Dr Freier lauds John Cain's life of service to others

Archbishop tells State Memorial Service at St Paul's that he was touched by tributes to the former Premier.

Mrs Nancye Cain, flanked on the right by her sons James and John and by her daughter Joanne (partly concealed) on the left, receives condolences from mourners including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and former Premiers Steve Bracks and Jeff Kennett after her husband's State Memorial Service at St Paul's Cathedral.

By Mark Brolly

February 4 2020 

Archbishop Philip Freier said the tributes paid to former Victorian Premier John Cain described a life that was consistent with the ancient truth “that life is best lived when it has an outward focus and for the benefit of others”.

Dr Freier, speaking at the State Memorial Service for Mr Cain at St Paul’s Cathedral on 3 February, said all the comments he had seen about Victoria’s 41st Premier built the picture of a good man who contributed his best efforts in the demanding roles and responsibilities he bore throughout his life.

Mr Cain, who was Premier from 1982-90, died on 23 December after a stroke earlier that month. He was 88.

His was the first Victorian Labor Government in 27 years after the last of three administrations led by his father, also John Cain, in the 1940s and ’50s fell during the Labor Split in 1955.

Mr Cain is survived by his wife of almost 65 years, Nancye, his daughter Ms Joanne Crothers, his sons John (whose welcome as State Coroner and a Judge of the County Court of Victoria the late Premier attended only a few days before his stroke) and James and their children and grandchildren.

“Many of us here today know what it is like to live a public life,” Archbishop Freier said. “Any public figure is subject to the assessment of others, some through the formal rigours of our electoral processes. Everyone in public life, and probably most of us even if we are not, know what it is like to be under that scrutiny. Our consistency, values, foibles and character are all there - to be seen and assessed by others.

“In that light, I was touched by the generosity of the tributes that were made about John Cain at the time of his death. All the comments I have read build the picture of a good man who contributed his best efforts in the demanding roles and responsibilities he bore throughout his life. One academic said that John Cain's stance in public life was based on his conviction that ‘for society to function smoothly government had to provide stability, decency and integrity, and it had to act to protect those values’.

“It takes great poise to maintain this focus in the midst of the hectic life of political office. Others today have spoken about the character of the man in his personal and public life – a life given to the service of others – and this is what the life of a politician is, after all other the other layers are peeled away; such a life reveals a consonance with the ancient truth that life is best lived when it has an outward focus and for the benefit of others.

“You who knew John Cain and have been influenced by him no doubt consider that your life has been enriched by knowing him.”

Dr Freier devoted much of his address to St Paul’s teaching about love in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13:

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

“We struggle in our present times to use the word ‘love’ with the same rich palette of meaning that informed the thinking of the ancients,” the Archbishop said. “The Greek language that St Paul spoke had unique words for the different aspects of what we refer to as love. Amongst other words, they spoke of Eros for the love of sexual intimacy, philos for the love of friendship and agape for the self-giving and sacrificial love that Paul considered the greatest of virtues. Certainly a richer palette than our use of the word that often seems to mean the expression of a mere preference or to bring a distorted focus on the Eros character within human relationship.

“St Paul teaches that agape love never ends, a reality that we who have shared in the life of someone that we have loved have some sense of. Despite death, there is that aspect of the person that lives on with us, as much the essence of their character as the sum of our shared experience with them. For Christians, the love that we are shown by God in this life is the basis for our hope of life in Christ in the next … St Paul does not deny the wringing pain of grief or minimise the significance of death but instead argues that in Christ, it is not the last word – not the final reference point of human life.

“Jesus himself taught that he was the ‘good shepherd’ who willingly sacrificed all for the flock. His life is the exemplar of this agape love. The Christian response to God arises from the renewed perspective that comes from knowing the power of Christ through his agape love. This is the love that ‘... bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. I am reminded of Philips Brooks' prayer: ‘O Lord, I do not pray for tasks equal to my strength: I ask for strength equal to my tasks.’”

Archbishop Freier told the congregation not to be surprised if the grief they felt about Mr Cain’s death stirred memories of their other past losses and grieving.

“Our own grief, the necessary consciousness of our loss, in the end finds its balance and healing with our thankfulness for the life of our loved one,” he said. “That is what our words that are used here today in this service emphasise. We affirm our support for Nancye and Joanne, John and James and our solidarity with each other by our presence here.

“St Paul would not have been in the slightest embarrassed to speak about the agape or love relationship that exists between any of us and the one whose life death has taken from us. He knew that it was the reality that underpinned proper relations between people, which in turn were the fabric of human society where all can flourish.”

The service was attended by many political and community leaders, including Victorian Governor Linda Dessau, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and all surviving former Premiers – Jeff Kennett, Steve Bracks, John Brumby, Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine.

Mr Cain’s successor as Premier and Victorian Labor leader, Mr Daniel Andrews, former Federal Attorney-General Michael Duffy and Ms Mary Crooks, the Executive Director of the Victorian Women's Trust, paid tribute to Mr Cain for his service to the public and the Labor Party, while his sons delivered tributes on behalf of the family. Ms Crothers read Death is Nothing At All from Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), while the Canon Pastor of St Paul’s, the Revd Canon Christopher Carolane, read from the Gospel of St John, chapter 10, verses 10-11 and 14-17 (Jesus as the good shepherd).

