Throughout his long life, Robert Houghton rose to every challenge

By Beryl Rule

November 29 2018The funeral of the Revd Robert Sherwood Houghton was held at the Anglican Church of the Ascension, Burwood East, on 26 September.

His daughters Rosalind and Kathrine delivered eulogies which showed him to have been a man of great ability, who faced life's challenges full on.

"Our father was a man of exceptional physical strength, mental stamina and intellectual independence. His unthinking assumption that his children would also possess these qualities was sometimes to our advantage, sometimes not," Rosalind began.

She recalled a trip to Hall's Gap when she and her brother Jim, shivering with cold and "equipped with gear dating back to 1946", realised to their horror that "we were expected to carry our clothing, boots and skis ourselves as we walked through the snow to our lodge. Snow cats rumbled past, transporting more fortunate families, all those weaklings with nothing better to do with their money. Dad obdurately ignored our suffering...

"A recurring expression Dad used when responding to our many vociferous complaints was, ‘Oh, stop your whingeing, it won’t kill you’."

Robert's school years, which he had greatly enjoyed, were spent at Melbourne Grammar. As soon as they were completed he enlisted in the navy and served during the final year of the war. He then attended Melbourne University, living at Trinity College and excelling in both sport and academic studies.

In 1949, accompanied by his young wife Ruth, he set off for England to do his MA at Cambridge. He was ordained in Manchester in 1953, aged 26, and served there as a curate for 18 months. The couple returned to Australia five years later, with three young children. A fourth, Jim, was born here in 1955.

Kathrine said that her father always maintained he had two callings - one to the ministry and one to marry Ruth.

"He was young when he got both calls and young when they were realised," she said. "In the end he was an ordained priest for 66 years, and he and my mother shared 52 years of marriage before she passed away in 2002. Both bore fruit, but neither was easy." Sadly mental illness, following severe post-natal depression, dogged Ruth throughout her life.

Between 1955 and 1986 Robert served as parish priest at St Andrew's Braybrook; chaplain at Grimwade House; sub-warden at St Barnabas Theological College Adelaide, and parish priest at North Melbourne and Ashburton.

In 1986, at 60, he was forced to retire after a serious cardiomyopathy attack, and was given five years to live. However "he kept defying the odds", and not only recovered after open heart surgery, but regained his license at age 79. He married twice more after Ruth's death, the last time when he was 87.

"He was a man of faith," said Kathrine. "When one door closed, as they did periodically in his life, he was there waiting for the next door to open, which it inevitably did."

She sat quietly by her father's bed in his final hours, and said Evensong with him one last time.

"When I opened the lectionary and realised it was Holy Cross Day, I knew he would die before midnight. And so it proved. His eyes had been fixed on that cross a ll his life, and somehow, it seemed appropriate."