of you will continue to be a proverbial tower of strength to my mother in coming months and years and I thank you for that as well.