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Graham Tyson: a eulogy

A Son’s Eulogy for Graham Roland Tyson

(Note from Rowland. I knew Graham and his family while I was pastor at Blackburn Baptist Church. This is an excellent eulogy by his very gifted son Paul).  

In career terms Dad was not a climber. He was a good engineer but he had no interest in promotions or overtime. Dad’s life priorities were centrally tied up with God, family and projects of compassion – his job was just something he enjoyed on the side which also paid the bills. Dad was always interested in and present to his children, and being with him was one of the great delights of my childhood. In fact, my own occasional difficulty with authority figures probably has something to do with how I understand fatherhood. For thanks to Dad I simply assume – often wrongly – that authority figures are genuinely interested in me.

Dad shaped the basic formation of my habits of mind, heart and spirit more than anyone else I know. As a child Dad read a lot to us and talked, thought and prayed with us about all manner of things. Dad taught us to follow our curiosities and to enjoy thinking. His breadth of knowledge was such that he would invariably give serious and well explained answers to every question I asked him. But Dad’s most profound formative influence on me was in the love of the transcendentalia – beauty, goodness and truth. Dad played the piano and I loved listening to him. J.S. Bach wrote my father’s favourite music and listening to Dad’s records was how I learnt to love the beautiful myself. Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring is the only piano piece of any seriousness which I learnt, and to this day it speaks to me of my father, of God, of beauty, of joy and of longing like no other piece, no other sense, no other thought.

I grew up in a safe and loving home. As a child I loved my Mum and Dad and played and fought happily with my older sister and younger brother. We had pets and did family holidays. My parents had a gentle and warm relationship with each other which provided security and peace for us. We were also deeply embedded in the life of our local church. Being Baptist was an integral part of our family identity. We were embedded in the scriptures, in family devotions and the frame of meaning, morality and purpose which our community of faith gave to us.

I am not sure of the exact dates, but it was in the 1980s when Dad’s workplace situation changed radically. For many years Dad had been an electronic engineer with the State Electricity Commission (SEC) of Victoria. However, in the 1980s a wave of new economic thinking swept the English speaking world. At this time governments swung out of post-war nation building mode and into privatizing public assets mode, accompanied by high flying executive salaries and continuous corporate face lifts. One of the first things that got the axe in this brave new world was research and development at the SEC where Dad worked. So Dad decided to take the golden redundancy handshake and to cash in his super. He enrolled in a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, which also contributed some financial support to the household, and leapt out of safe employment. In a bold venture he built a prototype wheelchair which he hoped would revolutionize mobility standards for disable people in Australia.

Dad knew that medical people proscribed wheel chairs for disabled people, but medical people were not engineers and did not know a good piece of machinery from a piece of junk. Further, medical people were not aware of the kind of input devices which could be used to make the control of a wheel chair by a severely spastic person, for example, quite doable. Dad knew that companies that produced medical equipment often had cosy relations with the medical profession, so exorbitant prices for poor quality ill-conceived powered wheelchairs was often the norm regarding mobility aids for disabled people. Expressing such thinking – true as it no doubt was – made Dad no friends in medical circles, nor amongst the ruling powers of disability care institutions, nor amongst the CEOs of volunteer organizations that gave technical aid to disabled people. Dad had no reverence for the divine rights of medics and had no proper deference to the often paternal worlds of status and power which governed institutions set up to care for the disabled. Dad was the gentlest person I know, but he was trouble and a rebel, without any intention, because of his profound solidarity with those he sought to give practical care to.

For a number of years in the late 1980s Dad sailed by the financial seat of his pants. In this time he produced a prototype wheelchair which he hoped to get manufactured and which he hoped would transform standards of performance for wheelchair users. The stresses of this venture took its toll on Mum. Dad was – I think – a bit on the Asperger’s syndrome spectrum, so he had the capacity to focus down and lock in on his goal without giving much regard to issues outside of his central concern. Yet even though Dad did build a very good prototype and did get his Masters in Mechanical Engineering, his venture failed. He sought an international patent on his electronic control system and had a working demonstration machine to show how good his idea was, but he could find no manufacturing backer to put his idea into production.

After this unsuccessful venture Dad got a job at the Australian Road Board. However, the workplace environment for engineers had changed radically since his days with the SEC. Dad was simply not amenable to the notion of completing a project within some arbitrary time frame, whether the project worked or not. The imperatives of the new bean-counting and personal bonus minded management ethos meant that projects became defined by tightly specified time and cost constraints. These constraints were the terms of contractual agreements where such contracts were won by your management underbidding more engineeringly realistic competitors. Graham was too old school for the new engineering environment and found himself redundant and unemployable in his 50s in the mid 1990s. At much the same time, very sadly, Dad and Mum’s marriage failed. This was the great tragedy in Dad’s life and he was profoundly broken for a number of years because of it. During this time Andrew’s extraordinary support, and also Dad’s friendships at Crossways, kept him afloat. Yet the brokenness of that event stayed with him.

A famous contemporary poet has noted that “everything is cracked, that’s how the light gets in”. Dad’s failed venture and failed marriage meant that the last 20 years of his life was riven with cracks. Yet the manner in which he lived, particularly in his life’s twilight, revealed the dazzling glory of the beyond through his cracks. The coherence, commitments, character and integrity of Dad’s life, in good seasons and bad seasons, is testimony to his genuine saintliness. Every day, in Dad’s private prayers, he attuned his soul’s ear to the voice of God and sought the power of God to be faithful, that day, to the only judge he took any notice of. As such he was very much unaffected by what people thought of him and had no regard for the political games which time and again relegated him to obscurity and marginality. In fact, Dad had no real interest in the type recognition which most of us give so much of our life energies to.

Death held no terror for Dad. Dad always saw his life as a gift from God and Graham spent his entire life preparing to return that gift to His maker, with interest. Dad saw the profound beauty and inestimable value of severely disabled people and spent his life in the service of those who are often least regarded. He was himself profoundly under-regarded, and this was a natural function of his solidarity with those he loved. But he felt no resentment towards those who dismissed, opposed and frustrated him. Indeed, Dad hardly noticed slurs, dismissals and exclusions towards himself. Being attuned to the eternal treasure to be found in damaged jars of clay, Dad always had his heart on that which is unseen to the physical eye. When the time came, Dad was ready to die as he had always invested himself in the things that will not perish with this world. Dad lived his life under the shadow of eternity.

Here is the most constant thing in Dad’s life; Dad was a man of prayer. Every day he brought his mind and his concerns before the horizon of eternity. And holding himself accountable to God for each day of his life, he was remarkably free from concern regarding the way lesser judges of his life and conduct saw him. Dad was a man of gentle spirit, aware of his own need of grace and thus gracious to all. Dad was a man of love and thus was constant in his commitment to family and friends, in all seasons. Twenty years of continuous praying for the wellbeing of his divorced wife and estranged daughters is no small offering of love. So as he returns the gift of his life to his maker he has much true treasure in the eyes of eternity to bring.

In the only things that ultimately matter, Dad has done well. Would that I too will be found to have followed after my father’s way when my own final day of reckoning comes.

Paul Tyson, 19 February 2013


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