Panegyric for Michael Webber
All Saints Church 12 May 2008
by Andrew Webber
I welcome you here today and thank you for your support of Michael’s family. Michael would have been moved by your kindness. I also want to thank Peter Jerrim for reading today on behalf of his father, Bishop Henry Jerrim. Thank you too to Peter Fulsang for his firmness and sensitivity. The family’s thanks go particularly to Father David for his limitless patience and kindness over the last few days.
On the wall of the shack near the door that leads out to the beach was a carelessly torn piece of paper for all to see. On it was some of Papa’s almost indecipherable scribble. It read:
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE BOAT
- spare rowlocks
- whistle (for emergencies)
- buckets for bailing
Admiral Webber had issued his instructions. Over the years, various members of the family added to the list:
- ship to shore radio
- Don’t forget the boat!
In my last year at school, I wanted to go to the Hutchins Ball, with my girlfriend - after days of indecision I asked if I could borrow the car and obtained his permission. The day after the ball, I woke up, Papa had scribbled a note on my desk - it went something like this:
- Distance travelled: 28.5 miles
- Estimate of petrol used: 4/6d
- Insurance: 4d
- Depreciation of car: 6d
On 4/- a week pocket money, it took me months to pay that back.
I looked around Papa’s and Granny’s dining room two days ago and saw about fifteen lists. Can you guess what this one was about? It went from July 1998 to August 2007:
Dining room 20/2
and so on for another four pages. It is a nine year record of all the light bulbs that needed replacing and it ended when we fitted some of those new long life globes. He was nothing if not meticulous.
These lists, some written on paper saved from fifty year old exercise books, have orders for the pharmacists and words from his daily battles to do his crosswords (cryptic of course). I even found a list of every disease and operation he had ever had – dear, patient Michael Graham would not be in the least surprised! I went into the pantry and there was a bottle of Courvoisier Cognac, bought by Papa in 1965, duty free of course, on a trip to England. Granny had suggested that he drink some for his 90th birthday - but he declined on the pretext that some more significant reason to drink it might arise in the future.
What explains all this? I imagine it is because he was a child from a broken family who grew up in the Great Depression and in his university days had to face the uncertainties of life in war-torn England. This, plus the ludicrous inadequacies of a clergyman’s stipend made him frugal in the extreme! His difficult childhood eventuated in a need for stability and order, which is something he worked hard to establish in his own family. In the nicest possible way, it has to be admitted that Papa was a control freak- but his hopes have been realised and I have marvelled to see how astonishingly united and supportive his extended family has been over the last few days. Looking through his advice to his family, I was struck by these words:
We hope to leave something reasonable… to each of you.
We hope it will not be spent on immediate expenses (if this can possibly be avoided), but used as the foundation of a sensible investment policy. For although to live for the present is the normal and reasonable thing to do, to provide for the future is the wise thing! We have, perhaps, over emphasised the latter and tended to play-down the former. I’m not sure.
His early insecurities encouraged him to consider the needs of others and particularly those less fortunate than he. I know he supported a multitude of charities which he never told his children about.
By now you will probably all have realised that Michael left instructions for today’s service:
- All readings from the RSV - not the “Good News”
- Hymns of a straightforward, vigorous nature - and which do not make extravagant fanciful claims about the “destiny of the departed”. (He gave us fourteen to choose from).
- Music - predominantly Bach, of course. Eg. Choral preludes.
- If, for custom’s sake, there is a psalm, I suggest 90, 1662 Prayer Book Version - read by all, not said antiphonally - that makes sense only if there are two, more or less equal groups of singers - or there is a cantor or choir, and assumes that most of the congregation know something about the metrical construction of Hebrew Poetry!!
Wonderful stuff, don’t you think? Clear, precise, indeed commanding! As you can see, we have observed his wishes faithfully. As you leave, you will see that Millingtons have placed a donation box in the Church, for Michael wrote:
…make sure that provision is made for a collection for donations, the announced proceeds of which should be given to the Church, in which the event took place, for its own use.
Well, you have all heard his request. Michael knew from long experience how hard it was to maintain the precious fabric of the Churches in which he served.
Now, my brother and sisters have given me the singular honour of giving this eulogy. So I had to see if Papa had left any instructions:
Any panegyric should be honest, accurate and devoid of sentimentality.
Fair enough, this was the man I knew, but why the word “Panegyric” and not “Eulogy?”.
Well look it up in the dictionary, my son
was what he would have said. A eulogy may be a speech or writing in praise, but a panegyric is a public speech or writing in praise of some person. Why was I surprised? This too was characteristic of the man. Anyone who ever heard him speak or preach was immediately struck by the accuracy of his vocabulary and the precision with which he used it in his beautifully weighted sentences. So, please note, this is a panegyric.
And what should be the substance of the panegyric?
Let it focus on what I did achieve, not on what I didn’t (e.g. educational, liturgical, pastoral).
So there it is and it must:
Stick to the facts - not hypotheses, theological or otherwise.
I am going to take the liberty of adding to Michael’s instructions, for his family’s feelings have their place too.
Michael Webber 1916 - 2008, Dean of Hobart 1959 - 1971