John Beeston 1917-2005
I knew John Beeston for only the second half of his life. He was 48 when I met him in 1966. It was at Knox Presbyterian Church in Moorooka. I remember only that he was a shadow behind his daughter. I was very interested in his daughter. John Beeston was in the background.
The background is often where you would find John. Looking through old photos of the family you often see John standing. At the edge, while others are seated. Part of the group, but not in the centre. Like Jane Austen's Mr Darcy at a country dance. Quiet, distant, with an inscrutable but handsome face. But if you looked closer, there was humour in his eyes, a cheekiness, a wicked grin edging onto his face. And love in his heart for all that was happening around him.
As Judy says, “He was always there. He had an aura of strength.” For a child growing up, John represented something solid. A rock.
He wasn't always John actually. His younger sister, Aunty Joyce, remembers that John's mother always thought everyone would call him Jack. But in the end, only his family called him Jack. Until our kids came along. Then he was always called Papa or Grandpa.
When I think of John, I think of hands. He had the loveliest hands. Big, strong, useful hands. I struggle to assemble IKEA, so you can imagine how much I envied those hands. They were good hands in the garden, good hands in the home, good hands in the workshop. He had the neatest, most legible handwriting. Yet he could make rugged little tables that are scattered around our various homes these days. Sturdy, solid tables that you can use to stand a cup of coffee on, or stand yourself on to change a light bulb. I'm sure they are indestructible. If we were all to be wiped out in a nuclear war, the invading conquerors might find that all that remains are John Beeston's tables.
When he was a boy John showed a facility for these things that later became his hobbies. He was good at sports. He played cricket and rugby. He was also keen on flowers. Aunty Joyce, his younger sister, remembered that he always loved flowers. Before he was 18, there were always flowers in the Beeston house. But when he turned 18 he stopped bringing flowers home and started taking them down the road to where a certain Margaret Dymock lived. According to Aunty Joyce, “We never saw flowers again.”
John had a brain to match his hands. He did well at school, encouraged by a father who gave him a shilling whenever he did well in an exam. John knew the value of a shilling apparently, because he always came top or second.
There was always music. We never had to look for Papa. We just listened to where the whistling was coming from. Graham wrote an email yesterday, regretting the fact that he couldn't join us from France today. In the email he said, “We have so many stories to share about this inveterate whistler who only stopped whistling when you offered him a chocolate.”
Jim's most vivid memory of his Dad is standing next to him in the second-back row of the church at Knox Moorooka listening to him singing his tenor part above the rest of the congregation.
Apparently it was like that from the beginning. He was always singing, particularly when he did his homework. Joyce and John used to sing duets. Every night when their mother was washing up she'd start singing and all the kids would go into the kitchen and join in singing with her. The neighbours said it was lovely.
But Graham's mention of chocolate reminds us of one of John's most enduring legacies. Namely, Pay Nights. Every pay day he would come home with a chocolate bar of some sort for each of the children and these became known as Pay Nights. Of course, he also had a chocolate bar for himself. He had a very sweet tooth. I am pleased to report that this tradition has continued in our own home because his daughter inherited his systematic nature and his sweet tooth. A fine legacy.
John met Margaret at 18, when the flower deliveries changed. They married when he was 24 and she was 22. And they were married 63 years, producing Graham, Judy and Jimmy which was also the name of a folk group when I first saw John. In the background.
Soon after they married, John was off with the army. He served three years in Sydney working on radio and radar. Margaret reckons he was glad to get away from the Taxation department and do something interesting.
You see, although John rarely talked about it, the common view in the family is that accounting was not his first choice for a profession. It was his father's idea. John might have preferred to be a teacher. But accounting was decided for him and it led him into the Income Tax Department at 16 and he rose through the ranks to become an Appeals Officer.
He said once that he wouldn't have minded being a Barrister, so being an Appeals Officer was as close as he would come to realising this dream.
