For Lou Richards: 'Lou is bigger than a legend', by Ron Joseph - 2017

18 May 2017, St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia

Lou was right. He told me his farewell would be bigger than Texas. He also told me that I would have to speak at his funeral.

"All the other people I know are dead,” he said.

"You better start thinking about what you are going to say, because it will be a bloody big funeral. Harold Holt’s will have nothing on mine. I had a house down at Portsea near him, you know. He didn’t drown. He took off with a sheila.

"It will be a state funeral, just like his. So that’ll give Jack and Bobby Davis the shits.

"Don’t let them have it at Jeff’s Shed. That is a cold hole, like Jeff. It will be a telecast around Australia, it might even be around the world. So you better be ready to talk on national television, Ronnie, and don’t stuff it up. You’re bloody lucky to get this opportunity, you know. No one else would give it to you.

"Tell Nicole and Kim to make sure that they get a good quid for the television rights. If Seven are covering it, tell the girls to charge double. Casey paid me bugger-all for all the time I spent with him at 3DB and Channel 7. He was a good bloke, Case. Edna and I loved our time with Ron and Pauline, but he was tight, tight as a fish’s ...

“EJ’s was a state funeral too. I’m bigger than Ted ever was. I nicknamed him Mr Football and he believed it for the rest of his life.

“I called Barassi Mrs Football. Of all the blokes I have nicknamed over the years Barassi is about the only one that ever lived up to his moniker.

“And if that Mike Fitzpatrick’s at my funeral, you know the bloke who used to play for Carlton, the Rhodes Scholar — Rhodes Scholar, my bum — tell him he spent too much time at Oxford and Cambridge and can’t recognise a legend when he sees one.”

So Lou leaves us after 94 marvellous years. With memories that will last our lifetime. There would be few people in this church who wouldn’t have their own special story of Lou and his ability to warm up an event, a lunch or a dinner, with laughter and fun. You could almost say that Lou knew it was expected of him.

I remember as a young upstart at North in my early years having my first visit to Channel 7 and Ron Casey’s World of Sport. Uncle Doug Elliot was presenting an ad for Ballantyne’s chocolates, reading his lines off an idiot sheet, a piece of butcher paper held by two members of the Seven camera crew. Live on TV Uncle Doug was halfway through his ad, staring intensely, glasses over his nose, reading the idiot sheet when up came Lou and set the butcher paper alight. I couldn’t believe it.

Jack Dyer, Bob Davis, Neil Roberts, Skeeter Coghlan, Bill Collins and Bruce Andrew fell around laughing. It took a stern Ron Casey to get World of Sport back on track.

And who could ever forget the Phoenix Hotel? As legendary as the Flinders St Herald Sun building alongside. Sir Henry Winneke was Victorian governor in the ’70s and after a VFL dinner at the Southern Cross, Lou invited him back to his hotel for a drink. Sir Henry, the great man that he was, obliged. When I made it back to Lou’s pub at one in the morning there was the Rolls-Royce, numberplates VIC 1, double-parked in Flinders St outside the Phoenix. Upstairs, Sir Henry was the centre of attention. Lou came up and asked him if he would mind staying because Edna wouldn’t believe that royalty had visited his hotel and he wanted Edna to meet him. Lou was gone for five minutes and then reappeared.

“Governor,” he said, “Sir Henry, your Excellency, I never know what to call you, but Edna is in bed upstairs. She has rollers in her hair and she said is to tell you that she couldn’t care if you are the king of England, she’s not coming down to meet you.”

What a beautiful marriage Lou shared with Edna. They were inseparable. They shared a wonderful marriage and friendship. When Edna went into care, Lou didn’t leave her bedside. When Lou died last week he had endured 3350 days without her. It was only after Edna had gone that you could get Lou out for a coffee, a lunch, a footy match or a drive in the car. He could still laugh, there was some special events — his 90th birthday at Kim’s, the unveiling of Lou’s statue at Collingwood — but his darling Edna had left his life. You knew that deep down all Lou was ever thinking was, “Where’s Edna?”.

Having read, observed and listened to all the glowing tributes that have been printed and aired on the radio and TV since last week, it is easy to overlook the depth of the man himself. A character on the footy field, as a tough, take-no-prisoners captain, and a character off it as a person with a rare knockabout charm and sense of fun — as well as a generosity of spirit and a strong sense of doing the right thing.

The National Trust in 1982 went as far as classifying Lou as a national treasure. But Lou is much, much more than that.

First and foremost, he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather, brother to Ron and Glenys, and an uncle. And regardless of all the fame that came his way, Edna, Nicole, Kim, with the grandkids, were always his pride and priority.

How lucky were we at North. Shirley Trainor, the wife of our ’60s president Tony, was a close friend of Edna. They were best friends. Inevitably the Trainor family introduced Lou with Edna to a football club that wore blue and white, not black and white stripes.

After some hits and misses in the early ’70s, North started to get its show on the road. They were heady days. Fundraisers and functions that rolled from one week to the next, and Lou was always there. People attended just to be in the room with him. Six successive Grand Finals and in 1975 the inaugural premiership.

Then the famous draw and replay of 1977. The VFL competition was on its way to being a national competition. The Grand Final was televised live and in colour, and Ron Casey and Lou Richards led the way. For 40 years, Lou would be up on Grand Final day at 6am to host North’s Grand Final breakfast, that through his brilliance became its own institution.

Lou would then leave the Southern Cross to call the Grand Final with Mike Williamson or Peter Landy. Prime minister Hawke never missed one of those breakfasts and Lou never missed giving the PM his famous line, “Bob, the only thing you haven’t done for the workers is become one”. With Allen Aylett, Albert Mantello and Ron Barassi, it seemed that Lou was also a part of the executive team at North. Lou loved his involvement and North loved him back.

Out of all of this grew great friendships like Shirley’s and Edna’s that stood the test of time. It would be wrong to say that North was the only beneficiary of Lou’s generosity. Lou had friends at every club and he delighted in helping them all with his presence and star quality. Today we say farewell. Lou is a legend. Who else gets an eight-page wraparound in the Herald Sun that is as much a part of this city as Lou and the MCG.

So Lou Richards leaves us after 94 marvellous years, with memories that will last our lifetime.

Lou might not have kicked as many goals as Tony Lockett or Peter Hudson but he is a legend. Lou might not have won as many Brownlow Medals as Haydn Bunton, Bob Skilton, Dick Reynolds and Ian Stewart but he is a legend.

And if his game as a player was just a little short of the class of the great EJ or the dynamic Ron Barassi, Lou is still a legend. In fact, Lou is bigger than a legend. Decency, loyalty, gentleness, warmth, kindness, integrity, humility, cheek and fun all in equal parts gave us Lou Richards.

Our love and thoughts are with Kim and Nicole and their families. Their loss first of Edna and now Lou is immeasurable. I thank them for the honour of speaking here today, I thank them for sharing Lou with us and, on behalf of all of us and our marvellous sport, I thank Lou for all that he gave.

We remember Lou with affection, admiration, gratitude and delight