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TO THE MAN WHO LIVED LIFE – A TRIBUTE TO STAN MARRIS

When news came through from Canberra of the recent passing of the Old Paradian Stan Marris at the age of 90, the collective view of those old enough to remember was that his was a life truly well-lived.

“Amongst former students of the College, I doubt that anybody made a greater impression than Stan,” said fellow OP Ray Hangan (1950).

“Ask anybody who ever had anything to do with him and the response is invariably ‘Where do you start?’. Stan was an outstanding athlete, gymnast, Golden Gloves boxing champion, and, as with his older brother William, he played football for the Old Paradians. He was also an accomplished musician, scholar and sculptor . . . and to top it off he spent five years with the Franciscans.”

A beloved husband of 54 years to Bernice (for whom it was love at first sight), devoted father to six children and cherished grandfather to ten, Stan’s respect amongst fellow Old Paradians like the Hill brothers Brian (1951) and Geoff (1947), and Len Smith (also known as Father Regis Smith (1950)) was also profound.

Father Smith, a long-time friend of Stan's, remembered that he built up his light frame working the parallel bar at Parade - "a practice that saw him swiftly emerge as a fierce competitor in all sporting pursuits he later undertook". It was Father Smith who graciously forward the accompanying images and the following eulogy delivered by Stan’s son Sidney at Canberra’s St Christopher’s Cathedral.

 

Stanley Marris, the third boy of cabinet-maker and Gallipoli veteran Sydney and amateur opera singer Kathleen, was born on the 4th of February 1929.

Two days later, he was admitted to the infectious diseases hospital in Heidelberg with suspected meningitis. His parents feared for his survival, so he was quickly baptised – no time for ceremonies or taking a baptismal name. he did that later. He thought about it himself. He chose Joseph, the patron saint of all fathers.

From the start then, Dad hinted at his lifelong characteristics:

  • a determination against adversity;
  • constantly applying his mind to consider the questions of life and its value; and
  • a commitment to his faith, most importantly exercised through the model of Joseph – the husband, the father.

His life spanned some of the great defining and destructive episodes of the last century: wars, the clash of ideologies, sectarianism, times of plenty and times of want; the promise of renewal and the breakdown of trust in places he held so dear.

He felt them all keenly. His amplified intellect and emotion grew up side by side in a world that forced a person to take sides. His life was sometimes a struggle of a man with great passion, who could communicate this beautifully through music and art, but alas felt there was a conflict where the head must prevail.

Such a strong man, his health was mixed. He cheated death from septicaemia in 1958 and struggled to cope after early retirement from ill health.

Yet he had a big heart and he let it run. His answer was to embrace life; to create the great feast – pig on a spit on a Saturday night open to all-comers – debates and discussions over dinners (though perhaps too one sided!).

And to be a maverick – though he would have hated the term because he always felt torn about duty and doing the right thing.

In the hardship between the wars, life was what you made of it:

  • scampering with brother Fred along the soggy banks of Merri Creek, the famed mud of the old MCG cricket pitches, to catch yabbies and eels then cook them on a kerosene stove;
  • playing football, gymnastics or street cricket with this interesting local older boy Neil Harvey; and
  • running athletics at the Fitzroy Football Ground where then backbencher Robert Menzies would come down alone and watch from the hill the emerging generation.

He was part of that extraordinary expansion of strong Catholic-sponsored education, in my view a movement that turned the egalitarian ideal of Australia into practice in the 20th century. He won a scholarship to St Colman's and he later attended the ‘Old Bluestone Pile’ -the Christian Brothers’ Parade College in East Melbourne he held particularly dear, regularly travelling to old boys functions well into his 80s.

He learnt how to learn for himself. He devoured philosophy, theology, politics, languages. Kindly patrons of Catholic societies shared the insights of logic and rhetoric above the corner shops off Brunswick Street, or teaching himself rudimentary Italian and Spanish through long walks on the beach with new immigrants, so he could at least properly introduce their music on the local radio show that he hosted. For Dad, post-war multiculturalism was a celebration of life, like the Lithuanians he met and sang with at the only mass he could get to on Sunday because of shift work.

He would turn up to parties on his motorbike, with a stack of records in a crate tied to the front and his turntable on the back. Or host intense musical and discussion sessions, usually very late, in his ‘den’ at the back of the butcher’s shop at their Brunswick street home.

He taught himself to draw, sitting in the National Gallery of Victoria, copying the masters. He drew cartoons for BA Santamaria’s News Weekly and the Young Christian workers, but he was, in the words of a Labor man who knew him then, too independently-minded for party politics at the time.

It may have surprised some, but really it was unsurprising that he decided to try a vocation with the Franciscans, and equally unsurprising after five years, notwithstanding suffering an illness that would have killed a less fit man, that he left. He did the equivalent of a Masters in his five years of study with the Franciscans, but it was not recognised externally, and his later attempts to gain qualifications disappointingly faltered. So he just ran his own Platonic academy instead.

I could run a long catalogue of anecdotes:

  • playing football with Geoff and Brian Hill when a thug took Brian out in a piece of foul play. There was a flash up the wing and suddenly the miscreant was flat on his back with most there unaware what had just happened;
  • despite the nickname of the ‘Enforcer’, giving up boxing after 42 fights and no losses because, as he said, ‘I just didn’t want to hurt people’;
  • resisting the lure of paid sport (including the offer of ‘money in the boot of the car’). He hated how the word ‘amateur’ got devalued and would say ‘God gave me this talent’;
  • Riding his motorbike in the Dandenong Ranges and suddenly flinging off in a somersault from an ill-judged curve – later finding the spanner that was in his pocket embedded in a tree 100 yards away; and
  • to sing – whether it was the glorious church music, Enrico Caruso or the Frankie Lane ballad of the sheriff heading to a showdown in ‘High Noon’ or the false prophet ‘Jezebel’ – see, he always slipped in a religious theme;
  • or the fish. On reflection, what in God’s name made him think he could raise a biblical load of trout in our backyard swimming pool in winter? And yet he did and it was fine barbecued.

Stan’s was a great and troubled life, brilliant to watch but sometimes difficult to live with. It only worked through a rock-solid partnership with the deft and dedicated love of his beloved wife Bernice. His band of grandchildren brought him much joy and he was so very proud of them.

I finish with a line from the tolerant atheist Clive James, someone I’m sure Stan once dismissed as a smart alec!

“The duty of the greatly talented is to life itself, because what they do is the consecration of life.”

Stan lived life. His passion and talent was his gift to us. Rest in peace now.

- Sid Marris