Requiem for an exceptionally good man
ne benefit of bearing an unusual name is that anybody I meet who knew my father is liable to ask, “Are you any relation to Vaughan Roughan?” Though he was a primary school principal whose career was spent in Southland and Canterbury, his former pupils and colleagues are everywhere.
“He was a nice man,” they would always tell me, “a good man.” He really was.
Forgive me if everybody feels this way about their father but I cannot shake a conviction that my brothers and sisters and I were exceptionally and undeservedly lucky. As the oldest I’ve often worried how I could possibly do justice to his qualities when it came to his funeral. The worry became more urgent late last year when, aged 89, he began to go downhill and went into care.
He lingered until Thursday of last week. My siblings in Christchurch were called to the rest home in the early hours. His breathing had become laboured and he could barely speak but his eyes had lit up briefly at my arrival from Auckland.
Between us, we never left his bedside until almost 8pm when we went to a nearby room for a bite to eat. That is when he let go. We were gone barely a minute when a nurse summoned us. I don’t know whether someone in the terminal stage of congestive heart failure can make the decision to let go but if so, it would be typical of him to wait until he was alone. He would be thinking of us, sparing us the alarm of his last gasp.
Considerate is the word that comes closest to describing him. He was considerate not just in the thoughtful way of anticipating other people’s ordinary needs and wishes, which he did constantly. He was considerate in conversation.
Like most people of the generation who grew up without television he knew how to make conversation, and when you were with him he was not comfortable unless there was conversation. For him the art came naturally. He was interested in everything you thought and everything you were doing. He was not interested in talking about himself.
He was full of questions, gentle, genuine questions, not argumentative. In fact he was nonargumentative to a fault. My mother thought so and told him so often enough. She loved a debate but he wouldn’t engage, he would agree. He even agreed this was a deficiency in him.
They were complete opposites but their marriage was strong, except momentarily in mid- life when Mum trained to be a marriage guidance counsellor and went away for an intensive weekend where she was put through the wringer. On her return she sat Dad down and said, “Vaughan, this weekend I have been asking questions of our marriage and there are things we need to discuss.”
He was gobsmacked but whatever it was, they could both laugh about it later. When she died nine years ago he was lost for a while.
Mumhad the intuition to know when he was keeping his honest opinions to himself. I didn’t, he always left me convinced he agreed with me. In fact he found goodness and truth on all sides of an issue, as there usually is. He was interested in the good, not the points of contention.
He would not have wanted a eulogy at his funeral. As a Catholic he believed a Requiem Mass was enough for anybody. Probably he would rather I didn’t write about him either, but somebody ought to. I think everybody who knew him would agree somebody ought to.
He had a long retirement, much of which he spent on voluntary work for the St Vincent de Paul Society in the parish. Every Christmas he helped organise and deliver parcels for poor households, containing food for the family and gifts for the children. At other times he would go out visiting the sick, needy or elderly, doing so into his late 80s when we suspected he was older than the “elderly” he called on.
He was usually accompanied in this work by a lifelong friend from high school, Bill McCaw, an All Black long ago. When one of my sisters became a social worker for a prison, Dad and Bill took to attending a weekly Mass inside the walls and having a cup of tea with the prisoners afterwards. The old gents would have been genuinely interested in them, non- judgmental and certainly not evangelical. Their religion was expressed in few words and everything they did.
When we farewelled him on Tuesday he was right about the requiem. Nothing we had said matched the eloquence, humility and beauty of the final prayer: Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.
Two- year- old Cashel Cross runs through puddles in Auckland’s Victoria Park on Wednesday afternoon as the sun comes out after stormy weather.