Mr Andrews praised Mr Cain’s “decency, clarity and unwavering sense of purpose”, adding that he was “relentless in his pursuit of positive change, resolute in the importance of public service”.

“There’s no list that could ever fully encompass or do justice to his immense contribution to our state but in each of the legacies John leaves behind, we see a man who lived his life wholly in accordance with his values,” Mr Andrews said. “And friends, it was a life wholly lived in the service of others.”

Judge John Cain said his father’s work ethic was clear from the start and it remained with him throughout his life.

“One example, and there are many, on his wedding day – he and Nancye were married midweek – John was able to fit in a couple of pleas at South Melbourne court before heading off to be married,” Judge Cain said. “This came out in the context of my wedding. Jenny and I got married on a weekday and I took the day off. It was the subject of some criticism, with the suggestion that I was a bit soft!

“He took a keen interest in most legal issues. I would often get a phone call from him … and the voice on the other end would say, ‘Have you got a minute?’, which to the ordinary person would have been a question. Not so, it was a direction to stop whatever it was I was doing and talk to him about the issue he had identified in the morning paper. He would nearly always be well prepared, having had a look at the legislation – hard copy, of course – and often had read part of the relevant case law, again hard copy.

“If I was lucky on my scan of the morning paper over breakfast, I might have picked up the issue in anticipation of the call. But mostly, regretfully, I was left hopelessly underprepared, floundering to respond to his questions, with the result that I was prevailed upon to have a look at the issue and come back to him when I was better able to engage with him in a substantial conversation. Inevitably, my focus as I read the morning paper was not just to be informed about the news of the day but to anticipate the topic John would call about later so that I may contribute in a meaningful way.

“I already miss those calls. The reading of the morning newspaper doesn’t have quite the sharp focus these days.

“We will all miss him terribly but he’s left us with wonderful memories and an enduring legacy. Our family is enormously proud of him and his great achievements and I am particularly proud to be his son.”

Mr James Cain said his father valued hard work, commitment, keeping your word, loyalty, politeness and being understated. He was also a man for whom daily and yearly rituals were important, with stability a virtue highly prized in both his political and personal lives.

“As far as he was concerned, most things in life operated better if backed by a solid routine. Take his ritual start to the day. Every morning, there was a run and reading of the papers sitting in a beanbag. Followed by breakfast. In the early days of my life, that was Weeties, toast and a soft-boiled egg. Weeties, however, were only served between September and May; porridge was served in the cooler months from June to August. The familiar inquiry of ‘Egg on?’ would come as the Weeties or the porridge, depending on the time of year, would be nearly finished. Shortly after, the egg and toast arrived. A cup of tea or a glass of milk and the serviette would then be carefully folded and rolled and returned secure to the silver serviette ring to be ready for dinner.

“Routine was applied with equal enthusiasm to the yearly schedule, too. We spent our summers at the beach at Carrum, we’d move down the last week before Christmas and John would enjoy a two-week holiday until mid-January and then he’d commute up to the office for the next two weeks over January. He’d go to the cricket on the Boxing Day Test and the second day and a regular attendance at the Australian Open. Melbourne Park and the MCG – easily his two favourite places on the planet.

“Holidays between June and August were about going somewhere warm and sunny – Queensland usually, Noosa often. Routine was established early: run, swim, breakfast, sunbake, lunch, sunbake, afternoon sleep, dinner, sleep – repeat!”

Mr Cain said it felt at times as if his father was “pretty easy to disappoint”.

“On reflection, though, I’m not sure anyone he was close to ever disappointed him. It’s simply that he wanted us to get the best out of ourselves. It took a while but in the last few years, I became aware of how proud he was of his family. He was proud of the things we’d done, the partners that we’d chosen and that we’d kept them. ‘I have three children,’ he would say. ‘All of them married – once!’

“For him, pride was hard to admit and this was part of his upbringing. Being proud of us meant actually being proud of himself and this was the type of indulgence he would rarely allow himself.

“Overall, John set a towering example, one that frankly is impossible to live up to all of the time but he would think it’s good for his children and grandchildren to have a challenge.”

The Dean, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, said in welcoming the congregation and people watching and listening to broadcasts of the service that Mr Cain, “a great Australian and a great Victorian”, had been a passionate supporter of the Cathedral’s major restoration at the beginning of the 21st century, “and himself led the fundraising effort to restore this place to its original beauty by shaking a collection box outside St Paul’s Cathedral”.

“Today we, as a Cathedral community, as a city, as a state, have the opportunity to give thanks for the gift that we have received in John Cain, to say thank you to God … for what he has done for us, what he has meant to us.

“As we give thanks to God for John, we ask that his life might serve as an inspiration for us to share the gifts that God grants us with one another and we pray for the firm and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life that Jesus came to bring to all who put their trust in Him.”

Prominent Indigenous soprano Dr Deborah Cheetham sang I Know That My Redeemer Liveth from Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Laudate Dominum. The hymns were I Vow To Thee, My Country, The Lord’s My Shepherd from the 1650 Scottish Psalter and Abide With Me.