John and Margaret set up home at 62 Goodwin Terrace, in Moorooka, and John and Frank McKay settled on the new site for the Knox Presbyterian Church. John became Sunday School Superintendent with 200 children on the rolls. He was also Session Clerk at Knox as he had been at their earlier church St John's Presbyterian in Annerley with Rev Alexander Duff. He was dedicated to his church and gave many hours working for it that outsiders never saw. When he became the Superintendent of the Sunday School he was always first there of a Sunday morning, opening up the windows and setting out the chairs for Sunday School.
Rev Bryan Gilmour, well known here at Logan, was to be their minister at Knox, Moorooka, before coming here. During Bryan's time in Moorooka, John was a leader in the Bethel Bible studies which Bryan secured from America. In fact, he was the first Bethel group leader in this country.
After 45 years in a taxing occupation, and at 60 years of age, John retired and he and Margaret, (known to most the family now as Nanna) moved to Caloundra. In the church there they were both active again. John was, of course, the leading tenor in the choir, often taking the solo part. He served as an Elder and in many other ways.
In Caloundra he got to do the things he loved. He was able to garden, fish, and potter in his work shop out the back making those indestructible tables and other wooden articles.
He was not one for complicated pleasures. But he took pleasure in many things. All his life he seemed to love nothing more than to be in his own home, eating Nanna's meals and being with the family. He didn't particularly like going out to restaurants or the cinema or going anywhere that took him away from his garden and his home. In fact, I remember the first time Judy and I took him to a restaurant for lunch and his genuine shock at the ridiculous prices they charged for a sandwich! And it wasn't even as nice as one Nanna would have made!
When Judy was small she remembers him sitting in his favourite lounge chair playing himself at chess. I guess he won. He was a voracious reader and was never far from his book. The book and reading glasses beside his lounge chair-these were familiar symbol's of his life.
John was also a great tease. Every child living in or visiting the Beeston house was in imminent danger of being startled by a stealthily delivered poke. When John entered the room, we used to joke, “Wanna see a small child walk on the ceiling?” Judy says he had a way of silently sneaking up behind her when she was practising the piano. Judy would sense his ominous presence with a start and let out a scream. Then he would grin and swagger off, giggling like the cartoon dog, Muttley.
One of the odd things about John's ability with his hands, was the fact that he was born with a disability. Not that you would really ever notice, but his left arm was restricted in its movement. The result, so they say, of being a big baby of a small mother. It's rather absurd to call this a disability, because it never seemed to any of us to curb his ability to do anything he wanted to. He could still catch a cricket ball on either side of his body. He just worked out how to do it with his right hand on both sides. And he built a couple of houses in Caloundra pretty much by himself.
He used to paint the whole house from top to bottom every few years all by himself, climbing ladders fearlessly and falling off them from time to time, too. Nanna got used to hearing bangs and crashes when he was working like this. He would fall, pick himself up and start to whistle. The whistle was the signal that he was okay. One time in Caloundra he got down from the ladder and left his little toe behind, caught in the ladder. He just called out to Nanna and she had to drive him to the hospital. He took the toe with him but they were unable to put it back on. He put it in a bottle. So then had more ammunition with which to tease his children and grandchildren. He would enter the room carrying a little vegemite jar with a wicked grin and say “Have you seen my toe?”
John has already been missed for a few years now. About 7 years ago, it was clear that his memory was failing and John and Nanna moved into Yurana. The family realised he had dementia a few years ago when he stopped recognising us. The saddest thing was watching him endlessly walking around the garden at the Unit not knowing what to do next and not knowing a weed from a plant. Forgetting where you put the keys is a normal senior moment, but forgetting what the keys are for is dementia.
For those of us lucky enough to have known John during the 20th century, we remember him quite differently from these last few years. As we should.
So there's one more strong tenor in an angelic choir, and now no shortage of good coffee tables in heaven. I'll give the last words to his oldest son, Graham, who yesterday wrote “we are assured that the old fella is now in the hands of the Lord he loved and served.”