I’d like to quote from probably Harry’s favourite author of recent times, Terry Pratchett, a quote involving what was probably his favourite character, none other than Death himself.

 

The recently deceased says:

“Is this the bit where my whole life passes in front of my eyes?”

And Death says:

NO, THAT WAS THE BIT JUST NOW.

“Which bit?”

THE BIT, said Death, BETWEEN YOUR BEING BORN AND YOUR DYING.

NO, THIS IS THE BIT WHERE YOUR WHOLE LIFE PASSES BEFORE OTHER PEOPLE’S EYES.

 

But it’s not his whole life, of course. I really don’t wish to talk now of the breadth of Harry’s extraordinary accomplishments, although I’m sure we’d all agree that he seemed to combine the achievements of many into a single lifetime. We’ve all read the marvellous chronicles already gathered from friends and family by grand-daughter Sally, and already published in the daily press. I just wanted to reflect a little about Harry the person.

Harry would have loved to be here today. He would have been thrilled with the naming of the Literacy House, as an acknowledgement of his life of creativity, and of creative lives to come, and in a sense, an estimable closure to the community work that he began.

He also would have loved to be here today because of the incongruity of being at his own Memorial Service. It would have smacked of the absurd, the turning of reality and expectation on its head, which he loved to muse about.

Lastly he would have loved to be here because he didn’t mind being centre stage, too. Harry loved to ham it up a bit. He was a showman, but typically not at the expense of others. Rather he so much wanted to share his box of toys, his bag of tricks with as many as would join in the game. My very first meeting with Harry around 40 years ago was when neighbour Dennis Perry urged me to join him, to meet with his grand Guru next door, for an afternoon of verbal wizardry. He talked of Zen and Tao and the I Ching. And 40 years later, there he is on stage entertaining an Irish audience or two with his tin whistle playing. I’m sure you all have your own similar stories of Harry too.

But our Harry is not here today. He has been unavoidably detained, which was definitely not part of his plan. Brother Tony will tell you that Harold had every intention of being around until 124, and speculated which member of the Royal family might be around to confer the appropriate honours. Each birthday he would say to me with his mischievous grin and his twinkling eyes: “Well, I’m half way there!”

A lasting impression of Harry for me was as a man of contradictions.

For example, underneath that window dressing of the quiet and reserved English gentleman was the latent hippy: a rebel, an iconoclast. He rebelled against stereotypical thinking, against lazy attitudes, against bureaucracy. Perhaps that’s why he and Madge bought into a cooperative community near Geelong called CAKE, in the late 60’s. Later this experience inspired his first (and I think only?) novel, “The Love Family”, about the hippy lifestyle. Does anyone here still have a copy I wonder? In it, Harry portrayed himself and Madge, and many friends as well, in a freewheeling exploration of love and unbridled truth, which I think got him into a spot of bother. I suspect this wasn’t the only time Harry portrayed himself in his own literature too. You’ll find priests, physicists and philosophers in his works who speak for Harry, not to mention the bereaved spouse, re-entering a relationship.

But I digress. As another contradiction, some thought of Harry as bit of a recluse, especially in his latter years. And it’s true he was very self-contained, very contented with his own company. But he combined this with an insatiable urge to share his passions for language and literature, for philosophy and psychology with his fellow man, to reach out and influence in the flesh many communities in many different ways. I wish Diane Brooker well in her project to share more widely some of Harry’s writings in a future publication.

Harry definitely did not believe in false modesty, reminding me often that his father instilled in the family a pride in the Beechey name and in their deeds. But he was acutely self aware, generous and compassionate, as his deeds and his writings witness. He always gave our kids exactly the Xmas presents they wanted, and usually something to stimulate their creativity. He was a true student of human nature, passionately studying the foibles of humanity, and importantly, not just academically. For me, his time at the Noble Park Family Mediation Centre was the finest example of this, where, as a voluntary family counsellor, he worked with the daily agonies of failing relationships, and he loved this work well. It was one of his greatest disappointments when the government eventually decided to replace the volunteers there with professionals only.

It was a privilege to have journeyed a little with Harry. I am sorely missing his warmheartedness, his wit and his wonderment, and leave you with these words of his, on the death of a friend a decade ago.

As the questing tongue-tip

Searches in disbelief for a missing tooth

So we find ourselves exploring the emptiness of your passing.

Yes you are gone

And we smile in gratitude

For the memories that warm us

Against the icy chill of sudden Death.

Thankyou