Harold St Vincent Beechey
(St Vincent in recognition of the successful Napoleonic era admiral who was godfather to an ancestor)
Born: 16/1/1925 – Died: 13/5/2006
Harry’s family includes:
3 step-children, 2 surviving – Terry, Barbara, John (dec)
3 sisters – Ann, Gillian and Veronica
2 brothers – Anthony (Tony) and (John) Christopher
ACHIEVEMENTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
- WWII veteran
- Poet and writer, a collection of which will be published by Springvale Neighborhood House later this year
- Received ‘Friend of Springvale Neighborhood House’ award from the Committee of Springvale Neighborhood House in 2005
- Received a Certificate of Achievement from the Division of Further Education in 1990 for ‘ Involvement and Encouragement to People of All Nationalities, to Help Them Improve their English’
- Nominated for Senior Citizen of the Year, City of Springvale (year unknown)
- London bus conductor
- Highly awarded salesman (McEwans/Myer)
- President of the Esperanto Federation of Victoria
- Teacher of English to migrants from 1989
- Loved travel – travelled to England, Ireland and Malaysia every 2 years
- Mentor to many people
- Self-taught Magician and hypnotist
- Founding Member of Springvale Writer’s Circle
- Member of Toastmaster’s
- Secretary of the Springvale Neighbourhood House Administration Committee from 1990 till 2004
The following information has been collated from family members and some of Harry’s closest friends. His death has been a huge shock to all of us, as he had convinced everyone, including his Doctor, that he was going to live to 124!
In August we held a memorial service for Harry, with many people attending to talk about how Harry touched their lives. Harry has left his body to science so we will not be having a funeral as such. His friends from Springvale Neighborhood house held a memorial service for Harry, and they wish to honour him by naming their Literacy House dwelling after Harry. There was an informal wake at the Sherlock Holmes hotel in the city. This was Harry’s favourite Irish pub and he was infamous for having once drunk the place dry of all malt whiskey, with his brother Tony and their RAAF friend Mossy. The photo on the right was taken during one of these sessions.
On the surface Harry led an unassuming life, having worked as a bus conductor after the war in London before immigrating to Australia in 1958 and working for only two employers until his retirement in 1987. Harry took early retirement to be able to nurse our Grandmother Marjorie (Madge/Madgie) who was then in need of full-time care. To his distress, she passed away only a month later.
Harry’s Grand-daughter Debbie writes:
Harry met Marjorie – Madgie – when he resided at her boarding house. Shortly after their marriage, they started a new life together in Australia. They initially lived in Hawthorn before moving to Noble Park. Soon after coming to Australia they were joined by Madgie’s daughter Teresa and her husband John. Harry was involved in the childhood of Teresa’s children – David, Debra, Adam and (John) Alister, sharing birthdays, Christmases and many family occasions. Harry was always like a big kid at Christmas, excitedly opening his presents and keeping them close by. As Madgie felt she was too young to be a grandmother, her grandchildren called her Auntie Madgie and so Harry was Uncle Harry. Harry worked at McEwans, which was taken over by Myers. With careful planning and frugal living, Harry was able to take early retirement from the Gardening and Lawn Mowing section of Myers. Unfortunately, Madge developed Alzheimers Disease and died at home from heart disease around 20 years ago.
A love of language and people:
But underneath this mild-mannered façade of Harry’s lay a person of huge intellect, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about anything and everything. An avid reader and lover of the English language, in 1994 Harry was honoured by the Council of the Aged as a “Senior Achiever” for his work with migrant literacy classes in Springvale, where Harry ran Conversational English classes twice a week for many years. During this time Harry also received recognition from Margaret Whitlam for his work during the International Year of Literacy, along with many other certificates of appreciation during his years of volunteering. Harry had only one aim – to help develop English conversational skills in a friendly and non-threatening environment.
Harry holding the certificate of appreciation for his voluntary work teaching new Australians ‘Proper English’ as he called it.
Harry’s classes were very popular. Until his death, one of the attendees of Harry’s classes still had Harry over for dinner every Monday, when they would discuss numerous topics over a bottle of red wine for many hours until the taxi arrived to take Harry home again. Harry’s contribution to the Springvale Neighborhood House Literacy program was so great that they have decided to name their Literacy house dwelling in Springvale after Harry. (As mentioned, there will be a memorial and naming service in July for this).
