Victorian Association of Jewish Ex & Servicemen & Women Australia Incorporated

Founding Member General Sir John Monash GCMG KCB VD

Join Pay Donate Search

Sir Zelman Cowen Full Tribute by Prof Don Markwell

Professor Don Markwell

By Prof Don Markwell B Econ (Hons) Qld, MA, M Phil, D Phil Oxon,
Warden, Rhodes House, Oxford

In August 1940, George Paton, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Melbourne and a Rhodes Scholar for Victoria 14 years before, wrote a reference for a 20 year old candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship who had dreamed since boyhood of going to Oxford:

       ‘I have known Mr Z Cowen well for some years. His academic record…is one that has rarely been equalled. It is frequently the case that those who do brilliantly in Arts do not show quite the same aptitude for law, but Mr Cowen shows the same skill in both fields. His mind is very keen and remarkably mature for one of his age. Very few could even attempt t

he task he is doing this year - finishing the law course and carrying a burden of University teaching as well. I have found his contributions in discussion classes very penetrating and interesting, and, although one is a poor student who can teach his mentors nothing, from Mr Cowen I have learned a great deal.

       ‘He has a rounded personality, broad interests and cultivated tastes. …He has great energy and that intellectual integrity which refuses to accept anything which has not been investigated. …

       ‘…He has the assured courtesy of a much older man, and, while he has no reticence in urging his own opinions, I have found him both respectful and willing to abandon his point of view, if its weakness could be shown…

       ‘In short, I feel he has that quality which would benefit most from a period at Oxford. I have written many of these testimonials for the Selection Committee, but this is the first time that I can write for a candidate who has exactly that intellectual flair of which great things can be predicted.’

Zelman Cowen won the Rhodes

Scholarship for Victoria that year, but was not able to take it up until 1945, after war-time service in the Navy. In Oxford, where he went with his young wife and life partner, Anna, he was appointed a permanent Fellow & Tutor in Law at Oriel College even before he topped the postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1947. From this base, he also did legal work in the post-war occupation of Germany, and had his first exciting exposure to law teaching in the United States.

In 1950, George Paton, as Dean of the University of Melbourne Law School, wrote to Zelman to see if he was interested in applying for the Professorship of Public Law there. He was; and the Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford, C K Allen, an under-stated but highly distinguished Australian lawyer, wrote from Oxford expressing - quote - ‘both pleasure and confidence in supporting [Mr Zelman Cowen’s] application’.

Noting his ‘academic record, both in Australia and at Oxford’, and that he had ‘more than amply justified his election [as a Rhodes Scholar] on all grounds, both personal and scholastic’, Warden Allen reported that - quote - ‘since he was elected a Fellow of Oriel College I have ample evidence...that he is a successful teacher who takes great trouble with his pupils, has a shrewd judgement of them, and is much appreciated by them. He is, in my opinion, a man not only of quick and extensive legal attainment, but of genuine scholarly interests.’ He commended Zelman as a constitutional lawyer who would be a ‘co-operative colleague,... efficient in…administrative duties’. Oriel College, the Warden privately noted, would be ‘very sorry to lose’ this ‘excellent tutor’.

Zelman Cowen was, of course, appointed to the Chair of Public Law, and as George Paton was almost simultaneously appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, the 31 year old Rhodes Scholar came home not only as Professor but also unexpectedly as Dean of the Melbourne Law School. Over the next 16 years, he truly transformed it into the modern law school, grounded in first-rate scholarship and teaching, and rich with international linkages, especially with the US universities he visited. His own inspiring teachi

ng and encouraging mentoring are, I know, still remembered with gratitude by many law students of that time, now very senior in their profession. It was in these Melbourne years that Simon, Nick, Kate, and Ben were born. At the same time, Professor Zelman Cowen also emerged as a public figure, including through radio and later television commentaries on public and international issues, opposing the Communist Party dissolution referendum in 1951 and the Victorian hangings of the 1960s, and contributing internationally to the development of legal education and building up administrative talent in various Commonwealth countries and territories.

The early references I quoted from Sir George Paton and Sir Carleton Allen give insight into the qualities of intellect and character that led Zelman Cowen to so distinguished a career as legal scholar, author of many articles and several books, of which clearly one of his favourites was his biography of Sir Isaac Isaacs; pioneer in legal education; academic leader as Dean, and then Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England and then of the University of Queensland; tireless healing Governor-General of Australia; and then back at Oriel College, Oxford, as Provost, where he was proud to be the first Rhodes Scholar to be head of Cecil Rhodes’ own college.

In his application for the Rhodes Scholarship in 1940, the 20 year old Zelman Cowen wrote:

       ‘The [teaching] work as a member of the University staff has entailed fair experience in public speaking. While at Scotch College, I was a member of the School debating team, and since that time have been keenly interested in public speaking. I have found that the work [teaching] in the [University] Extension Board particularly, together with invitations I have from time to time received to address bodies, such as Public Schools and clubs has afforded invaluable experience in this very interesting work.’

It was indeed ‘inv

aluable experience’. As a Vice-Chancellor and Governor-General, and in other public roles, Zelman Cowen was to find speeches a powerful instrument of leadership and healing. When, as a young Rhodes Scholar from Queensland with a shared interest in constitutional conventions, I came to know Sir Zelman in Oxford in the early 1980s, beginning one of the greatest friendships of my life, I was struck by how vividly etched, even scorched, in his mind was his speech to a large crowd in the Great Court at the University of Queensland, my much-loved alma mater, during the Springbok protests and University disruption of July 1971. For such a speech-maker to describe this as ‘the speech of my life’ reflects the tensions of those times. It also reflects that he was by nature a communicator. The late 1960s and early to mid-1970s were times of tumult and protest around the world, including at the University of Queensland, where the Vice-Chancellor had to steer the University between what was often abusive protest on the one hand and an overly assertive Premier on the other.

During these troubles, Zelman and Anna Cowen showed ‘grace under pressure’ - which is a definition of courage.

Through ‘the

troubles’ and beyond, Professor Cowen defended the rights and interests of students, and worked to build the University, engaging community support, including philanthropic support. Then, as before and later, he was an effective fundraiser. One important benefactor of the University of Queensland was a flamboyant grazier, Barney Joyce. When asked how he would like to be portrayed in the University’s official portrait of him, Sir Zelman replied, somewhat cheekily: ‘with my hand in Barney Joyce’s pocket’. Her Excellency the Governor-General has spoken of how, when she invited Vice-Chancellor Cowen at short notice to lecture to one of her law classes at UQ at that time, his was the best lecture she has ever heard, earning a standing ovation from the students.

