15 February 2018, MCG. Melbourne, Australia
Good friend and longtime colleague Tony Wright, closed out his June 2017 tribute to Dad upon his retirement at The Age with the following observation:
"As he leaves Fairfax, there are two recent portraits of Michael Gordon that capture a contentment that transcends journalism.
Not so long ago, he sat on a beach in Sierra Leone with his son, Scott, who is an aid worker in that west African nation battered by civil war and ebola.
They shared a beer and the love of a father and son and watched the sun setting on the waves, a few surfers out for the last break of the day.
Only a few weeks ago, Michael held a tiny baby in his arms: his and his wife Robyn's first grandchild, son of their daughter Sarah.
The baby is named Harry, after Michael's own late father - himself a legendary journalist - and all who knew the Gordons had held their collective breath for weeks, willing little Harry, born 10 weeks prematurely, to battle on. He had, and his grandfather, the most decent of men, was finally able to hold him, the Gordon story continuing.”
When Dad stood here 3 years ago and delivered his father Harry’s eulogy, he noted that Harry was blessed to have two innings in life. Dad’s retirement from The Age marked the beginning of his second dig... the back 9 and he was ready for it. He was excited and he was happy.
"I was talking to him yesterday,” Tony Wright was quoted over the weekend, "he had his surfboards on the roof and was looking forward to a very pleasant weekend out there around the beaches and he was as happy as I've heard him for a very long time.”
For me Dad’s happiness at the time of his death was perfectly captured in a video sent to me by one his many unofficial god son’s Simon Bramwell. It was during the recent Christmas New Year break and the video showed Simon on a perfectly clear summers day with a light north easterly blowing walking down the pebbled path at Millhouse (our affectionately named beach house) to Dad’s vege patch at the bottom of the hill.
Dad and his father Harry had long shared a passion for gardening and growing vegies since Dad’s teenage years at Mount Martha. Both approached growing vegies with the same unwavering enthusiasm as they did journalism. Never to be disheartened.
Just like the journalism gene, I missed the gardening gene. I would often frustrate Dad when he would ring from Melbourne or out of town and ask, "How is the garden looking Scooty?" I would peer out the window at Milhouse and say enthusiastically, “gee mate, I don’t think it has ever looked better!”. Inevitably Dad would return some days or weeks later to find the garden had not seen any attention since his departure and weeds had taken over.
While Dad and Harry never questioned my career choice to become an auditor (although I later did), Dad still harbored hopes of me finding the passion for gardening and his beloved vege patch.
Aside from Journalism and gardening, I don’t think there was a passion we did not share.
On my long transit home, I re-read the eulogy Dad prepared for Harry. In many ways this could have been Dad’s eulogy if you only changed the names, they shared that much in common.
In describing Harry, dad wrote, "What sort of father was he? Most of all, he was passionate, someone who greeted each day with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, generosity and optimism – traits that never left him. He was proud of his kids and loyal, too.
Over the years, Harry became more a sibling than a parent to us kids and even our kids…, and Johnny, Harry and I were the Gordon brothers.
Close friend and Age colleague John Sylvester, described Dad as a "serial hugger" in the paper last week. Hugging is a defining characteristic of the Gordon brothers, and kissing also. At Harry’s Queensland funeral, I remember Dad’s brother Johnny proudly boasting of how the boys would always kiss each other on the cheek.
One thing the Gordon brothers would never do … is forget to tell you how positively they thought of you. Harry, Dad, Johnny … and I like to think myself … have never been afraid to tell people how much we love them. Whether it’s
· a waiter at the Chinese Restaurant;
· a friend of a friend you’ve just been introduced to;
· someone you’ve shared a moment with in the water;
· or your dearest and dearest.
We tell them, you just can’t risk not.
Whenever the Gordon brother’s have a beer we affectionately clink both sides of the stubby as if to signal something special (pause) sometimes Dad and I would even clink 3 times on surfing holidays or after a Hawthorn flag in the Blazer Bar. These moments make up my fondest memories.
Sarah and Jimmy, let me know when little H is ready and Johnny and I will be sure to pass on the tradition.
While Dad’s second dig was unfairly cut short, his first innings was long and accomplished with plenty of well documented runs on the board. In reading the tributes that have flowed in, I was taken by that of Orietta Guerra. I’ve never met Orietta, like many of those Dad influenced, I only hope you are here so we can share stories afterwards.
In her tribute Orietta says, “I have spent the past 24 hours questioning how I, we, can all be kinder, nicer, better. More like Michael Gordon.”
For many of us, and I suspect for you, Dad’s positive influence has long since taken affect. We are all kinder, nicer and better for having Micky around. Dad was a molder of good people and so many of you in the room today are testament to that. He gave us all the tools needed to be better. And better we are and better we will be.
When Simon reached Dad’s veggie patch he was carrying two ice cold beers. When the camera first pans to Dad, he is hard at work turning over soil wearing a ridiculous wide brimmed hat complete with fly net. Then once Dad feels Simon’s presence he looks up and greets the camera with a full body smile. Next the video cuts to a snippet of Simon, mum and dad enjoying cold drinks and the afternoon sea breeze on Milhouse’s deck. From Simon’s short video, it was clear… Dad was exactly where he needed to be.
Two weeks ago I read out my 2018 goals to mum and dad over the phone from Sierra Leone. Number 1 on the list was to surf more with those I love surfing with.
Dad and I didn’t get to paddle out together in 2018 but we will forever be sharing the ocean.
For me, Nick McKenzie summed this up best, "Died in the ocean, sun on his back. What a wave you rode Mickey, what a wave…"
13 days ago my Dad’s big, beautiful, generous heart suddenly stopped beating. And we didn’t see it coming.
So many times over the past two weeks, as I’ve howled, hurt or hoped, I’ve wanted to call Dad. He would be able to help.
He was the Dad that was always there for me, my thinker, my friend and my protector.
He was the Dad who always told me, “Don’t worry. It’s all good. Have I ever let you down?”
The word mentor has been used so much over the past two weeks to describe Dad, and I feel so very blessed as he didn’t just mentor me in a professional sense, he mentored me in life.
Perhaps that is why I’ve found it so hard to come up with the right words today. Dad was our narrator and now I’m lost for words. He was the person that provided me with so many.
He taught me so much and I hope I can pass on these special qualities and values to his grandson, Harry, who he loved so dearly.
Dad, I could be sad, that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye or get one final trademark “Micky” hug.
Dad, I could be sad, that I didn’t get the chance to say how proud I am of you and how much I love you.
I could be sad, that I didn’t get the chance to thank you for everything you have done for me and our family.
But you wouldn’t want that.
Just two days before Dad’s big, beautiful generous heart stopped beating, he came to our place for dinner. He stood outside with a beer in hand. We were listening to Jimmy’s latest playlist and admiring our new deck, as the sun went down. He had Harry in his arms and a big grin on his face. He was happy. Oh so happy…
Dad, I didn’t get the chance to tell you that night, so I’m telling you now.
We are going to be okay. We are going to be okay because you showed us the way. We are going to be okay because you have given us the gifts that are more precious than anything in this world.
Whenever we were heading off to a big event, you would calmly say: “Feel Good, Feel Strong”.
Dad, I’ll try my very best. I love you.
Related speech: Friend and colleague Martin Flanagan delivered a typically beautiful and emotional eulogy for his first editor at The Age. " Michael Gordon may be the most sensitive man I ever met. When you spoke to him, you could hear the words drop inside him. Like coins in a slot machine." Read and listen here.