Gordon Noel Archer: A True Gentleman

Adapted from a Speech Delivered by Bodhan Bilinsky at Gordon Archer's Funeral

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and to pay tribute to a wonderful man, Gordon Noel Archer, who sadly passed away Thursday, 8 January 2004, after a long battle with cancer.

Gordon Archer was born in Maitland in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. He was the second eldest of five children born to Charles and Alice Archer. His parents, and his eldest sister, had migrated to Australia from England some time after World War I. His father had been in the Royal Navy during World War I and after migrating to Australia joined the Merchant Navy. Gordon had two sisters and two brothers, all of whom have survived him and all still live in the Maitland-Newcastle area.

Gordon was educated in Maitland and for a short time worked as an apprentice motor mechanic. However, his father's love of the sea obviously rubbed off on the young Gordon who, whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the Navy. As a seaman he served overseas in many theatres of war, including the Mediterranean, Burma and the Pacific in the corvette "HMAS Wollongong". Later he joined a special intelligence branch of the Navy known as FELO (Far Eastern Liaison Office) where he served as acting petty officer.

Gordon served his country with distinction and was very proud of his contribution. He was a member of the Corvette Association and regularly attended ANZAC Day Services, more recently in Mittagong. I recall some three years ago how pleased he was, when visiting Darwin, to be invited on board the ship presently bearing the name of "Wollongong" which was about to depart for East Timor.

I also recall more recently how happy he was that he was able to re-mount his service medals and ribbons and to have them framed. His war service is acknowledged today by the presence of representatives of the RSL and his campaign medals on his coffin.

He met and married the only love of his life, Maria. They were devoted to each other to the very end. Gordon always gave a lot of thought to Maria's birthday and Christmas presents. He delighted in acquiring or having made special items to celebrate each occasion.

He also deeply loved his daughter, Maria Wallis, her husband Neville and his four grandchildren, James, Gemma, Edward and Andrew. I enjoyed the many occasions when he would tell me, with pride, of the achievements of his grandchildren, showing me photographs and school reports as they reached each stage of their school and sporting activities. Although they lived in Victoria, both my wife and I were fortunate, over the years, in being able to maintain regular contact with Maria and Neville and were always very interested to learn of their children's progress from Gordon.

Gordon's great affection for his grandchildren is emphasised by an incident which I found extremely touching, and which embraced the love and closeness Gordon shared with them. The particular occasion was one where James was required to write an essay at school about his hero. He chose his grandfather. An acknowledgement and recognition of this kind, apart from being rare, was the greatest compliment that could have been paid to Gordon and touched him deeply. All four will miss their "Grandpa" greatly.

After the war, Gordon began evening studies to make up for the tertiary education which had been postponed when he enlisted in the Navy. He pursued accounting and management studies whilst, at the same time, gaining practical experience in various fields of employment. For many years he held a managerial position with the NSW Egg Marketing Board. It was during this time that he gained a Diploma in General Management, as well as in Food Technology. Subsequently, he held managerial positions with Shelleys Soft Drinks, Holeproof and British Linen. His gift of being a great communicator, being level-headed and treating those under his supervision with courtesy guaranteed both success and satisfaction in his various positions. He also gained ITP (Income Tax Professionals) accreditation.

One of the most rewarding positions held by Gordon, however, was that of General Manager of Ozanam Industries, a sheltered workshop for the disabled which he set up in Stanmore in Sydney under the auspices of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. As we lived near each other, I often accompanied Gordon to Sydney and on those occasions I would visit the workshop. It was a vast enterprise employing many people, the majority of whom were disabled. Gordon's attitude as Manager enabled these employees to develop self-respect, dignity and pride in their achievements. The success of the enterprise was without doubt due to Gordon's ability to generate major contracts for the workshop, including a number of contracts from overseas. It was only when the long trip from Colo Vale near Mittagong to Sydney five or six times a week became too onerous that Gordon retired from that position. After retiring from Ozanam Industries, Gordon worked for Douglas Pathology in Bowral. It was always a source of great satisfaction to him that he was able to help those less fortunate than himself.

His desire to help others, especially children, manifested itself in another way. In 1983 Gordon underwent surgery for cancer. Fortunately he recovered. In 1996, however, Gordon was again diagnosed with cancer and underwent further surgery. It was shortly after this that Gordon founded a charity which is called "The Children's Cancer Welfare Service". The aim of this charity was to help families in need, especially those from rural areas of New South Wales, where a child had been diagnosed with cancer and where the parents were financially unable to be with their child whilst being hospitalised and receiving treatment. Single-handedly Gordon raised substantial sums of money to start this charity. Subsequently, he formed a Committee, comprising mainly of persons involved in the breeding and showing of dogs, to assist him. One of the major sources of fund-raising was an International Dog Show which Gordon, Maria and the hard working Committee would organise annually and with great success.

