John Bryce Hendrie (Tredgold 1958 – 1962)

Memorial Service Eulogy
John Bryce Hendrie 1944 – 2011
Uniting Church Carramar – Friday 12th August 2011

In 1624 John Donne wrote:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

and he goes on to say

… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

And it was in discussing these words with my Dad a little over a year ago that I was given an inkling into how he managed to take on his disease with the courage, humour and stoicism that we all know him for. “We’ve all got to go one day”, he explained. “Life is a terminal illness”, which he of course couched as a joke, but still intending to deliver the underlying message that we are all mortal. Seeing the positive in everything, he very quickly came to terms with his illness, and explained to me that he actually preferred knowing the answer to the ultimate question of how long he had left. After all, the alternative is for a sudden and unexpected end, and that does not leave time to get your affairs in order, say you goodbyes and find peace with the world.

And this reminds us, and re-enforces to us all, how important it is to live life to the full, to enjoy every day we have, and to never forget the most important things. Although the last months and days were very tough for Dad, the overwhelming number of messages of support and stories from the past we have received remind us that he indeed lived a full and colourful life, always with a twinkle in his eye…

He was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in 1944, and lived his early years in Bulawayo. He attended Whitestone school and then began boarding at Falcon College which had been founded on a mine near Esigodini 10 years earlier – his father among the founding board. His parent’s Frank and Con were prominent members of the community, always welcoming to all, and they laid the foundations of honesty, family values and a “work hard” / “play hard” attitude that stuck with him through life.

At Falcon he was known as Bryce, and was always the smiling, jovial and happy one, and part of the “Tredgold Four” group of mates whose friendship remained throughout their lives. As well as excelling in the class room, he represented the school at both rugby and hockey. His softer side was also apparent, as he began a life-long interest in butterfly collecting, and even made a cute wooden baby seat with Mickey Mouse painted on it.

After school he took a boat to the UK to study Engineering Science at Wadham College, Oxford. Here his academic ability allowed him to spend a bit more time than most enjoying himself while still managing to pass the curriculum. His sporting prowess continued as he made the college rowing First VIII while being just small enough to be the cox. However, it was his sunny disposition and antics for which he is most remembered. Here his tendency for breakages and accidents first seemed to really come to the fore.

There are stories throughout his life of a capacity to attract mishaps and accidents more than most. However, at Oxford this apparently resulted in reputation for honesty and handwork – he always told people when he broke something of theirs, and he always tried, and usually succeeded in fixing it again! This included a Sunbeam tourer which needed a whole new engine after damage sustained driving around a farmer’s field knocking over hay bales.

After university he began working as a mining engineer in Kitwe, Zambia, and was usually found underneath his MG-B. His proprensity for accidents became famous here too, including one where he slid all the way down a step ladder while trying to rig the lights for a disco at the Rhokana Mine Club. Here he met and managed to charm a young nurse from England called Barbara Jane Lawler.

Shortly after being married in the UK, John and Barbara travelled to Cape Town for a year, where he studied for an MBA. One day he decided to race down the stairs to beat the group in the lift. Well he beat the lift, but sprained his ankle in the process and ended up on crutches for a month – so of course he had to use the lift every day after that.

Eventually he settled back in his beloved home country of Rhodesia, and began work for Oxyco, and then moved to manage Mitchell Cotts before becoming head of the Motor Trade Association. During those years, he and Barbara brought up a family of 3 wonderful children and enjoyed many years living comfortably in the bread basket of Africa. Despite being called up to the army during the war years, seeing huge political change, and the heartwrenching decline of Zimbabwe over the latter years, John always loved the country of his birth and was always reluctant to leave. Always keen to contribute, John was a keen member of Round Table No. 1 of Harare. One memorable moment was him pretending to play the piano at a Melodrama performance. He was under the piano, one second, then jumping on top of it, playing with his feet – any position other than sitting sensibly in front of it. He later moved on to Rotary Club where things were slightly more sensible. He was on the Board of Govenors at Arundel school, as well as many years as a Member of the Board and a stint as Chairman at Falcon College. I recall fondly the surprise while I was at the school, when one of my fellow school mates saw him casually talking to me in the Tredgold lavatories, peeing in the urinal and farting loudly at the same time, and then moments later captivating the entire school and parent body in delivering the Chairman’s address at the annual Speech Day. One of his final trips to Falcon was as guest of honour where he proudly saw the opening of the new Bryce Hendrie swimming pool, where the contribution of him and his father will live on for many years to come.

There are so many other things he enjoyed and was involved with and that we have fond memories of. Golf, crosswords, sailing, chess, pipe -smoking, “playing it by ear”, “making a plan”, land-rover trips, Kilimanjaro, overcomplicating maths homework, breaking things and fixing them again, playing the guitar and mouth organ at the same time, the train joke, beating the contestant at letters and numbers, and solving the world’s problems over a bottle of whisky. So having survived the end of the 2nd world war, several cars fixed up and maintained by himself, an early career in mining and falling off ladders, military service in the Rhodesian Civil War, a broken neck and a very close call with bowel cancer, it was a sad day when a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease was confirmed. John and Barbara were with the Whytes in Johannesburg at the time, and were very grateful for their support and friendship at such a difficult time. Since then, the support he had from everybody was fantastic. In particular, the MND Association, NCCCP and Silver Chain who could not have done more in trying to keep John comfortable. Of course Barbara took on the most as loving and dedicated wife, as well as full time carer.

The last 3 years of living with the difficulites and inevitabiliy of MND did not define him, and were just a small footnote on his joyful and earnest life, where he touched so many.

Gone for now, but never forgotton, may he rest in peace.

Craig Hendrie

(reproduced in The Falcon Magazine of 2011)

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