Obituary: A lover of books who loved giving
“On the first of his visits to Moscow – then under Communist domination – he visited late at night a lone Catholic priest, a Lithuanian. From then on, the priest received parcels of boots, clothes and devotional books marked – From Ted Gillin.”
Joe Morley was giving the eulogy at the funeral Mass of his lifelong friend Ted Gillin (pictured).
It was Christmas Eve and St Margaret’s Chapel at Dalton Gardens, Ryde, was packed to overflowing for the Mass which was concelebrated by the chaplain, Fr Aub Collins, and Ted’s former parish priest at Meadowbank, Fr John Alt.
Joe said the first gift to the priest in Moscow was “but one of the many gifts he made to people” from all walks of life.
“Some he would have met in most casual circumstances,” he said. “One had only to casually mention an interest in something – especially a book – and next day a copy would arrive.
“Many a religious studying at university was a recipient of his generosity. If he heard that a nun or other religious was studying a subject and required a certain textbook but was finding it difficult to obtain, off he went and found it, purchased it – and the religious student had it.
“He loved books; both for their contents and their formats. He haunted bookshops wherever he went.”
Joe began his association with Ted in 1923 “when we were among the original pupils at what was then known as the Marist Brothers College, Randwick – now the grandly named Marcellin College.
“On leaving that school, we went our various ways. Ted left at 15, glad – as he often said in later years – to be rid of the schooling which he hated.
“What a scholastic achievement he subsequently chalked up! First he entered the world of real estate and later the State public service where, in a variety of endeavours, he spent the rest of his working life.
“By determined perseverance, attending night school, he qualified as an accountant. Next, he matriculated to the University of Sydney, from which he graduated as an economist.
“He moved to the then Rural Bank of NSW where he climbed the ladder of promotion until, at retirement, he was that bank’s Chief Economist.”
Another phase of Ted’s life, Joe told the congregation, was membership of the Campion Society in the late 1930s. “He was a member of the Coogee group directed by the two wonderful Sacred Heart Fathers, Dignam and Dalton. He never lost touch with the Campions, making sure that he and as many old members as he could contact, attended the annual Mass and gettogether.”
From his mother he had inherited an enduring love of literature – “English at first, and later French, Italian and German. He initially taught himself those foreign languages. To hone his Italian, he haunted the local greengrocery.
“Of the English classics he frequently quoted Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven and Newman’s Second Spring.”
And he loved music, attending opera or listening to recorded and broadcast versions of great arias. “Among his favourite books was the monumental Kobbe’s Opera Book – of which incidentally, he bought numerous copies as gifts.”
Starting late in life, he travelled the world, mostly with his wife, Estelle, “seeking out the beautiful, the awesome and the grand in architecture – grand cathedrals, churches, palaces and other examples of man’s creative efforts – art galleries in which he could gaze upon the originals of the masterpieces he had known in reproductions. He would never tire of telling of the wonders of the Paris Louvre and St Petersburg’s Hermitage”.
In the 1950s and 1960s he was a familiar figure, reporting for The Catholic Weekly on the many blessings and openings of new churches, schools and institutions.
He was a perfectionist. “He had to know everything, the when, where, why and who of every event and every action ... he just had to know all about the subject, be it animate or inanimate”.
And “he was also like Shaw’s Professor Higgins in his respect for, and insistence on correctness in the handling of the precious gift of the English language”.
He had the gift, too, of “being able to set people at ease and to see the genuineness of his approach”, Joe said.
“In any given day he could have walked and talked with kings, with cardinals, with presidents, with magnates, judges and magistrates, with road-workers and dustmen, with charladies and checkout girls in supermarkets, or with society’s castoffs.
“He would have been equally at ease with Pope John Paul II, with Archbishop Carey, or with the least of their brethren, with a monk or with a cloistered nun.”
Ted Gillin died on December 20. He is survived by his wife Estelle, son Ted, daughters Mary, Barbara and Eileen, brother Adrian and his wife Norma, grandson Patrick, granddaughter Caitlin and other family members.