Through this charity, Gordon helped many families in distress who would otherwise have been unable to be with their children whilst the latter were receiving treatment for cancer. On many occasions I was honoured to read letters of gratitude which Gordon had received from such families. His only reward was the knowledge that he had been able to help someone in need. The Children's Cancer Welfare Service continues to provide assistance along the lines originally contemplated by Gordon and is a fitting memorial to his compassion and for his efforts on behalf of others.

Gordon had two major past-times or hobbies. The first of these was his interest in dogs, and especially in Dobermanns. Gordon and Maria first became interested in Dobermanns in 1962. They established a very successful breeding kennel under the name of "Vondobe". This kennel produced literally hundreds of Australian Champions, including more than 100 Best-in-Show winners, quite an amazing record. One of their major achievements was in winning Best-in-Show at the 1969 Sydney Royal Easter Show. That win was the first and only time that a Dobermann had gained this prestigious award. Not only had Gordon and Maria bred the dog, but Gordon proudly and most efficiently handled the dog to his major win.

By 1968, Gordon developed an interest in judging dogs and obtained a licence to judge Dobermanns. He quickly progressed through the ranks of judges, becoming an All Breeds Judge in 1976. His ability and demeanour in the ring made him a popular and highly desired Judge. He judged in all States of Australia and in many other countries, including the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and the World Show in Mexico City. He was honoured in being asked to judge at both the Sydney Royal Easter Show and the Royal Melbourne Show, a rare appointment for shows which normally engage only overseas judges.

Not being content with a peripheral interest in his hobby, Gordon became involved in the administration of dog affairs. He was a foundation member of the Dobermann Club of New South Wales and served, for some years, as its President. His contribution to the Club and to the breed was acknowledged by the award of Life Membership to him.

He also became involved in the administration of canine affairs generally. For a number of years he served as a member of the Consultative Committee of the RAS Kennel Control, a Committee charged with the administration of canine affairs by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. He served on many other Committees, especially the Judges and the Show Committees.

After the administration of canine affairs was transferred from the Royal Agricultural Society to the newly-created Royal NSW Canine Council, Gordon served as its President. His contribution to that Council was also recognised by the award of Life Membership to him.

Gordon Archer's contribution to the dog world was so extensive that it is impossible to acknowledge all of it. It is, however, worthy of note that he was the founding President of the Dog Judges Association and that both he and Maria contributed substantially to the first and only book on the Australian Dobermann which was published in 1996. Gordon's other hobby was that of gardening. Whilst living at Colo Vale, he developed both a formal garden and a bush garden. His particular passion, however, was roses. He was proud of this garden and worked tirelessly in it. He was very interested in new varieties which, from time-to­time, he introduced into his own garden. His friends and working acquaintances also benefited from this interest in that he would often bring beautiful roses to work for others to enjoy. His recent move from Colo Vale to Bowral did not dampen his enthusiasm for gardening and he planted many beautiful roses at his new home. He was especially delighted with the row of standard "Iceberg" roses now in bloom.

My association with Gordon goes back approximately 35 years. Whilst our meeting was brought about by a mutual interest in Dobermann dogs, we developed a long and lasting friendship which, strangely enough, rarely involved any discussion about dogs! In the early 1970's we were almost "neighbours", a valley separating our two properties at Annangrove and Kenthurst. During this period we spent a great deal of time together and our children made a life-long friend and confidante in "Uncle Gordon". Our two elder children are present today. Our younger son, who is overseas, was devastated to hear the sad news. It was also at that time that we first formed our friendship with the teen-age "Young Maria". Our close association continued after our move to Bowral and Gordon and Maria's move to Colo Vale. It has been a very special friendship indeed.

I regarded Gordon as a close and trusted friend and was privileged by the fact that he was able to assist me in my practice as a part-time accountant. This provided me with the opportunity of regularly chatting to Gordon about all manner of things and we shared many confidences. Both he and I were early risers and would often be in the office by 7.30 in the morning. It was on these occasions, with no telephones to interrupt us, that we would discuss various matters over our coffee. I welcomed and benefited from his wise advice, his commonsense, his compassion and his interest in his fellow human beings. As the Douglas Pathology premises adjoin my office, we would be privileged to see Gordon virtually every day. He always had a smile on his face, a compliment or a kind word for everyone, and always willing to help in any way he could. I, and many others, will miss him very much indeed. In particular, I will miss his firm handshake which he retained right to the very end of his life. He was universally regarded as a true gentleman and a lovely person.

In April of last year Gordon was again diagnosed with cancer. He was advised that it was inoperable and he faced this dreadful news bravely. The chemotherapy treatment which commenced in August was unsuccessful. Throughout this period of illness and stress, Gordon still continued to try to help others. He never complained about his condition or about the excruciating pain which he must have endured.

He was admitted to Bowral Hospital on Saturday, 3 January, and passed away peacefully last Thursday morning 8th January 2004. I, and in fact all of us, will miss him greatly. However, we can be proud of the fact that our association with Gordon Archer has enriched us all.

May he rest in peace

Gordon Archer