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Pleasures in life measured by human milestones

Brian and Joyce Garth at their wedding in 1953.

Brian and Joyce Garth at their wedding in 1953.

He greatly enjoyed high school, from 1941 to 1946. He was dux of his form for 5 years running, then school prefect in form 6. He was a member of the school sports teams in cricket, soccer and athletics. He was also house captain of Plenty House, and member of the first matriculation year at Northcote High School, achieving 96 in English. He then attended Melbourne Technical College (later RMIT) in the city, where he represented the college in swimming, and attained a fellowship diploma in mechanical engineering with honours.

During the first 21 years of life, Brian was very close to his brother Ian, his only sibling, who was four years younger. In the 1950s, the two brothers built their homes on neighbouring blocks, just around the corner from their parents. In 1998, he was devastated when Ian died at 65, in Sydney.

The constant anchor in Brian’s life was his unshakeable Christian faith, flourishing for 30 years in the Collingwood Free Breakfast Mission, behind Dr Singleton’s dispensary in Wellington Street. This is a big story that he loved to relate. He served enthusiastically as a worker, junior bible class teacher, youth leader, a member of the Victorian Baptist and Church of Christ basketball team, secretary and lay preacher.

His later Christian life was lived through the Kew Baptist Church, from 1968 to about 2010, only his failing health limiting his regular presence at Kew. His first voluntary job at Kew was clerk of works for the new Newnham Hall, working with Frank Boreham the treasurer. At Kew, he was also junior Sunday school superintendent, chairman of the property and maintenance committee for more than 12 years and choir member for 25 years. He had a pleasant, light baritone voice that he enjoyed using throughout his life.

Brian met his wife, Joyce Dunstan, at the Collingwood Mission when they were teenagers. She had come with a family from Fitzroy who were looking for a place of good Christian fellowship. Married in 1953, they moved into their new home in Perry Street. With his brother as neighbour for 15 years, and the Methodist Church on the corner, it was a small, flourishing Christian community.

Early marriage trials were Brian’s critical illness with a ruptured and gangrenous appendix at age 28 and baby Karen’s serious illness at six months with meningitis. He took very seriously his marriage vows to “love and cherish in sickness and in health” and believed in a marriage based on “give and take”. Brian and Joyce’s mutual Christian faith enriched their marriage and enlightened their daily path and gave their children fine examples of moral and practical goodness and kindness.

He dearly loved all four of his children, asking them to do their best, rather than come first. He was proud of their academic achievements, but even more proud of them as individuals. Every evening when they were children, he would give them a cuddle and a kiss, especially if they had been naughty, before sending them to sleep with a story or a lullaby and a prayer.

Brian said he had been especially blessed seeing his nine grandchildren growing up, with more time to spend with them after he retired. They were all his cobbers, friends and partners. His later life was also enriched by the arrival of six great-grandchildren.

Regarding his working life, after he graduated, Brian worked for the Commonwealth Department of Housing and Construction for 18 months. He then accepted a job with G.J. Coles & Company, where he worked for 37 years in the head office in Melbourne. At 29, he was appointed national engineer, later construction manager for the eastern states.

By 47, he was general manager, nationally, for the construction and maintenance department. His department was virtually a company itself, with a national staff of 250. At one time, Coles opened a new retail outlet every two weeks, and Brian saw the company grow from 160 stores to more than 2000. His final, rewarding job was to help in the planning, and to supervise the building, of the new Coles Myer head office at Tooronga.

Never ambitious, Brian said he just followed his own precept, and “did his best”. But his principals and peers put a higher value on his abilities: at a reunion dinner in 1992, an ex-chairman introduced Brian as a “model of consistency and integrity”, at which the current chairman said: “Well, perhaps you had better come back.”

Brian was an active member of Coles Christian Fellowship, and founding member of the Coles Public Speaking Club, established to increase ability and confidence in communication. He enjoyed the respect and friendship of his staff and peers.

In his later years, there were three things Brian really enjoyed: philately; researching the family history of his First Fleet convict ancestors; and beautiful Point Lonsdale, where the family had camped, caravanned and built a beach house. For about 32 years, the holiday house was a place where many enjoyed rest, relaxation and refreshment.

The last 18 months of his life were spent at Karana, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. His fading memory was a blessing in some ways, because it meant he was unaware of his beloved wife’s death in January this year.

Brian himself said that “the best things in life are free – the air we breathe, friendship, equality of opportunity, and in most cases, a healthy start in life”. He measured his own pleasure in life by human milestones, the people he met whose lives challenged and engaged him. He would be greatly pleased if some he had met counted him among those human milestones.

This eulogy was mostly written by Brian himself, with help from his four children, Stephen, Karen, Alison and Helen.

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