Written by Richards wife Cath and published in the The Age 22/12/15
20-6-1959 – 16-4-2015
Doctor, musician and art-lover Richard John grew up in semi-industrial Thanet Court, Ringwood, which runs beside the railway line. His mother would know when to put his father’s evening meal on the table by the sound of the arriving train.
Early in Richard’s childhood, there was a dairy at the end of the street where he pinched and ate scoopfuls of the horse’s oats, hung out with local kids and on lucky days, went for rides on the horse-led carts with the boss of the dairy.
Richard came from a nurturing family and was well-loved by his parents, two older siblings and maternal grandparents who lived locally. Academically and athletically gifted, Richard managed to navigate the various minefields of school life.
A modest boy, you might hear of his success at yo-yo competitions and footy games but never of his role as the Pirate King in Ringwood High School’s production of The Pirates of Penzance or his status as head prefect.
Richard, who has died of cancer at age 55, studied medicine at Melbourne University before working as a doctor at Preston and Northcote Community Hospital. Then, after a year of obstetrics and gynaecology, he worked for seven years as a general practitioner in Warrnambool, delivering about 50 babies a year.
Richard continued his work as a GP in Alice Springs for four years then at Mt Martha for 15 years, treating patients of all ages and in later years, attending to those in nursing homes. He enjoyed all the tales that were shared, loved his work and managed to pursue his many other interests and enjoy family ventures with me and our two daughters, Grace and Chloe.
Sport was just one of his many passions. After a 10-year absence from the golf course during his 40s, Richard returned to play once a week on the Mornington Peninsula, reducing his handicap to five. As a member of the Flinders Golf Club, he appreciated the beauty of the landscape as well as the banter of his mates. He also took up cycling, tennis and swimming at various times and was an avid, but tortured, fan of Richmond Football Club.
The break from golf was made to allow Richard to learn music – he taught himself the trumpet, an instrument his paternal grandfather, Pup, had played. Pup, a plumber, had come to Ringwood to perform as bandmaster for the town band which would sometimes play for the silent movies. Richard’s father, Alf, had worked as a printer with the Salvation Army, having been raised in a Salvo family.
Richard initially practised the trumpet in the wide-open spaces of the Alice Springs desert then joined the town band. After we returned south, he eventually became first trumpet in the Mornington band. Thanks to his Welsh genes, he had a beautiful deep voice and would sing blues and jazz in the car with his daughters – and serenade the occasional patient. He also had a natural rhythmic ability at dancing which we both enjoyed. We were usually the first two seen on the dance floor.
Art was another passion. He felt it “put you in contact with another part of yourself”. Some of the artwork that inspired him included Giacometti’s sculptures, Goya’s paintings and etchings, and the ancient indigenous Kimberley Rock paintings. He also admired and encouraged my art. He himself was visually expressive with his wide array of hats and stylish, colourful clothing on his tall frame, helping to brighten up the various clinics at which he worked.
Literature was also a great love of Richard’s. He devoured and adored a huge range from Macbeth, Moby Dick, Don Quixote and the poems of Banjo Paterson to cartoons in The New Yorker.
The work/life balance he achieved in later years, saying he and I were “living the dream”, allowed for wonderful times exploring Australia and overseas. Last year we enjoyed a pilgrimage beside the Wye River in Wales and the previous year he fulfilled a boyhood dream when we made a trip to the Antarctic and South America. Compassionate and socially responsible, Richard felt “to realise your place in the universe you should sleep outside under the Southern Cross”. One idea of Richard’s, based on his respect for indigenous cultures, was that it would wise for every minister who leaves this country on business to be accompanied by an indigenous elder from their electorate.
Richard James John was a lover of, and curious about, almost everything. He validated gentleness, humour, curiosity and was multi-talented – and his greatest talent was his kindness.
Cath John was married to Richard.
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