Fulfilling his vision of the Vice-Chancellor as an independent public figure as well as leader within the University community, in various public addresses in Australia and overseas Vice-Chancellor Cowen spoke of how the tearing of the social fabric in countries around the world was threatening the fragile consensus - the acceptance of shared values and rules - on which what he called a ‘civil liberal society’ depended.

The 1975 constitutional crisis and responses to it greatly strained the fragile consensus about crucial aspects of governance in this country. When in 1977 Sir John Kerr indicated his intention to resign as Governor-General, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, turned for his successor to a wholly non-partisan constitutional scholar and attractive public figure who, in thought and action, had grappled more profoundly than perhaps anyone else in this country with the issues of division, consensus, communication, and healing. In usin

g Nehru’s phrase ‘a touch of healing’ to describe what he hoped to bring to the office, Sir Zelman set the theme of his four and a half years as Governor-General. Above all, the healing was done through reaching out to community groups in all corners of the country, endless visits and countless speeches, reflecting careful research and what seemed like boundless energy. I first saw Sir Zelman Cowen, of whom of course I had known for years, when in 1978 he came back to the University of Queensland, where I was then an undergraduate, to give a major speech in the Mayne Hall, which he had been so determined and proud to build.

His speeches aimed not least, in Sir Zelman’s phrase, to ‘interpret the nation to itself’. As we all know, this healing balm was a profound gift to the nation, for which we are right to remain grateful, and Sir Zelman’s approach has been a model for a number of subsequent Governor-Generals.

On going back to Oriel College in 1982 as its Provost, Sir Zelman again brought healing - healing a college hurt by the sudden departure of its previous Provost, and presiding over the harmonious resolution of what had been the divisive issue of admitting women to Oriel, the last all-male college in Oxford. His speeches to rowdy undergraduates at dinners after rowing victories were legendary, showing his own depth of engagement in the full life of the College and enabling him humorously to encourage academic as well as sporting success. Sir Zelman combined the Provostship with other roles, including as chair of the British Press Council and of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, as well as speaking commitments around the world.

His extensive speech-making about the role of Governor-General and other Commonwealth issues reflected the fact that, although he had written on issues of monarchy and republic since the mid-1960s, he - along with most Australians - then believed that Australia had sufficiently achieved the substance of independence and had no need to change to a republic. But within five years of coming back to Australia in 1990, he believed that Australia’s national journey and sense of itself now required that its head of state be, in words he liked, ‘one of us’ - unequivocally symbolising Australia itself. And so in the republican debate of the mid to late 1990s, the constitutional lawyer who had brough

t healing to the nation in the position of Governor-General was advocating, including in speeches over which he laboured, an Australian president chosen by special majority in the Parliament.

By that time, with strong support from Victoria University, where he was a Distinguished Visiting Professor, Sir Zelman and his team were hard at work on his memoirs, A Public Life. They were launched by Justice Michael Kirby on Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen’s 61st wedding anniversary, in June 2006. It is in these memoirs that one can read of many diverse interests that can barely be touched on today - music (especially Mozart), architecture, the press, his work on radio and television, adult education - and other aspects of his life, from the Jewish migrant experience of his forebears, his St Kilda boyhood and interest in ships and early aviation, and the joys of student days, through to his retirement work for Griffith Law School and the National Academy of Music, and for editorial independence at Fairfax newspapers, and much else besides. In recent days so many institutions and organisations have expressed their deep gratitude to him, and rightly so.

Both in his memoirs and in countless speeches and deeds over many decades are reflected the liberal values for which Sir Zelman Cowen was a beacon - individual liberty under law, including the rights to privacy and to free speech in a civil and tolerant society; the rule of reason, with a preference for moderation, collegial leadership and consensus-building, and even-tempered public and private discourse, with disagreement without rancour; uncompromising and scrupulous integrity; and education - in a college, a law school, or the wider university - that both broadens and sharpens the mind. In one such speech, he spoke of ‘the study and reflective and speculative thinking which lies at the heart of good teaching’ - something he exemplified, expected, and encouraged. Spending 34 of his 92 years leading educational institutions, while ceaselessly interested in broad public issues, he never lost his commitment to the interests of students, and was always delighted when any former student remembered his teaching or help that he had given.

George Paton in 1940 w

rote of Zelman Cowen having ‘exactly that intellectual flair of which great things can be predicted’ - great things fulfilled beyond prediction, perhaps even beyond the prediction of his mother, who expected him to be a King’s Counsel - and of his having ‘that intellectual integrity which refuses to accept anything that has not been investigated’. For me, conversation with him was often a Socratic dialogue, an investigation - the pursuit of a topic beyond what I thought possible - marked by this experienced raconteur’s sudden bursts of humour and an anecdote or three. He brought clarity of mind, charity of spirit, and civility of expression to all he did; erudition and elegance; wisdom in judgement; energy, singleminded determination, efficiency, and dignity in action; and a remarkable capacity for friendship - intensely loyal, warm and kind friendship, expressed in the most generous hospitality by him and Lady Cowen, in conversation that encouraged as well as stretched, and in correspondence that spanned the world.

Zelman Cowen was for me and for others, not only a truly exceptional academic and public figure at home and abroad, but a uniquely special friend and mentor, and a profound and wise influence on our lives.

We remember him with love and gratitude, and we will miss him more than we can say.

 

Sir Zelman Cowen Full Tribute by Rabbi Dr John Levi AM

Rabbi Dr John LeviBy tradition a Jewish funeral is simple. Each human being is made in the image of G-d. Each coffin is of plain wood and is covered by a plain black pall. The emblems of some of those extraordinary achievements of the man have been placed by the coffin for the family and the nation to treasure in all the years to come. Tradition has chosen most of the words that belong to this service. Most are those from the 3000 year old Book of Psalms. Emotions do not change. These are words that speak to us of shared experiences of life.

We understand that the life of every person is unique and therefore there is a eulogy...a hesped in Hebrew. Sir Zelman, Zalman ben Dov Hakohen v’Sarah understood this and was determined that this service would reflect his passions and his love of life. He thoughtfully chose each piece of music and its place in this service. We have heard from his beloved Mozart the Adagio from the Clarinet Concerto. We shall hear J S Bach’s Sarabande for unaccompanied violoncello from Suite No 1 and, following the final prayer, the Grand Toccata from the 5th Organ Symphony by Widor...quite deliberately chosen to leave us with a sense of triumph. The job is done.

Looking down I see the seat on my left in which he sat. Anna and he were married in this synagogue on 7 June 1945, 66 years ago. His father Bernard Cowen was president of this congregation. His father-in-law Hymie Wittner was its treasurer throughout the congregation’s formative years. How proud they would have been.

