Re­quiem for an ex­cep­tion­ally good man

Weekend Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

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.

Pic­ture / Nick Reed

Two- year- old Cashel Cross runs through pud­dles in Auck­land’s Vic­to­ria Park on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon as the sun comes out af­ter stormy weather.

John Roughan

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