A tribute to dad's full life of helping his community

REVISITING Hervey Bay with retired Charles Grey was always amusing. I'd walk down the street with him as he was repeatedly greeted with glad cries: "Charlie!" "Rev Grey, it's great to see you." "Hey Rev!"

Dad, of course, would just smile warmly and say "Aah, hello, ummm". He was often uncertain who they were, and had no idea how much he had affected their lives. But they knew the quietly spoken little clergyman and they knew his worth to their community.

ABOVE: Charles Edwin Grey and first child Mary Anne Elizabeth Grey (now Secker), Townsville, early 1954. LEFT: Rev Charles Edwin Grey, Brisbane, early 1970s. INSET: Charles Edwin Grey soon after enlisting in the RAAF.
ABOVE: Charles Edwin Grey and first child Mary Anne Elizabeth Grey (now Secker), Townsville, early 1954. LEFT: Rev Charles Edwin Grey, Brisbane, early 1970s. INSET: Charles Edwin Grey soon after enlisting in the RAAF.

They did not come to know the small, frail man of later years. And there is no one left who knew him as the little boy running with big brother Cec through the dusty streets of Mt Morgan soon after the Great War, with threepence in his pocket to see the latest Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton masterpiece.

This was the boy who collected automobile cards and who could name every model of every car at a glance.

This was the young Charlie who watched the mine workers of Mt Morgan grow old too fast and vowed he would never go down the mine. He would travel his own path.

This was the young man who started work during the Great Depression in a Rockhampton drapery. One of his first jobs was to mark a fictitious price on new products, cross it out and write the real, "discounted" price. It seems retail hasn't changed much in all these years.

That young man was told that Marvo the Magician would visit the drapery. Then he was told that he would be Marvo the Magician. I imagine a cape and a top hat were involved. There was something about cutting off someone's head - it involved a cabbage and mirrors.

Then there was Charlie Grey the promising flyweight amateur boxer and lightning-fast professional sprinter. He left both sports because he didn't like the crowd - the betting, the race-rigging. He was never one to follow peer groups. Charlie would do the right thing, and he would do it his own way.

He became the man of peace and faith who volunteered to put himself in harm's way in the Second World War. Dad talked only occasionally and sparingly about his experiences in New Guinea, where he worked as a fitter and turner, keeping the RAAF planes in the air. They were not pleasant memories.

This was the handsome man who won the heart of a pretty young English librarian named Mary Lucas. They were already busy planning their life together when she gently reminded him that he had forgotten to actually propose. He did. She said yes.

Then Charlie Grey, the simple gasfitter, heard the call of his God and knew he had a job to do. With a young family and precious little money, he studied for the ministry and dedicated his life to helping others.

The helping was no problem. It was the preaching that took its toll. Public speaking made him vomit. To make things more uncomfortable, he always had to bring a little box to stand on so he could see over the pulpit.

I remember that Charlie Grey well. I remember him struggling with sermons, comforting parishioners in his study. But I also remember him making his biceps dance to make us laugh. Those were the strong arms that would carry us from the car to bed, as we pretended to still be asleep while he cuddled us up and tucked us in.

Mum was a big part of dad's ministry. When he lost her at a young age to asthma, he found the strength to carry on. And on the way he touched thousands of lives. Dad never thought of himself as inspirational. But he inspired many throughout his career in the church, some to become ministers themselves, some to serve their community in other ways. He just carried on doing what he felt was right, and doing it in his own way.

In the years before his retirement, I remember him dealing patiently and liberally with his long-haired, rebellious teenage son. I came home one afternoon (after not coming home the previous night, as young men sometimes do) to a long note in full biblical language, promising that he would "kill the fatted chook" to welcome home the prodigal son.

After his retirement, dad found love again and married Ada Perry at the ripe young age of 70. In the years after he lost her, Dad's world shrank. I felt blessed to have been able to still fit into it. We had our regular coffee outings every Sunday, and a stroll around the shops. It didn't matter that we had pretty much the same conversation every time. These were precious moments.

One Saturday, I was driving him to the hospital after his final fall. In his confusion, he asked me what day it was. Saturday, I said. Saturday, he replied. My son will come and see me tomorrow.

He was right. I had the privilege of sitting with him as the pain, the fear and the confusion went away and his breathing became quieter and quieter. And I shared in a little of the peace that came over him then. It is a moment I will treasure always.

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