Family is the great theme, the dynamic centre of the life of Sir Zelman.

Our deepest sympathy is extended to Lady Cowen, to Yoseph, (Nick) who is in Jerusalem and who said farewell to his father two weeks ago, to Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen and to Miriam, to Kate, to Ben and Lahra. To his remarkable sisters June and Shirley and to the grandchildren each one of whom were precious and deserve to be mentioned by name…Sruli, Ruchi, Chaim, Rivki, Sholom Ber, Malkia, Nechama, Moshe, Nechamie, Sarah, Meir, Ella, Nina, Mitch, Charlotte and Alexandra and six great grandchildren.

Of course we know we are in the presence of greatness and that is reflected within this congregation. Her Excellency the Governor-General Quentin Bryce, the Rt Honourable the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the Rt Honourable Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott, Chief Justices, Judges, Governors, three former Prime Ministers, Members of Federal and State parliaments, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the Clergy of all faiths and a host of personal friends from every walk of life.

Within this service booklet is a slightly edited biographical note written by Sir Zelman for the second edition of his book “Isaac Isaacs” published by the University of Queensland Press 18 years ago.

In preparation for this time I reread his remarkable book on Australia’s first Jewish Governor-General and also his autobiography “The memoirs of Zelman Cowen: A Public Life” published by Melbourne University’s Miegunyah Press in 2006.

Sir Zelman speaks to us in both books. He writes of Sir Isaac: “As a young man, I saw him from time to time in Melbourne places, and on one occasion I talked briefly with him, if talk be the appropriate word to describe what took place in an encounter between an awestruck boy and an eminence whom the boy viewed as a colossus. As an Australian Jew, I had a special interest in the life and work of a fellow Jew who, with no assistance beyond his own abilities, made for himself a brilliant career in the law and public life of this country. ...I did not then know that the Governor-Generalship was to link me with Isaacs. As I have said, he was the first Australian born holder of the office. I was the sixth. Ten years after the book was published in 1967, I was invited by the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, to come to see him in Canberra, and he then proposed that my name should go forward to the Queen for appointment as successor to Sir John Kerr as Governor-General. Among the thoughts which crowded into my mind was the one that it was an extraordinary thing that I should have been a biographer of Isaacs.”

Both Isaac Isaacs and Zelman Cowen had powerful mothers. Isaacs had no sense of humour. Sir Zelman was the opposite. Early on in his autobiography Sir Zelman tells one of his favourite stories concerning his Aunt Annie who lived in Newcastle on Tyne in England and who, in old age, found herself in hospital. The hospital gravely told her son, Sam, that his mother was hallucinating. His mother had responded to a number of simple questions by saying she did not know. She was then asked if she would tell them something she did know. The old lady answered decisively in her foreign accent “My nephew is the Governor-General of Australia.” Asked again, she repeated the bizarre statement. Her son listened to this evidence of hallucination and said simply, “Well, it is true”. After that Sam said, “They could not do enough for us”.

Some of us may remember a half hour television interview made in 1990 as his battle with Parkinson’s was just beginning.

He recalled growing up in a home where Jewishness was quite central. He sang in the choir of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation. He vividly recalled his first day at the St Kilda Park Primary School and gazing at the blackboard and thinking he would never make sense of the squiggles that formed the letters of the alphabet. He was amazed when he became first in the State at the conclusion of his primary education.

In his final school year he sat for Matriculation Hebrew. That year he was the only student to do so and of course he passed. He had wanted to go to Geelong Grammar but Dr Darling insisted that all students attend Chapel and his parents had rebelled and so instead he went to Scotch. He excelled at school and then he said he found the university a place of great richness and the library became his sanctuary. As he wrote he thought to himself, “I am the most fortunate of boys”.

He volunteered for military service before the war began. In his own words, “Hitler had to be stopped”. But they sent him back to finish his degree and he won the Supreme Court Prize and topped the Final Honours list and then he joined the Navy. In 1943 he met Anna Wittner at a wedding and was smitten. He asked her, “When you grow up will you marry me?” Two years later she did. That bond and that love would only grow deeper. As he said years later, “I look at her with wonder” and then his eyes would invariably fill with tears. For anyone who knew Zelman it was indeed the great and inspiring love affair.

But loyalty forms a great part of this story and should be mentioned. Significant friendships with the late Senator Sam Cohen, with Paul Freadman, Professor Julius Stone, Sir Ninian Stephen, Robin Sharwood, Sir James Gobbo, Adam Sher, Jim Wolfesohn, Samuel Pisar, Ron Castan, Alan Goldberg, Jack Faigenbaum and all the Judges from the offices nicknamed the Golan Heights, his driver Steve Smith, Professor Gus Nossal, Steven Skala, Prof Don Markwell and Josh Frydenberg. There are countless people whose lives he changed as teacher, advisor and mentor.

After the war, after the experience of the bombing of Darwin in 1942 and following active naval service decoding messages in General Macarthur’s Headquarters, it was time to activate the Rhodes scholarship he had been awarded in 1940. At Oriel College he became a Bachelor of Civil Law…teaching and studying and becoming a Fellow of Oriel College. He called it “a defining moment”. He dreamed of teaching law in Australia and of charting new legal boundaries that would suit the land of his birth. He became a frequent voice of the radio commenting on the news. He told me he loved giving speeches. He was always travelling and in his autobiography he admits he was called by his students “seldom seen Cowen” and he transformed the Faculty of Law.

He became Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne the age of 31, an appointment which broke all records throughout the British Commonwealth. In 1967 he astounded his colleagues by accepting the position of Vice Chancellor in New England and not a post at Harvard or Chicago. And after New England he was invited to become Vice Chancellor of the University of Queensland…those were tumultuous days of huge student protest on issues he felt strongly but which he faced down as a threat to the well-being of society itself and liberal democratic values. Later he would say that ‘this was the best hour I had’.

But none of us who lived through the years that followed will ever forget the dignity and healing Sir Zelman brought to the office of Governor-General.

As he said to Film Australia, “My luck has been incredible” but, of course, we know it was never luck. It was pure genius. It was the ability to make friends. It was loyalty to the law and to this land. It was charm. It was profound dignity. It was solid hard work. It was intellectual integrity.

After Canberra, of course, came England and Oriel College and the Press Council of the United Kingdom and honour upon honour. He helped establish the Law School at Griffith University and the National Academy of Music. We are grateful to Richard Divall, Senior Associate for the Centre Australian Music Studies at the University of Melbourne for his help with this service. Sir Zelman served as Chairman of Fairfax newspapers for three years.

