Eulogy for Friend
Length: 1316 words (3.8 double-spaced pages)
I'd like to say a few words of tribute to this special man, from me and on behalf of other close friends of his.
When he heard the news of Alan's death, a mutual friend and colleague noted poignantly that Alan was a man that was non-judgmental. Alan accepted people largely for what they were and for who they were.
Alan was a man without prejudice. His many friendships crossed the barriers of social position and educational background.
And his spirit, his generosity, his warmth also reached through barriers of race and cultural background. They reached through the barriers of age and generation.
Because everyone was welcomed into Alan's circle of friends and what a multi-coloured, multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-generational circle of friends it is indeed.
What's more, Alan worked eagerly to bring these people from different backgrounds together. To me, he seemed happiest when he'd organised a gathering of the most diverse people one could imagine.
If Alan couldn't remake the world outside to his liking, he would make it so in his backyard.
He was a man without prejudice. This was not just a matter of principle for Alan, not something he merely theorised in his academic work and teaching. It was his instinct, his very nature.
This was not simply tolerance, it was his personal culture.
Because when we stop to think about it, Alan's preoccupation in life was people. He was always introducing people to other people. Always saying: you must meet so and so; and with his extraordinary sense of social occasion, by and large you did get to meet them. How many people have we met and got to know through Alan Smith?
Dr Alan Smith was among the most intelligent people I have ever known. A sociologist by original training, he completed his Bachelor degree with Honours at the University of Wales in 1978 and was awarded his Doctorate by that University in 1990. His doctoral thesis, titled 'A Cartography of Resistance: The British State and Derry Republicanism' was a learned study of the Irish republican struggle. The freedom of the Irish people and Gaelic people generally was a cause very close to his heart throughout his adult life.
His experiences in Londonderry in the 1980s exposed him to the brutal realities of war and I think shaped his political outlook in particular ways.
One of these I believe was to deepen his affinity with people from oppressed nationalities and cultures wherever they were and whenever he came across them in his many travels around the world.
Alan was a passionate empathiser with people who are not free.
Among his favourite music were their songs of adversity and triumph, songs like 'Nkose Sikilele Africa' and 'Bran Nue Dae', songs he often liked to sing, and urged the crowd around him to join in.
His solidarity naturally extended to those people who are not free in this country, and was expressed in action. One of my lasting images of Alan goes back to 1992 at the Old Swan Brewery—or Goonininup as the Nyoongar people call it.
It is an image of Alan surrounded by a crush of demonstrators, his hands locked around the bull-bar of an advancing police van, pushing forward with all his might to stop the van from driving through the picket line.
Other images in my mind are of Alan standing at the mass burial grounds of the Rottnest Island gaol, and marching through the city alongside the Martu people who had come to town to demand the return of their land.
Alan's commitment to the ideals of freedom and humanity also extended far into his intellectual work and teaching. This is reflected in the types of courses he designed and taught during his fifteen years at Murdoch University. Courses like Language and Power, and Popular Culture and Everyday Life.
Alan was one of the new breed of thinkers about culture and society, about language and the media, about power and knowledge, that came to work at Murdoch University in the 1980s and helped to put the School of Humanities on the cutting edge nationally.
This committed teacher has inspired countless students over the years. One of Alan's particular contributions was his guiding of people through their post-graduate studies and early academic careers. He did this for me. I know his students will sorely miss his care, his enthusiasm, his intellectual insight.
Alan of course delighted us with his talents and enthusiasms, his incomparable knowledge of food and how we must enjoy it.
He charmed us with his own personal fashion movement—his trade-mark flat-top hair-cut.
And those outfits, those works of art that he wore to make social occasions special. He cut quite a figure in the crowd.
Outrageous? Sometimes. Inappropriate? Rarely. Cool? I think so. Dull? Never.
The particular warmth and quality of Alan's friendship, how can we possibly describe it? Those who treasured him have helped.
It's the bottle of chilled champagne delivered unexpectedly to your restaurant table on your birthday. Alan couldn't be there, he was by then halfway to Europe. But he didn't forget you. That was his style.
It's moving your family to Perth to take up a new job at university. You don't know anyone and you've got nowhere to stay. Alan installs the lot of you in his place, shows you around town, makes his friends yours. This isn't a courtesy, it's a whole other way of being.
It's when you were down in the dumps and he'd dropped what he was doing and was on your doorstep—how about I cook you something nice to eat? And he could cook.
It's simply when you had not seen him for quite some time, no matter, he'd greet you with 'Hello stranger', give you one of those hugs, and you'd both pick up where you left off. Because Alan bonded with you forever.
It is because of things like these that Alan's friends around the world—and colleagues in universities here and in Europe and America—are grieving today. One that I spoke to said Perth without Alan seemed already a smaller and diminished place. How true.
This man lying here, who in big and small ways, while he was alive, never stopped trying to make us feel good, was himself inside a very troubled man. Contained deep within him was something so intensely painful that nothing and no one, it seems, could ease it for very long. And our hearts and understanding go to Sikim here.
It is perhaps a terrible paradox that Alan's pain was part of Alan's driving force, his life force.
Although we all wanted him to come to terms with it, to be able to survive it, it seemed to be part of what made Alan, Alan—unique, irresistible and completely irreplaceable.
His death has stunned, bewildered and agonised those of us who were close to him. I will miss him terribly, we all will. Some things are just too difficult to accept all at once—we try to manage our acceptance of it, to receive it gradually and in smaller parcels of grief and loss.
We wish so much for it to have been otherwise, but sooner or later we need to come to terms with it and accord to him the great measure of dignity he deserves. While Alan gave much to us, I think we need to remember also the happiness our various friendships gave to him.
So Al, very special man, lovely man, fantastic man, your friends bid you farewell this afternoon.
In the strange and hollow days since you died some of us find it helps us to remember the times we had already shared with you, the things we had already done with you and enjoyed, and to be eternally grateful for that.
In the Welsh language that you loved, I say heddwch to you Alan. Heddwch.
Heddwch! ... Peace to you Alan.