In 1944 Harry was a conscript with the D Day invasion forces of the English Army. Harry did not like to talk much about the war, however, he did open up a little to his friend Baker-Moss (Mossy) who was in the RAAF when they met.
“I suspect that we first bonded as a consequence of the shared experiences surrounding service life – Me being serving in the RAAF at the time; and Harry and his brother Tony both WWII veterans. I believe Harry attained the rank of Sergeant during the war and was at one stage the radio operator assigned to accompany his Unit commander. I am not sure if you can picture the very old style large kind of army backpack radio, but that is the type that he carried across Europe following the invasions on D-Day. In many instances Harry was the second most forward British Soldier in the front as it advanced towards the Germans – his CO being the most forward! I particularly recall his description of how he was required to throw himself to the ground “gently” so as not to put the radio set out of tune (the valves etc were very hard to calibrate and a sudden jolt might require hours of work to get a signal back to HQ).”
THE BEECHEY SHIELD:
Harry sought friends who could keep up with his active lifestyle and who shared his love of cerebral pursuits. Harry refused to grow old and was often amazed when reminded of his age. ‘When did that happen?’ He would ask, feigning bewilderment. One of his friends, whom he met later in life and who is younger than Harry, accidentally gave him a present inscribed “Happy 70th Birthday” on his 80th – simply because they couldn’t believe he was indeed turning 80…!
His close friend Wally Marek writes:
“There are a lot of things about Harry that remind his friends of the genius of Spike Milligan; whereas Spike went to England we got Harry. Harry had the same capacity for not taking himself seriously.”
HYPNOTIST AND MAGICIAN
Among many other exploits, Harry learnt how to be an accomplished hypnotist and magician (there are photos and a newspaper article on him in his collection).
After Harry did his time fighting Hitler he became a London bus driver. As Harry told it, the life of soldiers rebuilding their lives after the war was extremely creative. On the busses, he found time to read and time to observe people. A number of people have said that Harry is the best-read man they’ve met. His home library took up 12 bookcases and that’s not counting the books stacked on the floor (in every room). And the amazing thing about it was that he remembered the books he had and was able to find a book when it entered into a discussion.
Harry fed an interest in crime and science fiction by reading up to three weighty novels in a day. He was an accomplished fast reader and dangerous to take to a bookshop.
In our wide-ranging discussions, Harry liked to refer to himself as a sage and a polymath. In Harry’s case, this was not a pretentious title. Many people considered Harry to have been their mentor. When I was tackling an MBA in 1996, Harry (at the age of 71) was prepared to take on the subject of modern management with me. If it was not for Harry, I do not believe I would have been able to achieve my MBA.
And I can say that this is also true of many other people who made Harry’s acquaintance. Another close friend of Harry’s, Diane Brooker, is now a published poet thanks in part to Harry’s encouragement and mentoring. In 2004 Diane’s book of poems was published, with all proceeds going to the Motor Neurone Disease Foundation.
“Harry made me believe I could do anything, so when he told me my poetry was good I believed him. Consequently three years ago I self-published my first poetry book and am now busy writing another. Harry was not only my friend he was my Mentor. Who now will talk with me about words as he did?”
AWARDS AND WRITING
Harry was awarded the London Conductors Essay medal award two years running, 1955 and 1956. There was also his “Charlie” series about a contemporary Irish fortune seeker; entries into and commendations from the Dandenong Writer’s Competition and probably (less well known) readings of Finnegan’s Wake and other works of James Joyce on Bloom’s day in June.
We found out recently that Finnegan’s Wake contains puns in 40 languages, including Esperanto. That type of novelty was right up Harry’s alley. Harry was an accomplished linguist, at one time having been included in an anthology of poems in Spanish.
Harry was also intrigued by the language of Esperanto, so set about studying and mastering the language so well that he achieved the title of Professor in the language, he was quite disappointed when it did not take over the world as had been predicted.
Another love of Harry’s was cooking, watching cooking shows (such as the Iron Chef) and reading recipe books. He was something of a gourmet and had five fully stocked spice racks. Different racks for different styles of cooking you might ask? NO, 5 racks of the SAME spices, he just didn’t want to run the risk of being out of a spice or herb in case he felt like immediately cooking what they were whipping up on the telly.