He helped write the legal framework of emerging former colonial nations. He deeply cherished his links with Israel and with the Hebrew University and the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. He took his membership of the Jewish community very seriously. He was patron of a score of organisations and was never just a name on a letterhead.

Sir Zelman was a renaissance man. He loved music and Mozart and Schubert most of all. He was a captivating teacher. He suffered fools gladly. Zelman was meticulous. He had a deep sense of what was right and what was wrong. He lived his chosen profession into life. We will hear how there was no frontier between the public and the private man. He had the same values in his private life as in his public life. Could that have been the source of his greatness? His was a life that evolved, that changed and he dealt with life at every stage and those who loved him most, friends and family, will always remember how he tackled the last stage of his life with courage and grace. There was never a word of complaint. There was a little obituary notice in the Age which caught my eye. It was from the St Kilda Football Club and it finished with the line “Farewell Saint Zelman”. He would have liked that.

We have this morning heard from Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen speak on behalf of the family. He quoted from a 2000 year old Hebrew classic called Pirkei Avot - “The Ethics the teachings of the Fathers”. In Chapter 4 verse 17 we read, “Rabi Shimon omer” Rabbi Shimon said, there are three crowns “Keter Torah” the crown of learning, Sir Zelman Cowen was epitome of learning. “Keter K’huna” the crown of priesthood, he bore that crown of his faith with the greatest dignity. “V’keter malchut” the crown of royalty‚Äźthe evidence of that crown lies before us Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George, Knight of the Order of Australia, Privy Councillor. And then, from 1800 years ago, Rabbi Shimon of Pirkei Avot added a fourth crown: “V’keter Shem Tov oleh al gabayhen”...“ but the crown of a good name excels them all”. And so it does, even when these children reach the age of 92 (im yirtzeh hashem) G-d willing, they will know and understand that the crown of good name excels over all .

~ May his memory bring blessing. ~

Sir Zelman Cowen Full Tribute by Josh Frydenberg MP

By Josh Frydenberg MP

Josh FrydenbergFilled as he was with the joy of life, Sir Zelman Cowen never lost his sense of humour. Less than two hours before he drew his final breath I asked him, “What is your favourite opera?” “It is too difficult,” he replied. In my gravelly voice I tried to sing the words from Puccini’s Turandot, “Nessun dorma, nessun dorma,” but stopped telling him, “That is all I know”. He gently smiled and said, “That’s not bad for you.” This was the final chapter in what was the most special friendship of my life.

It began nearly two decades ago when I was introduced to Sir Zelman by our mutual friend Steven Skala. I was a law student who dreamt of going to Oxford. He was a colossus, whose public life had few parallels.

It was not a meeting of equals. But Zelman with his generosity of spirit, intense loyalty as a friend and a genuine interest in another’s well-being, sat and talked for hours with me, each weekend, for many years, about his life, the world and the challenges ahead.

It became Sundays with Zelman.

It didn’t matter if it was a discussion about literature or music, philosophy or the law, Zelman was equally in command. He was a polymath and a great conversationalist. I learnt about his childhood, when as a young boy he called himself Casey because his mother used to call him Zelman Cowen KC. About his time at university, which he termed a place of riches, for it gave his mind the space to roam. And about his term as Governor-General, which was both the greatest opportunity and challenge of his professional life.

We would laugh as Zelman recalled the weeks after which he was officially asked to be Governor-General but could not make it public. In July 1977 a law professor at the University of Queensland brought along a visiting American academic to see Zelman. During the conversation the professor asked for Zelman’s thoughts as to who would be the next Governor-General. Zelman started coughing into his hands, reluctant to give anything away. Then without hesitation the American academic with “some knowledge of the current controversies, asked ‘what superannuated old fool’ would wish for such an appointment?” Zelman was later to say the only issue he would take with him was that he wasn’t superannuated.

As we sat at the Cowen kitchen table where Zelman recalled each of these stories from his life, it was as if the back window had been opened to the history of our nation, and all the great figures and events of the 20th century were warmly blowing in.

Isaacs, Latham, Dixon and Menzies were all subjects of extensive discussion. So too was his first-hand account of the bombing of Darwin in February 1942 and later his brush with General Macarthur at his Brisbane headquarters.

There were also memories of his relationship with the great headmaster of Geelong Grammar, Sir James Darling, which began when Sir Zelman as an 11 year old corresponded directly with him, inquiring about the chances of a scholarship. In each of these remarkable stories, the depth and diversity of his experiences and interests were ever-present.

In discussing public affairs Sir Zelman was always above the rancour of partisanship as he focused on what is important, values and principles.

This is why a man who was appointed by then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to heal the nation’s wounds could comfortably open the H V Evatt Memorial Appeal and count Gough Whitlam among his friends.

It is no surprise that Prime Minister Julia Gillard, speaking on behalf of all Australians, graciously and accurately described Sir Zelman as one of our greatest statesmen.

For me personally, one of the foundations of our friendship was our shared Jewishness.

Sir Zelman’s intellectual brilliance, profound decency and firm moral compass were equally matched by a deep sense of his own identity.

It is said that in order to know where you are going you have to know where you come from. Sir Zelman knew this.

He was proud of his immigrant background and his Jewish faith, and never sought to distance himself from his heritage during his long and distinguished career.

To the contrary he was an active patron and supporter of many Jewish causes and this legacy will endure.

He deeply loved his family and was one half of a 66 year long perfect marriage. He would often say, sometimes with tears in his eyes, that he looked at his wife in wonder.

Lady Cowen is brilliant in her own right and was the source of much of Sir Zelman’s strength. As Governor-General, the ‘touch of healing’ he brought to the nation was equally hers. His love for Anna knew no bounds and I am not the first to say that barring a small issue of Jewish tradition she would be a Saint.

Looking back at Sir Zelman’s life, it is as if he was destined for greatness from the very beginning. Born as he was on 7 October, 1919 the day Alfred Deakin died.

As a school boy he knew he had special talents and at every step of the way he brought them to bear. He was always grateful for the opportunities that fell his way, describing himself as the most favoured of mortals.

It is our great nation’s good fortune that such a gifted and principled man devoted his life to public service.

We are all saddened by his passing and can be proud of the legacy that he has left behind and the many lives he has touched.

I will never forget those Sundays with Zelman and count myself extremely lucky to call such a great Australian my friend.

