Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, April 6, 2012

I chatted with Fred Hollows..

I thought I would continue a theme of good people I have known. I once had long conversations with the late Fred Hollows the well known eye surgeon who founded the Fred Hollows Foundation which does tremendous work throughout the world. His father Joe and his mother, knew my parents, once lived in Dunedin but were important members of the Palmerston North Church. When I got there they had moved to the coast, but visited the Church regularly. Joe sold the land the Church was built on to the congregation for a shilling so they were very special to the Palmerston North fellowship. Fred grew up in Palmerston North. He actually went down to the Church of Christ Bible College in Dunedin with the intention of becoming a Church of Christ minister. (I was the last student to enroll at the Glen Leith College. They closed it when I became a student there... I wonder why?) I doubt he would have lasted long as a minister. He was too "big minded" for the relatively conservative Churches of Christ of his time. I met him because his mother fell ill and was expected to die. He travelled from Australia to be with her. I as a nervous young minister, went to the hospital. I recall sitting in the waiting room with the family during Mrs Hollows' last few days and standing around her bed.  I had heard so much about this man Fred Hollows. He had opened up possibilities for people throughout the world to receive their sight again. I chatted with both Fred and his brother Monte. Then I got left alone with Fred. I was so surprised to find a man who was keen to chat, tell me of his past and his work. He was also interested in me and my perspectives. (Who was I next to such a man? ) He told me that once when he came back home from staying at the Bible College he had introduced a folk dance at a church social. A rather conservative Christian lady came up, told him off and slapped his face. She saw dancing as something Christians should not imbibe in. (I somehow doubt Fred looked remorseful enough for her.) We talked Church, faith, politics, economics and life's journey. I found him to be such an interesting man. He was one of those guys who called a spade a spade. He spoke straight from the shoulder but was a visionary leader. Instead of saying "We can't do that" it seemed like he said, "Why can't we do that? Of course we can!" In our conversation I was intrigued by his passion for people. He had a deep concern for the poor and the underdog. I think he had left the Christian faith he had been taught well behind, but certainly had caught the spirit of Jesus. I was later sad to hear of his own battle with cancer and eventual early death. This big hearted, down to earth man I had a couple of conversations with in a hospital waiting room, and once in the cab of my old ambulance, inspired me. I read a biography and story of his work, but it is the character and passion of the man which came across in our conversation that I remember fondly.

Thinking of such people as him and Brian Laws of my last post I remembered a hymn we sing. I rode my bike into the church to retrieve them. Here are the words, they were penned by David L Edwards and ring bells with me as I look back on people in my life;

Some there are who by their living lift us to a higher plane,
finding joy disclosed in sorrow, healing hidden in their pain.
They are drawn by brighter visions, glad to give all they possess
for a greater good, discovering holier depths of happiness.

Some there are who by their loving lead us far beyond our fears,
showing us by their compassion hatred washed away by tears.
When contempts that we inherit fill us with hostility,
we have hope because of persons who have known love’s liberty.

Some there are who by their dying draw us closer to the Light,
finding death a blessed journey into that most gracious night.
When we feel the sting of knowing that our days are brief and swift,
we remember those whose living met each moment as a gift.

Thanks to God for those inviting us to live more faithfully!
Thanks to God for those who show us richer lives of charity!
Thanks for those we see no longer, but whose mem’ries in us lie!
Thanks to God for those who teach us how to live and how to die!

I am thankful for Fed Hollows and my memories of our encounters.


Keith Harris said...

Some serious name-dropping there, Dave! You've started something now. Check out www.blogspot.brickysworld.com

Dave Brown said...

Apart from governor Generals on a few occasions, he's about the only famous person I have met. I once ate a meal sitting opposite Sir Doug Nicholls, a famous Australian aborigine leader. I met Sir Garfield Todd, one time PM of Rhodesia. Oh.. and I forgot, I shook hands with and was introduced to the last Pope. The sum total of his words to me were "Thank you for being here David." I sat four seats away from him in a semi-circle in a church service. Some of my friends are infamous rather than famous.

Keith Harris said...

The three you have named were certainly worthy of your company, Dave.