Eulogy for Bishop Ian George, 1934-2019
February 28 2019
Sarah George remembers her father, a former Archbishop of Adelaide, at a Service of Thanksgiving for his life at St John’s Anglican Church Toorak on 6 February.
Ian Gordon Combe George
Deacon, Priest, Dean, Archdeacon, Bishop, Archbishop
Ian, Dad, Poppy
My father was a complex and very passionate man, he loved poetry, music, art and people.
He was a devout man who loved the church. He was a wonderful story teller and there are so many stories. I would like to share one.
I was 34 weeks pregnant with our twins, Marcus and Toby, exhausted I was confined to hospital while remotely trying to manage our 2 older children at home. Friends and family would ring, some brought coffee, others brought trashy reading material. My father rang often. However on one particular day he rang and asked:
Ian – Do you have some time?
Sarah - As it happens Dad, I do.
Ian - Let me ask you something, I’m working on a little paper and I wonder whether you think portraiture might be dead?
Sarah – Is portraiture dead? … Dad, I’m not sure that I’m capable of this sort of conversation right now.
Ian - Oh of course you are. Think about it and get back to me.
Dad always had higher expectations of me than I did of myself. Well, the twins are now 13 years old, and I think I might have finally crafted a response.
A portrait is not a dossier or a letter of reference, it encapsulates someone’s, stature,
character, demeanour and passions, it is larger than the sum of its parts.
What would a portrait, in this case a painting of my father look and feel like?
Firstly, the Foundations – cotton duck or Belgium linen – Belgium linen. My father had a love of textiles, as a child I remember being overwhelmed by the beauty of some of his vestments lovingly made by parishioners and local craftspeople.
Oil or acrylic? Acrylic as the base layers, he was always too busy to wait for oils to dry. The top layer, oil – lots of oil.
The Palette - Colour
There would be lots of colour, strong, contrasting, ceremonial. Purples, deep magentas and red, more carmine than cadmium, and green, deep greens, Prussian and viridian. Perhaps a touch of gold leaf, not too much but enough.
Texture – there is little room here for fine brush strokes, more likely to be impasto applied with palette knives and broad gestural sweeps.
How would the portrait be constructed – the composition? He would be front and centre in choir robes, his expressive grey blue eyes gazing directly at the viewer, much like the portrait of him hanging at Bishops Court in Adelaide by Robert Hannaford. He had the gift of connecting with all who knew him and a disarming honesty and warmth.
However, in this more intimate portrait there is a walled garden in the background, a place of great beauty and reflection, although if anything like his study it would be a little cluttered. Within this garden there would be many symbols of his life and passions.
- Flowers – not roses or tulips but orchids, bromeliads, cactus and succulents – flowers of great fragility but some from the toughest of origins. Flowers speak to his passion for the garden, for nurturing but also his belief in the ability of the human spirit to renew, the cycles of death and resurrection.
- A guitar to represent my brother Sam who’s memory remained very dear to my father, indeed to us all.
- A jacaranda tree – his obvious joy each November when they erupt with their purple blooms has been consistent as we have moved as a family across four states and a territory. There was also his enjoyment of frangipanis, poincianas, bougainvilleas and so on.
- To represent his deep faith and his ministry, his pectoral cross and ring, his prayer book and Bible, which he used every day, and a clerical collar.
- A Port Power symbol – He was passionate about his AFL and was at one stage a patron of Port Power. In 2004 I was returning from London with two small children and my parents decided to meet me in Singapore to help me with the second leg of the journey. As a result, dad missed Port Power becoming Premiers for the only time in his life. Devotion! He has tried desperately to convert his grandchildren to his team, an uphill battle with grandchildren born and bred in Melbourne, although the alternative has been St Kilda, so they may wish to reconsider.
Finally, the symbol of
- A rainbow – for its beauty, rarity and his advocacy for all those with less of a voice. His deep concern for the worlds displaced, his support for the ordination of women and his recognition of the LGBTI community particularly his loving support for our eldest son Oliver during his recent transition. Oliver can’t be here today, he is Cambodia with the blessing of his grandfather.
The Presentation of the portrait
Size – well big, really big, he was a big personality, he filled the room, but he had humility, acknowledged his mistakes and grew from them.
Frame – I think gold gilt – He did like a bit of drama.
Position – where would this portrait hang? Within us all, because his life was so full, and his impact reached so far and wide.
Well, Dad, in answer to your original question – portraiture is the most wonderful reflection of a person’s life and it need not be literal and figurative as I have described, it can be abstract or even ephemeral. What’s important is that we speak with and value our elders in life and death, remind ourselves that we have been nurtured and be grateful.
We loved and adored Ian, Dad, Poppy – and he loved us – but right now a little piece of us is broken. We will miss him terribly, but he gave each of us so much and as a family we are surrounded each day by his presence in the art works and cultural richness that we live with.
We will certainly remember him each November when he will say to us: “Oh … just look at the beautiful jacarandas.”