17 January, 2020
Keith Lawrence Gallagher
12 November, 1928 to 11 January, 2020
I lost my father last week. He was the best of men. If there were more like him, we'd have fewer wars, less trauma and more peace and love in our lives. You will find no soul willing to say a bad word about him, because Dad lived by the ethos of never doing or saying anything to another human to make them feel bad about themselves. He was thoughtful, wise and held his tongue when it threatened to speak with anger. He was the background helper and a person you could always count on. He quietly got on with things, never seeking thanks or fanfare. He did things because they were the right thing to do.There will be no funeral for Dad because he willed his body to UQ Science in the hopes that his death would teach the next generation of medical students, helping those that come after him. Below is the eulogy I wrote for him.
Dad died last Saturday morning at 1.05am aged 91. His death was, after all, somewhat sudden, as he seemed stable and was to be transported from Canossa Private Hospital in a few days time for a procedure to reduce the fluid build up in his abdomen before sending him home. Dad had cardiac amyloidosis, a rare condition where protein seeps through the wall of the heart causing it to stiffen until it can no longer beat. He’d been admitted to Canossa a week earlier when the simple acts of breathing and keeping his eyes open became too exhausting. On Thursday night, an infection raged through his body and by Friday he was only able to keep his eyes open for a few seconds at a time to tell his family, ‘bye, goodnight, see you soon, I hope’. Surrounded by his wife of 67 years, two daughters and son, Dad opened his eyes one last time before taking his final breath. It was ironic that his heart was the organ that failed him in the end, because he was best known for his kind heart and gentle spirit.
Dad was the eldest child of three. He had a younger sister Edna and a brother, Kevin. He was born at home on Ipswich Road, Annerley in 1928 to Lawrence Gallagher, a mechanic and Edith Gallagher, a homemaker. Dad remembered his parents as placid and kind. He said they did a lot with and for their kids. He fondly recalled his father taking him to a one man circus and the time they waved to him from the street when he was quarantined with Diphtheria in the Diamantina Hospital (where the PA now stands). His family home was filled to the brim, also housing both sets of his grandparents. While he was still in primary school, the family moved to Yeronga and in his later years, Dad would become animated when driving through the suburb, pointing out areas of interest and reliving memories of his time living there. He would recall that the local park used to be a dump and one of his childhood friends was bitten by a snake and died while playing there when it was flooded. Dad said he had a happy childhood and although his parents had described him as highly strung (hard for us to believe), he said he was a good kid and never gave his parent’s too much worry.
Dad finished school in Year 7, aged twelve, which was not unusual for his time. He didn’t go on to sit for the scholarship that would’ve taken him further academically, because he thought he was a numbskull, who always finished at the bottom of his class, never at the top. Again, this is difficult for his family to comprehend, as he would go on to become thoughtful, clever, resourceful, a voracious learner and a deep thinker. He would come up with ingenious answers to difficult problems and was never short of wisdom when needed.
In 1949, aged twenty-one, Dad was riding his Harley past a shop on the corner of Park and School Roads and spotted a dark haired, sixteen year old beauty sweeping the footpath. He somehow managed to keep his seat and continued home to ask his Pop if he needed any tobacco. Pop told him yes, and Dad rode back to the shop to fetch it. There, he began an important conversation with Hilary Mallory that would continue for seven decades. Mum agreed to go on a date and said that Dad soon won her over with his dark, good looks, quiet nature and tea-totaling ways. He was a truck driver for Bryce’s Transport at the time. Over the next three years, his attraction turned into love and soon he found himself wanting to spend all his free time with his girl. The pair briefly broke off at one point and Dad headed to Cairns to work in the cane fields, which he remembered as back-breaking work, but over time, he realized he couldn’t live without Mum.
By the time Dad asked Roy Mallory for his daughter’s hand, she was living on her father’s new venture, a strawberry farm at Thornlands. Dad had also invested money in the farm, but unfortunately it wasn’t a success and he lost it all. It was in the strawberry fields that Dad popped the question and Mum’s answer was a resounding, YES!. The couple married the day after Mum’s nineteenth birthday, on the 15th of November, 1952 at Dad’s parent’s church, St Giles Presbyterian with Mum’s Aunts closely scrutinising her waist size because of the speedy turnaround from engagement to wedding. When their first daughter, Christine was born more than twelve months later, Mum knew she'd had the final word.