Sir Zelman Cowen Full Tribute by Steven Skala

By Prof Don Markwell B Econ (Hons) Qld, MA, M Phil, D Phil Oxon,
Warden, Rhodes House, Oxford

Steven SkalaIn August 1940, George Paton, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Melbourne and a Rhodes Scholar for Victoria 14 years before, wrote a reference for a 20 year old candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship who had dreamed since boyhood of going to Oxford:

       ‘I have known Mr Z Cowen well for some years. His academic record…is one that has rarely been equalled. It is frequently the case that those who do brilliantly in Arts do not show quite the same aptitude for law, but Mr Cowen shows the same skill in both fields. His mind is very keen and remarkably mature for one of his age. Very few could even attempt the task he is doing this year - finishing the law course and carrying a burden of University teaching as well. I have found his contributions in discussion classes very penetrating and interesting, and, although one is a poor student who can teach his mentors nothing, from Mr Cowen I have learned a great deal.

       ‘He has a rounded personality, broad interests and cultivated tastes. …He has great energy and that intellectual integrity which refuses to accept anything which has not been investigated. …

       ‘…He has the assured courtesy of a much older man, and, while he has no reticence in urging his own opinions, I have found him both respectful and willing to abandon his point of view, if its weakness could be shown…

       ‘In short, I feel he has that quality which would benefit most from a period at Oxford. I have written many of these testimonials for the Selection Committee, but this is the first time that I can write for a candidate who has exactly that intellectual flair of which great things can be predicted.’

Zelman Cowen won the Rhodes Scholarship for Victoria that year, but was not able to take it up until 1945, after war-time service in the Navy. In Oxford, where he went with his young wife and life partner, Anna, he was appointed a permanent Fellow & Tutor in Law at Oriel College even before he topped the postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1947. From this base, he also did legal work in the post-war occupation of Germany, and had his first exciting exposure to law teaching in the United States.

In 1950, George Paton, as Dean of the University of Melbourne Law School, wrote to Zelman to see if he was interested in applying for the Professorship of Public Law there. He was; and the Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford, C K Allen, an under-stated but highly distinguished Australian lawyer, wrote from Oxford expressing - quote - ‘both pleasure and confidence in supporting [Mr Zelman Cowen’s] application’.

Noting his ‘academic record, both in Australia and at Oxford’, and that he had ‘more than amply justified his election [as a Rhodes Scholar] on all grounds, both personal and scholastic’, Warden Allen reported that - quote - ‘since he was elected a Fellow of Oriel College I have ample evidence...that he is a successful teacher who takes great trouble with his pupils, has a shrewd judgement of them, and is much appreciated by them. He is, in my opinion, a man not only of quick and extensive legal attainment, but of genuine scholarly interests.’ He commended Zelman as a constitutional lawyer who would be a ‘co-operative colleague,... efficient in…administrative duties’. Oriel College, the Warden privately noted, would be ‘very sorry to lose’ this ‘excellent tutor’.

Zelman Cowen was, of course, appointed to the Chair of Public Law, and as George Paton was almost simultaneously appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, the 31 year old Rhodes Scholar came home not only as Professor but also unexpectedly as Dean of the Melbourne Law School. Over the next 16 years, he truly transformed it into the modern law school, grounded in first-rate scholarship and teaching, and rich with international linkages, especially with the US universities he visited. His own inspiring teaching and encouraging mentoring are, I know, still remembered with gratitude by many law students of that time, now very senior in their profession. It was in these Melbourne years that Simon, Nick, Kate, and Ben were born. At the same time, Professor Zelman Cowen also emerged as a public figure, including through radio and later television commentaries on public and international issues, opposing the Communist Party dissolution referendum in 1951 and the Victorian hangings of the 1960s, and contributing internationally to the development of legal education and building up administrative talent in various Commonwealth countries and territories.

The early references I quoted from Sir George Paton and Sir Carleton Allen give insight into the qualities of intellect and character that led Zelman Cowen to so distinguished a career as legal scholar, author of many articles and several books, of which clearly one of his favourites was his biography of Sir Isaac Isaacs; pioneer in legal education; academic leader as Dean, and then Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England and then of the University of Queensland; tireless healing Governor-General of Australia; and then back at Oriel College, Oxford, as Provost, where he was proud to be the first Rhodes Scholar to be head of Cecil Rhodes’ own college.

In his application for the Rhodes Scholarship in 1940, the 20 year old Zelman Cowen wrote:

       ‘The [teaching] work as a member of the University staff has entailed fair experience in public speaking. While at Scotch College, I was a member of the School debating team, and since that time have been keenly interested in public speaking. I have found that the work [teaching] in the [University] Extension Board particularly, together with invitations I have from time to time received to address bodies, such as Public Schools and clubs has afforded invaluable experience in this very interesting work.’

It was indeed ‘invaluable experience’. As a Vice-Chancellor and Governor-General, and in other public roles, Zelman Cowen was to find speeches a powerful instrument of leadership and healing. When, as a young Rhodes Scholar from Queensland with a shared interest in constitutional conventions, I came to know Sir Zelman in Oxford in the early 1980s, beginning one of the greatest friendships of my life, I was struck by how vividly etched, even scorched, in his mind was his speech to a large crowd in the Great Court at the University of Queensland, my much-loved alma mater, during the Springbok protests and University disruption of July 1971. For such a speech-maker to describe this as ‘the speech of my life’ reflects the tensions of those times. It also reflects that he was by nature a communicator. The late 1960s and early to mid-1970s were times of tumult and protest around the world, including at the University of Queensland, where the Vice-Chancellor had to steer the University between what was often abusive protest on the one hand and an overly assertive Premier on the other.

During these troubles, Zelman and Anna Cowen showed ‘grace under pressure’ - which is a definition of courage.

Through ‘the troubles’ and beyond, Professor Cowen defended the rights and interests of students, and worked to build the University, engaging community support, including philanthropic support. Then, as before and later, he was an effective fundraiser. One important benefactor of the University of Queensland was a flamboyant grazier, Barney Joyce. When asked how he would like to be portrayed in the University’s official portrait of him, Sir Zelman replied, somewhat cheekily: ‘with my hand in Barney Joyce’s pocket’. Her Excellency the Governor-General has spoken of how, when she invited Vice-Chancellor Cowen at short notice to lecture to one of her law classes at UQ at that time, his was the best lecture she has ever heard, earning a standing ovation from the students.

Fulfilling his vision of the Vice-Chancellor as an independent public figure as well as leader within the University community, in various public addresses in Australia and overseas Vice-Chancellor Cowen spoke of how the tearing of the social fabric in countries around the world was threatening the fragile consensus - the acceptance of shared values and rules - on which what he called a ‘civil liberal society’ depended.

