“Help people, Jimmy” – the life of Jim Cruthers
I’d like to thank you all for being here today to farewell our Dad, Jim Cruthers. I’ll be speaking about Dad’s early days and our family life together. Bill McKenzie will talk about Dad’s work as a broadcaster, while Ian Constable will cover his involvement in the community and charity. Finally Sam Cruthers, Dad’s grandson, will give us some of his favourite stories and memories about Poppa Jim.
Dad was born at home, 27 Anstey Street Claremont. It was a war service home, as James senior had landed on the first day at Gallipoli and later served in France, where he won the Military Medal. Dad was the fifth child born of six; four survived – Joy and Frank, Jim and Sylvia.
His mother Kate Nestor was the daughter of Robert (Jock) Nestor, a sergeant major of the Royal Scots in India. A career soldier, he retired to Perth and became a legendary figure at the army training facility Blackboy Camp.
At the start of the Great Depression, James senior took off to the goldfields prospecting, leaving Kate to bring up the children alone on his war pension. Times were tough, but Dad remembers there were plenty of people worse off than them. Kate was a good mother and did everything to bring up the children in the right way. They enjoyed a close family life with nightly sing-alongs around the piano. Dad and brother Frank performed together as a vocal duo and were inevitably christened the Cruthers Brothers. Later they became choir boys in this cathedral.
Dad went to school at Claremont Central, but when he turned 14 it was time to find a job. Kate had managed to get brother Frank an apprentice-ship as a sign-writer and was very pleased. But she failed in her attempt to apprentice Dad to a butcher. In desperation she spoke to the lady next door, a journalist for the Daily News, who arranged a job interview. In April 1938, Dad began work at Newspaper House on the Terrace. He worked on the front desk and operated the switchboard on Saturdays. He was barely 150 cm tall and his shoe size was 5.
Dad loved the world of newspapers – the hot lead, the hard drinking journos and cranky sub-editors, the contact with all levels of society. While not at work he kept busy with sport – football, athletics and surf life-saving. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, he joined the army and was sent to Broome to help protect northern Australia from the expected attack by the Japanese. At 19 he followed brother Frank into the RAAF, training at Cunderdin on Tiger Moths, and later in Canada. He was to fly Lancaster bombers, but the war ended before he could see action.
Dad loved the air force too. He spoke about it often, taught Sue and I risqué air force songs, and wore his great coat and wool-lined air force boots through the winters of our childhood. He took us to the Dawn Service, and his father to the ANZAC Day march most years.
After the war he returned to Newspaper House, where he became a journalist and later an editor. He also had his first taste of charity work as a young journalist. In 1945 he met Sheila Della Vedova, who was to become the other fixed point in his life. The daughter of Italian migrants, Sheila was one of the few people I ever knew with a drive to match Dad’s. I’m not surprised they succeeded. They married in this cathedral in February 1950. I was born in 1953 and Sue followed four years later.
In 1958 Dad got the tap on the shoulder to put together an application for Perth’s first television licence. TVW Channel 7 went to air the following year. I remember this time as a golden period in our family life. We lived in a new house at 84 Thelma Street Como, with Perth’s first TV set in our lounge-room. We were a close and happy family, and Dad was fully involved in our lives. He took us swimming training every morning for years, and we had fantastic family holidays. When I was in year 10 at Hale School, he took time off to accompany a school trip to the goldfields. He was chief cook and bottle washer, and a dab hand with baked beans and Spam.
I left Perth to study in Sydney in 1977, and in 1983 Dad and Mum left too, setting up house in New York, where Dad worked as personal adviser to Rupert Murdoch. Sue and I visited often, and it was great to see them both so happy and busy. Dad’s vast experience across print, television, radio and movies made him an incredibly valuable asset for Rupert, as did his connections back into the Australian media.
On their return to Perth in 1990 they moved into a new family home in Bird Street, Mosman Park. Dad continued corporate and charity work, and helped Mum with the growing art collection. This was also the period in which their grand children Sam and Theodore arrived on the scene, and as a result we saw more of them in Sydney, and on Christmas holidays spent with them at Bird Street.
Dad and Mum really enjoyed their retirement. They travelled overseas for News Corp work and to visit their many friends. But Mum had a run of poor health in the early 2000s and in 2008 she had two falls that meant she needed to be in a high care facility. Dad was still in reasonable health, but he wouldn’t be separated from Sheila and they both moved into Peter Arney nursing home in late 2008, where they were together until Mum passed in 2011. At this point I’d like to pay tribute to the staff at Peter Arney, to Dad’s former secretary at the Sunday Times, Margaret Anthony, and to his two carers Meriyan and Veer. You made Dad’s last years a special time, and he loved you.
As you’ll hear from the people speaking after me, Dad achieved a great deal in his life, across a vast range of activities – much of it characterised by a desire to contribute and be a good citizen. Looking back on his life, I often wondered where this quality came from. Then about five years ago I got the answer. We were pushing Mum in her wheelchair around the Canning River, and stopped for a rest near Deepwater Point. Out of the blue Dad turned to me and said: “Help people, Jimmy”. I must have looked puzzled because he went on: “My mother said that to me, when I was a very small boy”. He said nothing more and we continued our walk.
It’s clear to me now that the little boy took these words to heart. They became his motto. His achievements, his desire to serve, his generosity, his love and respect for Sheila, his caring attitude to Sue and I, all arose out of a deep and abiding attachment to humanity and community. Choir service aside, I would not call Dad a religious man. But when faced with the choices you will hear about in today’s first Bible reading, Dad chose life, he chose goodness, he chose loving kindness.
And he wanted this for other people too. In an interview for the National Film and Sound Archive, he was describing the reasons he started Telethon. Not for him obvious things like raising money for research and saving lives. No, he said: “Telethon gave people, and particularly children, one day of the year in which they could think of other people rather than themselves.” Help people, Jimmy.
So here we are, Dad. Early tomorrow you will be lowered into the ground and none of us will see you again on this earth. But you’ll always be with us. We’re surrounded by your good works, and your goodness hopefully lives on in us, your children and grand-children.
For my final words, I did find something, a phrase drilled into you by your air force instructors over 60 years ago, that still rings true: Farewell Dad, “fly straight and level”.