In 1953, the happiest period of Dad’s life began. His sister and her husband, Harold had moved to a 1200 acre grain farm called Netherby on the Darling Downs to work for Tom and Mary Hogg. Tom needed more help and asked Harold if he knew anyone looking for work. Harold suggested the newly wedded Keith, who was looking for a change. Tom agreed to give Dad a three month trial, and it was almost thirty years before he left Netherby. Mum and Dad moved into what became known as the ‘old farmhouse’ and he began his schooling in farm work. In the early days much was done manually, with harvests collected by hand into wheat bags. It was hot, hard and honest work, however, Dad loved the reaping of the harvest, a tangible prize for months of care and toil. He recalled this work as a passion, where he could be his own man, make his own hours and decide what work would be done each day. He worked far beyond the normal eight hour days and loved the farm as if he owned it.
The couple lived on Netherby when Christine was born in 1953. Dad described his daughter as a beautiful soul who'd do anything for you. He recalled a time when they ran hand in hand to escape a storm. Dad raced up onto the patio of the old farmhouse thinking his daughter was right behind him, however when he looked back, she had continued on to the new house they now lived in and was soaking wet.
Four years later, in 1957 they welcomed their first son, Ken who had the crystal blue eyes and the snowy hair of Mum’s father, Roy. Dad said Ken was a good son, who towed the line and followed in their footsteps throughout his childhood. Ken inherited his father's love of motorcycles, particularly Harley Davidsons.
Seven years down the track, in 1964 their second son, a brown haired, brown-eyed Cupid of a child called Stuart Brett, (now known as Brett) was born. Brett was cheeky, funny, and loving, and he brought them much pride and joy as a child and into his adult years. They enjoyed watching him play rugby league for the school and the Pittsworth Danes and hearing about all his teenage escapades. Dad said Brett was a doting son, the generous sort who would never see them suffer financially or in any other way.
In 1971, they drove to the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital to pick up their final child, an adopted daughter - me. Dad told me many times that it was the best five dollars he ever spent and the greatest thing they’d ever done. I was and remain a Daddy’s girl and loved it when he said I’d made his day after giving him a kiss.
Throughout Dad’s years on the farm he saw great changes in agricultural technology and the farm swelled with new machinery to make his job easier. He had many fond and sometimes exciting memories from his working days, such as the time he was in the paddock on the metal crawler when a storm blew in and lightening struck the ground in front of him causing the hairs to stand up on the the back of his neck or the times he came home from holidays to find a storm had blown the roof off the farm shed and strewn iron all over farm. In 1974, after a such a holiday, Mum and Dad found themselves stranded in Inala, at Grandma Mallory’s home during the Brisbane floods. Instead of relaxing with family, Dad worked, helping people clean up their homes while he waited for the water to subside enough to return to work. Dad sported a serious farmer’s tan during his time on the land, his skin turning a leathery brown, while his torso and sock line remained a vanilla white. In winter, his hands would develop deep, bloody cracks that he’d ask his daughters to rub lanolin into. The farm life was a family affair, with Hilary driving trucks to drop off grain and Brett working alongside Dad when he was old enough. Fond memories for all of the Gallagher children were the regular holidays their parents would take them on. Sydney, the Snowy Mountains, Bunya Mountains, Sunshine and Gold Coasts and eventually Ballina, where the family holidayed in the Boomerang Caravan Park for thirty-five years in a row.
All good things come to an end and in 1981, Mary Hogg decided to simplify her life and put Netherby up for sale. Aged fifty-three, and after more than thirty years of not needing to worry about finding work, Dad found himself scrambling to find something new. By this time, Chris and Ken were off living their own lives and only Brett and Jo remained on the farm. A family friend found Dad a tradesmen assistant job at the Tarong Power Station, working for Tilemans on the chimney stack. Brett left the family home and initially, Dad and Mum based themselves in a rental at Stenner Street, Toowoomba while Dad did two-week stints in the dongas at Nanango. He sneakily smuggled home cold cuts, bread and cakes with him, amazed at the amount and quality of the food supplied to workers living there. Mum found she couldn’t live without Dad by her side and they bought a large caravan so they could live together in the Homestead Caravan Park at Nanango.