The 1975 constitutional crisis and responses to it greatly strained the fragile consensus about crucial aspects of governance in this country. When in 1977 Sir John Kerr indicated his intention to resign as Governor-General, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, turned for his successor to a wholly non-partisan constitutional scholar and attractive public figure who, in thought and action, had grappled more profoundly than perhaps anyone else in this country with the issues of division, consensus, communication, and healing. In using Nehru’s phrase ‘a touch of healing’ to describe what he hoped to bring to the office, Sir Zelman set the theme of his four and a half years as Governor-General. Above all, the healing was done through reaching out to community groups in all corners of the country, endless visits and countless speeches, reflecting careful research and what seemed like boundless energy. I first saw Sir Zelman Cowen, of whom of course I had known for years, when in 1978 he came back to the University of Queensland, where I was then an undergraduate, to give a major speech in the Mayne Hall, which he had been so determined and proud to build.

His speeches aimed not least, in Sir Zelman’s phrase, to ‘interpret the nation to itself’. As we all know, this healing balm was a profound gift to the nation, for which we are right to remain grateful, and Sir Zelman’s approach has been a model for a number of subsequent Governor-Generals.

On going back to Oriel College in 1982 as its Provost, Sir Zelman again brought healing - healing a college hurt by the sudden departure of its previous Provost, and presiding over the harmonious resolution of what had been the divisive issue of admitting women to Oriel, the last all-male college in Oxford. His speeches to rowdy undergraduates at dinners after rowing victories were legendary, showing his own depth of engagement in the full life of the College and enabling him humorously to encourage academic as well as sporting success. Sir Zelman combined the Provostship with other roles, including as chair of the British Press Council and of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, as well as speaking commitments around the world.

His extensive speech-making about the role of Governor-General and other Commonwealth issues reflected the fact that, although he had written on issues of monarchy and republic since the mid-1960s, he - along with most Australians - then believed that Australia had sufficiently achieved the substance of independence and had no need to change to a republic. But within five years of coming back to Australia in 1990, he believed that Australia’s national journey and sense of itself now required that its head of state be, in words he liked, ‘one of us’ - unequivocally symbolising Australia itself. And so in the republican debate of the mid to late 1990s, the constitutional lawyer who had brought healing to the nation in the position of Governor-General was advocating, including in speeches over which he laboured, an Australian president chosen by special majority in the Parliament.

By that time, with strong support from Victoria University, where he was a Distinguished Visiting Professor, Sir Zelman and his team were hard at work on his memoirs, A Public Life. They were launched by Justice Michael Kirby on Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen’s 61st wedding anniversary, in June 2006. It is in these memoirs that one can read of many diverse interests that can barely be touched on today - music (especially Mozart), architecture, the press, his work on radio and television, adult education - and other aspects of his life, from the Jewish migrant experience of his forebears, his St Kilda boyhood and interest in ships and early aviation, and the joys of student days, through to his retirement work for Griffith Law School and the National Academy of Music, and for editorial independence at Fairfax newspapers, and much else besides. In recent days so many institutions and organisations have expressed their deep gratitude to him, and rightly so.

Both in his memoirs and in countless speeches and deeds over many decades are reflected the liberal values for which Sir Zelman Cowen was a beacon - individual liberty under law, including the rights to privacy and to free speech in a civil and tolerant society; the rule of reason, with a preference for moderation, collegial leadership and consensus-building, and even-tempered public and private discourse, with disagreement without rancour; uncompromising and scrupulous integrity; and education - in a college, a law school, or the wider university - that both broadens and sharpens the mind. In one such speech, he spoke of ‘the study and reflective and speculative thinking which lies at the heart of good teaching’ - something he exemplified, expected, and encouraged. Spending 34 of his 92 years leading educational institutions, while ceaselessly interested in broad public issues, he never lost his commitment to the interests of students, and was always delighted when any former student remembered his teaching or help that he had given.

George Paton in 1940 wrote of Zelman Cowen having ‘exactly that intellectual flair of which great things can be predicted’ - great things fulfilled beyond prediction, perhaps even beyond the prediction of his mother, who expected him to be a King’s Counsel - and of his having ‘that intellectual integrity which refuses to accept anything that has not been investigated’. For me, conversation with him was often a Socratic dialogue, an investigation - the pursuit of a topic beyond what I thought possible - marked by this experienced raconteur’s sudden bursts of humour and an anecdote or three. He brought clarity of mind, charity of spirit, and civility of expression to all he did; erudition and elegance; wisdom in judgement; energy, singleminded determination, efficiency, and dignity in action; and a remarkable capacity for friendship - intensely loyal, warm and kind friendship, expressed in the most generous hospitality by him and Lady Cowen, in conversation that encouraged as well as stretched, and in correspondence that spanned the world.

Zelman Cowen was for me and for others, not only a truly exceptional academic and public figure at home and abroad, but a uniquely special friend and mentor, and a profound and wise influence on our lives.

We remember him with love and gratitude, and we will miss him more than we can say.

 By Steven Skala AO BA, LL B (HONS) (UNIVERSITY OF QLD), BCL (OXFORD UNIVERSITY)

Six years ago, in one of my saddest conversations with him, Sir Zelman asked me to give this speech on this day. I discharge my duty to him today with a very heavy heart. He asked me to speak of him as the private man.

My best friend at school was Nick Cowen, the bright second son of the Cowen family. Long ago, he invited me to Shabbat dinner with his parents in the Vice Chancellors residence in Brisbane. My fear of saying anything silly in the presence of such awesomeness left me silent, until the warmth and inclusiveness of Professor and Mrs Cowen freed my voice.

My father passed away when I was 16, and for reasons best known to Professor Cowen, he tucked me under his gentle wing and guided me through the difficult years.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to Anna and the family for so graciously permitting me to stay tucked under Zelman’s wing for the last 40 years. It was the best place a boy in my circumstances could have ever been, and for that I am truly grateful.

Of the many ingredients that go into shaping such a remarkable man, it is clear that two women played roles above all others. I pay tribute to his formidable mother Sarah and of course, to his beloved wife, the incomparable Anna. As a boy, Sir Zelman’s mother recognised his extraordinary gifts and her ambitions for him were boundless. Even today, family folklore suggests that she would not be surprised, but would be very pleased by how far he went. For Zelman however, the great source of satisfaction was in undertaking service for others, and he did this with the caring and loving support of Anna.

Anna and Zelman shared a love story and a marriage as strong, committed and complementary as any of us has ever seen. For 66 years, it was the perfect union, and an example to all who knew them.

The reality is that he could neither have achieved so much nor experienced the level of satisfaction with his life without her, and he knew it and told us so. She was his equal partner.

The irreverence of the Cowen children was a joy for Sir Zelman to behold. He loved each of his children Simon, Nick, Kate and Ben deeply. He loved to tell the stories of their brilliance in disagreeing with him or their apparent indifference to the great affairs of state in which he was preoccupied for much of his time.

