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In memory of Granddad
Today is my maternal Grandfather, Gerald Mark Lester (z"l)ís Yahrtzeit. I would like to share a couple of memories I have of him, and Iíll invite anyone who knew him to recount any stories. Also, Iíll attempt to provide a basic synopsis of who he was and of his life. Please, please, please, if I get anything wrong or miss out on any important details, please let me know. I appreciate that what I write will be unable to do him justice, but I think it important to try because the way he conducted himself and the life he led was worth celebrating.
Granddad was a good man. Fiercely intelligent, hard working and a devoted family man. Born in England,he left school at 13 because there was not enough money for him to take advantage of the scholarship he was offered. He had many jobs, including being a card carrying member of the coal miner's union, but managed to avoid having to actually work underground. As a very young man he had a role to play in the Second World War, and saw combat in Europe.
He worked hard and became the top selling insurance salesman in his area. In 1958 he became a £10 migrant to Australia to give his family a better life. Once he reached Australia, he took a job at book distributors Gordon and Gotch as a salesman and was later offered the General Managership of the Adelaide branch. He followed this some years later as the Marketing Manager at head office. He spent his spare time working for the community on the board of the synagogue and as a marriage guidance counsellor, as well as renovating the various homes he bought. He succeded so well at giving his family a better life that all his children had the educational opportunities he would have liked to have had himself. Once he left Gordon and Gotch he opened a chain of second-hand book shops and followed that by becoming a financial counsellor. Eventually, he was able to retire but he was struck down by Alzheimers.
This is where I choose to stop the story. It was a tragedy that it occurred, and it would be a tragedy if his life was remembered by the pain and suffering he endured as he lost his once lofty mental abilities. Iíd like to echo my uncle Laurenceís sentiments from the funeral. Free at last.
My grandparents moved around a lot once they got to Australia. Both cities and houses. I was fortunate that for a significant portion of my childhood, Granddad and Grandma lived in Melbourne, so I got to spend some time getting to know Granddad while he still had his full faculties. Iím of the opinion that grandparents should have a special game they are fond of playing with their grandkids. Granddadís game was dominoes. The game itself never mattered, but the opportunity to sit and interact for large amounts of time was something I really valued, and Iím sure that Rev, and my cousins Marilyn and Pamela, did too. He was very proud of his family and especially of all his grandchildren.
More importantly, Granddad always had time for us, and he was always able to talk to us on a level we could understand, but without being patronising. Once, I had a little bit of money and was looking to invest it. I asked Granddad what he thought about a particular investment. He began by telling me that a good financial adviser would never tell me what I should actually do. He then slowly explained what the benefits and drawbacks of the particular investment were. Not just from the prospectus, but also examining various social and political aspects which could affect the investment. In the end, when I made the investment decision, I was fully informed. But, more importantly, he showed me how I should actually look at approaching not only that investment, but also any decision making process.
He was a good man and a great man. He made his own opportunities and he worked hard for them. He taught himself and developed the skills he needed on his own. If he had come from a society which had equity of access, he could have been anything. As it was he did the best he could with what he had. Not for himself, but for his family.
Rest in peace, Granddad.
Comment from Ian Lester (one of Granddad's sons) to my Mother, sent 18th July 2005
Did Dad ever tell you about his 12th birthday (which would have been Boxing Day 1937 and no doubt cold and miserable)? He recalled that at 7 am his father came and got him out of bed and told him to go out and not come back until he'd found himself a job. He won a medal for swimming at school, and he boxed while he was in the army, but he never had much time for sporting achievements; he was always focused on succeeding in life. anything else was irrelevant to him. In the end, it came down to 'work or die' as you know. He was always set on gaining 'security'. He showed us his 'war wound'. I don't know if you remember. It was a scar on his shin that he got falling of a bike while chasing a train in Italy trying to hitch a ride. I was born while he and Mum were in Germany in the occupation forces. He saw Bergen-Belsen. He did clerical work in the Army and used his position to help smuggle surplus British Army trucks to the Haganah instead of back to England. He loved Mum all his life and if you recall, they were still holding hands as a matter of course until he went into the nursing home. When I was born he was a door-to-door insurance salesman selling penny policies to other poor people for the Prudential, but he had ability. I remember in the early 1950s he used to bring home these 'Star Dinner' menus. He got an invitation to the Star Dinners every year - they were for the most successful salesmen in the Prudential. He worked his way up to a management position, then he brought us all to Australia and started over again. This time he moved from door-to-door insurance for the 'Pru' to door-to-door encyclopedias for Gordon and Gotch and again worked his way up eventually to a senior national management position as Marketing Manager. He was in line to get the GM job, but his luck ran out. The then GM, his mentor, died young of a heart attack, and he was then on the wrong political side. He loved fishing, but had the uncanny ability to avoid catching anything. The fish could be jumping onto other people's hooks and he would stand bereft of a bite. I remember once he came to visit me when I was living in Darwin and he organised for us to go fishing with the local G&G manager. There were six of us, five of whom were pulling in big trevally regularly. We were out all morning, Dad caught one fish, and that fish snagged itself on his hook by the gills. Even though he didn't think much of sport, because it didn't help you to 'get on in life' he was a natural sportsman. He taught me badminton and table tennis and snooker. I was good at table tennis, but Dad was still beating me regularly until I was around 17. He played squash with us boys into his middle 50s and tried so hard we ended up refusing to play because we thought he would kill himself. He loved science fiction and history and politics and George Bernard Shaw and poetry. He loved singing, but had a dreadful voice and a complete inability to remember words correctly. He was very knowledgable and it was all self-taught. One thing I remember Mum telling me was that he used to sit in bed when they were young and read the dictionary. He was always a bit sensitive about his writing and didn't write much. He wrote me maybe two letters and a postcard in his life. He was much better at talking, even though he got an attack of nerves speaking in public. And he never let the nerves stop him from having his say. When we were in Perth, not long after we came to Australia, and had got involved with the local community, I had an interesting conversation with one of the women, who said to me that she wouldn't mind having Dad's shoes under her bed. I was 11 and had absolutely no idea what she was talking about (then). I believe that he was generally thought to be a handsome man.
Eulogy given by Lee Lester (another of Granddad's sons)
Eulogy for Dad 17/7/01
No-one could ever accuse Dad of being lazy. He was part of that generation who saw it as a failure to have a working wife, and so he worked very hard to provide for us all.
He had a strong sense of family, and a strong sense of community. He was a Mason. He devoted several hours a week to marriage guidance counselling, helping others not as fortunate as he was in having a loving and lasting marriage.
He was just as selfless when it came to the Jewish community. He was a member of Adelaide Bínai Bírith, and served a term as President.
He served on the Board of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, and although he didnít attend Shule regularly, he was firmly committed to being a part of it, and believed that a Shule is far more than just a place for worship. There was a strong connection between the Jewish Community and his Jewish identity.
He was a traditional Jew. One of my fondest memories is Seder night at our house. Mum was cooking for days beforehand, we always had others besides the family on the night, it was a noisy and boisterous affair, and Dad ploughed on through the Haggadah regardless.
Dadís work and community commitments may not have left a lot of time for 5 children, but he was a patient and loving grandfather. One time we came from Melbourne to visit Mum and Dad in Victor Harbor. There are many things Iíd rather do than go fishing, but I wanted Marilyn and Pamela to have the experience. Dad happily took them, on his own, to try fishing.
Dad was a kind person, and I miss him.
My favourite procrastinations
The Head Heeb - Jonathan provides a balanced view on various Israeli and (former) colonial states in less developed regions of the world.
The Bladder - a sports satire site. Well worth a look.