Tarong Power Station neared completion in 1985 and Dad again found himself needing to look for work. The family moved to Brisbane, first staying in a caravan park in Wacol, before living briefly with Grandma Mallory in Inala and then moving to the home he would live out his days in, on Boss Road, Inala. Chris’ husband Frank found Dad work at Commonwealth Engineering in Salisbury, where he did his part to build a fleet of buses and trains for Brisbane.
In a few years, Dad retired and enjoyed some recreational time crabbing on his boat, Mr Chips. On one infamous outing with his brother, Kevin and brother-in-law, Clifford, Dad’s crab measuring ruler was found to be inaccurate and the Dept of Fisheries hit them with a court summons for undersized crabs. The trio were given the option of a $500 fine or community service. Kevin and Clifford chose the fine, but ever the economist, Dad chose community service and completed his hours doing garden maintenance for a local state school, where he did such an outstanding job that he was offered paid work when he finished. He declined, continuing his retirement and loving his time tinkering in his sheds, sculpting his gardens and helping his children, grandchildren and anyone who needed it. He did some part-time gardening work to supplement his pension, alongside his sister-in-law, Judy and was the first one to arrive if anyone in the wider family needed help moving house or with any large project. Dad was always a welcome helping hand. He was someone who would quietly work in the background, never causing issues and always contributing.
It was in his retirement that Dad, who had always looked after his health and weight and followed doctor’s advice, found himself at the mercy of genetics and some bad luck health-wise. He was diagnosed with a cyst in his pancreas that surgeons couldn’t biopsy to determine if cancerous as the surgery itself was too dangerous. He began a decades long waiting game to see if any of his growing number of maladies would be the one to fell the man with an iron constitution. He was subsequently diagnosed with an aneurysm in his chest cavity that could erupt at any time without notice, hypertension, Type II diabetes, he had two knee replacements, a pacemaker inserted for an irregular heartbeat and had a TIA after booking his first trip overseas at the age of 83. This trip to England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France for four weeks with Mum, Graham and Lynn was an enormous undertaking for him. With restricted travel insurance, he took a deep breath and explored foreign shores for the first time with the love of his life. He adored Ireland, wasn’t fond of London or Paris and enjoyed talking to the locals in Scotland about the elusive Loch Ness Monster. By the end of the four weeks, however, he and Hilary were both homesick and missing their family and Australia and it wasn’t until they were secure in their own home again that they began to fondly relive what was indeed the holiday of a lifetime.
Dad said the saddest and most tragic day of his life was the night police knocked on his door to tell him Ken had taken his own life. To lose a child is a grief no parent should ever have to bear. The knowledge that Dad now stands beside Ken is a comfort to us.
Dad would go on to welcome four spouses into his children’s lives, Frank, Sharon, Annette and Baden and he loved them all. He had ten grandchildren, Clayton, Stacey, Karlee, Jesse, Joshua, Tameka, Jessica, Lisa, Matthew and Samuel and at the time of his passing had nine great grandchildren. His granddaughter, Karlee wrote him a letter and read it to him before his passing, listing in it ten of the things he’d taught his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Humbleness and work ethic
Creativity and innovation
Stoicism and resilience
Gum leaves make great whistles
If you hold onto your money, it will grow
Always return something in better condition than you got it
A good dog is an obedient dog (although the canine love of his life, Suzie may have weakened this stance somewhat)
Never lend money, your car or your missus
Be good, and if you can’t be good, be good at it and finally…
To be together at Dad’s side as he took his final breaths in the early hours one week ago today, will be remembered as one of the greatest honours of mine, Mum, Chris and Brett’s lives. We held the hands that only ever touched us with love, soothed the forehead that held all of the wisdoms he’d imparted, checked the temperature of skin that had worked tirelessly for us and kissed the body of the greatest husband and father we could have ever conjured up.
For now, we say Coowee into the great, unknown beyond and are grateful to know that Dad is waiting there for us all, making it a better, tidier and a calmer place for when we meet him again.
Dad, you made all of my days and for now my heart is broken. You took the time to know and understand me well, and nothing remained unsaid between us. I love and miss you beyond all words. Sending a fluttery, butterfly kiss to you. xx