Of his legendary intellectual achievements, perhaps the one which gave Professor Cowen greatest cause for anxiety was the ordeal of whether he would be adjudged worthy by Oxford’s most eminent professors. The Doctorate of Civil Law is a very rare degree. Its few recipients enter the Pantheon of great professors. It is awarded following an examination of whether the candidate’s published books and papers constitute ‘an original contribution to knowledge of such substance and distinction as to give the candidate authoritative status in some branch of legal learning.’

Among lawyers, this is Oxford University’s PhD of PhDs. It was conferred on Professor Cowen in 1968 after what he described as months and months of anxious waiting. When he told the family the good news, the teenage Simon’s response was, ‘Big deal.’

In his old age, as Simon observed, Zelman found the time, and a greater insight into their worlds, as he patiently listened to their voices and more fully appreciated who they had become along the way. This gave him great pleasure, and meaning. He considered himself blessed, to be surrounded by a large, talented and extraordinarily loving family.

The Cowen home, managed by Anna, placed Zelman at its epicentre. In the Jewish tradition of conviviality and sharing, all were welcome to break bread. We conversed at a round table, where everyone was equal. It was lively, stimulating, intoxicating and infectious. Everyone was afforded, nay, encouraged to express and of course, defend their views. His examination was always, as Don has mentioned, in the great tradition, Socratic in nature. Dialogue, interspersed with wit, humour and stories was always the order of the day. No one was humbled or humiliated in an argument with the great professor. They were treated kindly. With him, no one ever left a conversation in doubt that they had learned something.

In so many of my youthful discussions with him, Professor Cowen was quietly teaching me how to think for myself.

The Cowen homes (for there were at least 11 by my count) were forever filled with people with whom they could share mutual affection and admiration. Humour, debate and ideas always provided a sense of connectedness in this family. There was great normalcy in Professor Cowen’s home. Like all of us, Sir Zelman needed a private place to restore the energies of the public man.

One of his favourite homes was the Cowens’ modest holiday cottage at Caloundra on the coast north of Brisbane. For years, this was his safe haven. He retreated there after periods of great intensity in his work. The cottage was where he spent much treasured family time. Even when he became Governor-General holidays were spent there - reading, talking, cooking together, playing games and strolling on Dickey Beach and much to the consternation of the security services, swimming daily in the surf.

The greatest cricketing moment in the life of one of our friends was achieved the day he was dismissed ‘caught Aide-de-Camp, bowled Governor-General.’

Sir Zelman said that he was stirred and elevated by great architecture. He said it was among the greatest of human achievements, expressing the ascent of man. Though some might not regard the cottage as great architecture, for Zelman, his humble cottage created the environment for the expression of the humanistic values of the private man.

He liked the person he became when he got there.

Sir Zelman was mentor to many. He chose them all. They range in age from in their eighties to a young man, still a teenager, at Oxford today. The old ones became outstanding contributors to their society. The younger ones, like me, are still working at it. His face would light up in a discussion about how one of his chosen was going. He cared deeply about them and was comforted by the fact that they cared so much about him.

Some have flown from England to be here today. When they heard the news, they dropped their tools of trade, left their university and barristers chambers, went to Heathrow and emerged at Tullamarine, because the Old Man was gone, and they had to be here to say goodbye.

Zelman was a great teacher. He taught us all to think and also how to think. He had a remarkable gift in nourishing others. He also taught us that with the privilege of learning from him, it is our responsibility to pass it on.

Much of what we learned from Sir Zelman was by osmosis. Simply by being in his presence and discussing the great affairs of the day, or the intricacies and subtleties of the law, we learned.

To understand how the private man achieved this, we should remember his authenticity. He was an exemplar of decency, unfailing courtesy, generosity, openness to reason, grace and constancy. He afforded everyone their dignity.

His life’s work, in public and in private, reflected the deepest concern for the dignity of every person.

His views were always clearly articulated, balanced and ethical. Though he understood logic, and could dissect propositions of great subtlety, his solutions were a synthesis of principle, experience and the workable. His touchstones were justice, sense and order. In short, he was wise.

He embedded in us a love of learning, the pursuit of ideas and the power of reason in achieving justice, simply by being who he was.

It is important to emphasise that he did not shape us - he helped us to shape ourselves. In discussion with him, when he sensed that we finally understood or had absorbed something, he would smile and say, ever so ambiguously, ‘So there we have it.’ This was Sir Zelman’s distinctive method of closure.

All mentors have protégés, but in hubris many never let them go or grow.

Sir Zelman had the special gift of knowing how to make that subtle and imperceptible transition from teacher to friend. Friendship was very important to Sir Zelman. He knew so many, and as has been recounted earlier, met many of the most famous, important and compelling figures of the last 80 years. His private world knew an extraordinary range of friends from all walks of life and all parts of the world.

He ached privately for the loss of Peter Nettl, Sam Cohen, Robin Boyd, Peter Carter, Paul Freadman and Bob Lewy. All were men about whom he fondly and often recounted experiences, occasionally, especially as he grew older, with a tear in his eye.

I know Sir Zelman had an especial fondness for his driver of many years, Steve Smith and his two personal assistants, Lyn Curtis and Honorina Sihin.

Zelman stayed close to the communities to which he belonged. He cared deeply about the Jewish Community. In his public life he became the successor to General Sir John Monash and Sir Isaac Isaacs as men who transcended politics and religious affiliation to play vital roles in the affairs of the nation by sheer force of their ability and personal qualities.

In his retirement, Sir Zelman was a source of support for an extraordinary number of community causes including in medical research, music, education, the performing arts, the Jewish Museum, and participated in a large number of Jewish community causes.

The St Kilda Football Club was also a source of the full range of mixed emotions for him. There is a lovely story which says much about the man, his wit and his insight. In 2010, his long suffering St Kilda made the AFL grand final. Zelman was talking with a close colleague about the famous 1966 Grand Final where the Saints won by a single point. His friend asked Zelman whether the 1966 final fell on Yom Kippur. After Zelman confirmed that indeed it had, his friend asked whether Zelman attended the match. Smiling, the Old Man said that in the morning, he went to synagogue, and in the afternoon, after careful consideration, he went to the match. As you know, the Saints won by a single point, late in the game. So his friend said, “So, it was worth it, wasn’t it?” Zelman replied, “It’s too soon to tell”.

I suppose Zelman now knows the answer to the question. In the last few years, without him expressly articulating it, I sensed that Sir Zelman’s wisdom was drawing to its peak. This was also reflected in Simon’s words. Sir Zelman’s wisdom was never of a kind that was imposed. You gained a sense of its solidity and worldliness in the same way you might feel gazing upon an old oak tree. You knew its foundations were so solid, that it had absorbed the deep wells of history and was going to stand the test of time. There was a quality of immutability and permanence in the expressions of the Old Man, as though he had seen and thought about it all before and therefore knew what was right, and just and good.

