Vale John Petherbridge – diplomat, poet, gentleman

JOHN Petherbridge, 93, a former Australian ambassador whose whirl-wind Dublin marriage to Anne Crosby more than a half-century earlier blossomed into a passionate and romantic marriage, died on October 25.

The couple celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary with Anne passing away in Dalmeny in January 2012.

The foundation of their enduring romance was that they were each the centre and great passion in each other’s life - they never tired of each other’s company or each other’s interests. They loved nothing better than to travel and to experience Australia and world together.

John spent nearly four decades in service to Australia as a diplomat and ambassador, with postings in Delhi, Moscow, Dublin, New York, Colombo, Seoul, Stockholm, and Islamabad and Kabul.

He married Anne in Dublin in 1951. 

Many of the posting were difficult and some presented danger. John demonstrated great personal courage, leadership and resilience when an angry mob burned the American Embassy in Islamabad in 1979.

John retired in 1980, moving to the South Coast in the early 1990s.

John once said: “With every person we take the time to get to know, they have something very special to show us.”

One of John’s sons never forgot his advice as a Dublin teenager in the 1970s when upset with their Irish grandfather.

John urged them to listen more closely to his Grandfather’s point of view. John’s simple advice helped with this minor teenage episode – and many more afterwards.

John was intelligent and keenly perceptive about people. He combined a genuine optimism with deep sincerity and humility in a way that drew people to him. He connected with people regardless of their circumstances and genuinely cared about them. He easily earned the trust of people because he didn’t let people down.

This was the basis of his “gift” to the world for 93 years.

He was also a generous, quietly humorous and warm man. There was nothing arrogant or stuffy about him. It was impossible not to like him, with his gentle slow smile and his easy-going shuffle walk.

You could always hear him shuffling around looking for ginger chocolate or Rocky Road in one of his many hidden chocolate “stashes”.

This would make his family and friends laugh. If Dad had a weakness, it was chocolate, mini choc Magnums and cream buns.

Born on August 22, 1920 John grew up in Newcastle and later Petersham, where his father was a doctor.

His father taught him about the importance of ‘service’ in working class communities where many of his patients couldn't pay their bills.

John also learned to make friends with children from all backgrounds while winning a scholarship to a selective boys’ state high school, Fort Street.

After completing his law degree at Sydney University John immediately joined the army in 1941 after Pearl Harbour.

He didn’t have to wait long to see action in Papua New Guinea, via further training on the way in Cairns.

John excelled at hockey representing the ACT after the war. But his real sporting love was tennis, always looking forward to the fun of weekend competitions for eight decades.

John stopped playing tennis three years ago when his sore back caught up with him.  Many of John’s close friends over the past eight decades have been tennis players.

John and Anne established a small farm near Sutton just outside Canberra in the mid-1960s. The farm met their creative and earthy needs when not overseas. Lots of vegetables were grown here until they moved to the South Coast in 1990.

John was a rock solid and quiet father who told quirky gentle stories to his children.

He wanted to write creatively for much of his life. But work and family responsibilities naturally came first.

When retiring in 1980 it was not a surprise that outpoured at least a dozen or so plays, many for the Tau Theatre in Braddon ACT. He also produced 12 or so volumes of poetry.

All of the qualities John embodied had a direct impact on his many friendships developed on the South Coast, from Probus, croquet players with Anne, the local poetry group, to friends at the Uniting Church at Bodalla.

John loved his family: daughter Sally, sons Andrew and Gordon, daughters-in-law Zina and Miriam, and grandchildren Phoebe, Francesca, Rohan, Emilia, Mark, and Anneli.

Speaking at the funeral service held at the Uniting Service in Bodalla his son Andrew said: “If you knew John well it will be no surprise that he was suspicious of much popular theory, especially when it supports human fear and Trojan arguments that squash our compassion and the ability to share stories necessary for good judgment and decision making.”

John never liked areas of nagging intolerance and prejudice in Australian public debate.

“The world would be a much better place if we were all more like my Dad.”

What better epitaph could a father have…

Forever and Ever

When I am gone they will still be here.

The familiar things: the view from my balcony

where I work and read, the rim of trees

that skirt the lake, sea eagles soaring above.

When I am gone they will still be here: weathering the torpid heat, the withering winds. Nothing can go away because the moon won?t die,

the stars will ever glitter, and rain will fall.

When I am gone, they will still be here

and will be the same, apart from my absence.

I need to focus on this and other images shrouding my soul, so that when I am gone, we will be as one,

always together, forever and ever ...

(John penned this poem shortly before his passing)

WITH FRIENDS: The Narooma News was fortunate to be invited to John Petherbridge’s recent 93rd birthday.

WITH FRIENDS: The Narooma News was fortunate to be invited to John Petherbridge’s recent 93rd birthday.

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