As his life drew to its close, he was the way he always was. Though he knew the end was nigh there was not an ounce of self pity. Uncomplaining and brave, there was total dignity and engagement, taking pleasure from the presence and stories of his large and loving family and close friends.

He enquired about the news. He made sure we would look after Anna. To understand Sir Zelman Cowen is to understand that the public man and the private man were the same: humane, decent, civil, loyal and committed to helping.

When I saw him last week, for the last time, he was spirited, clever as always, and displaying his wonderful sense of humour and wit. He was a man whose nature and temperament in the face of final decline were constant and truly magnificent.

Because he asked me to speak to you today about the private Zelman Cowen, I think it appropriate to hear from the most private sanctuary, the mind of the man himself. He once wrote, “I reflect on a life that has been blessed by good fortune…I have had remarkable opportunities to serve the communities to which I belong and about which I care deeply. In doing so, I have had the strong support of my wife…”

Perhaps more poignantly, and with the air of inevitable finality, he said, “The small boy did not dream all of this; it was far beyond the scope of any dream. It was what happened, and I am deeply grateful.”

So there we have it.

Sir Zelman Cowen Tributes

cowen

It is with deepest sadness that we farewelled our beloved Patron-In-Chief
Sir Zelman Cowen AK GCMG GCVO QC

7-10-1919 ~ 8-12-2011
May His Dear Soul Rest In Peace
Lest We Forget

Tributes To

The Right Honourable Sir Zelman Cowen

AK, GCMG, GCVO, Kt, PC, KStJ, GCOMRI, DCL,
Hon LLD (HK, Qld, Melb, WA, Turin, ANU, Tas, VUT, Deakin, Monash),
Hon D Litt (UNE, Syd, JCU, Oxford),
Hon D HL (Hebrew Union College, Redlands),
Hon D Univ (Newcastle, Griffith, Sunshine Coast),
Hon D Phil (Hebrew University Jerusalem & Tel Aviv University)

Tribute by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen

rabbi dr shimon cowenMuch has been said and is known about how my father treated, and how he was loved by, people. Instead I want to speak about the spiritual dimension and significance of the service of humanity, which was his life. On the face of it, G-d must come into the story of his life, since, our Sages tell us that “with whom people are happy, G-d is happy”. G-d was happy with Dad. That’s from G-d’s perspective. But what about from Dad’s perspective? Can Dad’s life’s work be understood in spiritual terms and did he understand it in spiritual terms?

I remember, as a young teenager, asking him about his spiritual stance. He answered me, “There is one question which I ask myself, and which I cannot answer, and which I only very rarely ask myself, and that is, ‘Who am I?’” In 1995 in a newspaper interview, he was a little more explicit. He said, “I am proud of my religious heritage…I find it difficult to believe that there is not some original Creator. What flows from that I don’t know. I try to live decently, not because of sanctions of Heaven or Hell but because that’s the right way”. The diffidence in these words was that of a person, who did not have a strong traditional religious background. Still this person wore the Jewish name “Zelman” with pride through public life. He identified with the plight of the physical and spiritual entity of the Jewish people unequivocally and in perfect tandem with his service of Australia and all humanity.

More than three and a half thousand years ago, our forebear and the forebear of religious humanity, Abraham, experienced the seminal consciousness of the one G-d. In the blaze of this awareness he said before his Creator, “I am but dust and ashes”. Three and a half thousand years later, with the intensified haze of 500 years of secularisation, I heard Dad’s “Who am I?” Dad’s was a relatively dull imprint of Abraham’s experienced creatureliness, but they, Abraham and Dad, were on the same page. There is a G-d. Maimonides wrote that Abraham exemplified the highest form of the service of G-d, not for fear of punishment for desire reward, but to do “truth because it is truth”. Dad’s “I try to live decently, not because of sanctions of Heaven or Hell but because that’s the right way” is a ray of that very same Abrahamic fire dimmed through thousands of years of exile.

Abraham forged a nation, the Jewish people, and was the father of a host of nations and cultures - religious humanity - through his hallmark love of humanity combined with his desire to actualise and unify individuals in the image of their Creator through culture of their Creator’s laws. As Governor-General, Dad too rebuilt or healed a divided nation, and indeed throughout his life constantly sought to work consensus, by modelling mutual respect and decent values. But did Dad think, throughout his life, that he was doing these things under a spiritual aegis? Or was it essentially a secularised, liberal humanism?

Dad was not philosophical. He was a doer. As a teenager, I also once probed him, “Dad, what is your philosophy of life?” He answered me, “The next thing and then the next thing”. He was a speaker too, not just at the podium, but also at the table. His voice was the first and foremost; it led and people listened. His illness of the last 22 years - Parkinsons - does not attack the cognitive faculties; it causes muscular atrophy. It could not dim his immensely, constantly exercised mind. But it progressively immobilised his body; and then it virtually took away his ability to speak. Dad’s response to this was not anger nor even irritation. He was cast into, and accepted, an entire new modality of listening. And from listening, he came to something deeper - receptivity - and I believe this was the vehicle of a significant conscious spiritual growth.

Divine values were transmitted and communicated to Abraham, to be reiterated at Sinai, governing the right conduct, between human and human and between the human and his or her Creator. With respect to these values, G-d blessed Abraham, because He said in the Bible, “I know that he will instruct his sons and his household after him to keep the way of G-d, to do charity and justice”. My father (and mother) projected a further three generations in this very same tradition from Abraham and Sinai, and were blessed. All his children married according to Jewish tradition; all his grandchildren have studied or currently study in Jewish schools and it is the intention of their parents that the great grandchildren do so too. We saw our father’s palpable pleasure in this perpetuated tradition of values. He affirmed it with the relatively few words he had left. In short, he acknowledged the spiritual lineage and content of his own work.

In recent months, my father told me privately that he felt my own efforts to communicate universal values from Sinai were very important. He affirmed the need for a moral anchor in politics, and indicated his feeling that in recent legislation and legislative debate, society was losing its moral moorings. Today the millennial transmission of the Divine template of human identity and conduct is being challenged. My father, alive to the Abrahamic spiritual heritage, knew and communicated to me his disturbance at these challenges. So we shall continue to work to preserve and strengthen the tradition of values he ever more consciously served. His accomplishments back our efforts. He is our masthead and his merit will live on and on to help carry us to success in achieving a human and a G-dly world.

 
Login / Logout