TRIBUTE BY MAX GERREYN – Vale Russell Raymond

TRIBUTE BY MAX GERREYN – Vale Russell Raymond

After a five year long battle with cardiac and respiratory illness Russell passed away peacefully on August 25th.  He was in his 87th year and is survived by his wife of 60 years Shirley and children Christopher, Carmela, Anthony, Suby and their partners and ten grandchildren.  Russell  was the second  in a family of an elder sister Naomi (who predeceased him) and younger brothers Aubrey, Alex and Christopher (Senior). He was a product of both St.Aloyisus’ Ratnapura and St. Benedict’s Kotahena where  he finished schooling.  At St.Aloyisus  in his teens Russ shone at athletics and was once a  Champion Boy for Uva Province schools  with the Pole Vault being the event in which he performed best! At St.Benedict’s he represented the college in its First X1 Soccer Team and was a very nippy and fast forward. Added to his physical prowess he also had a fine musical ear and voice which made him the life of the many numerous parties and social events he compered, hosted and loved to indulge in. Joined by brother Aubrey in beautiful harmony the Brothers Raymond – Russ and Aub – were reckoned to be the peer of the famed Everley Brothers – the US singing stars of the 1950’s and 60’s. 

 In Ceylon –when it was once known – Russell’s working years was a hectic mix of  canny investigative  man-about town journalist, events manager and compere, entertainer, hilarious mimic and comic who epitomised the proverbial Sri Lankan Eat-Drink and Be Happy life style. Pausing to marry the beautiful athletic Shirley Dabrera  in 1959 Russ was sent courtesy of his Times of Ceylon employers on manyl assignments and duties to the UK and Europe .He had several news `scoops’ to his credit and justly capitalised on his daring bold `shoot’ of the  Assassin Monk Somarama on the day the latter shot Prime Minister Bandaranaike. Life after The Times of Ceylon saw Russ being head hunted and snapped up by a leading company as its Shipping & Maritime Executive where he again made waves with exposures and revelations on the goings-on in that trade.

 In 1974 Russ and his family of four immigrated to WA . Space and time is insufficient to narrate  the   vicissitudes and varied life experiences  that he overcame  and made  him play a significant contribution to the Sri Lankan community in  Perth.  From a humble start as a casual employee at Associated Newspapers Russ commandeered the status of Editor of the Countryman – once the state’s most influential farmer’s newspaper and won several awards and accolades for his feisty journalism. Russ also delved into social  welfare and rights of  a mix of ethnic groups which earned him an OAM in 1994 vested on him by then WA Governor Michael Jeffries.. He was  a two time President of WASLA and a solid mentor  and advocate for the formation of the BWL and the Sri Lankan Cultural Society. He was also a long serving President of the Ethnic Communities Council WA and Board Member of the Umbrella Organisation. In  brief to list the achievements and contribution  Russell Cuthbert Raymond made in journalism community welfare and social interaction   in his adopted country  and  to his home state of WA will fill a whole book

 We were privileged to have him as one of our eminent Sri Lankan expatriate pioneer champions, frontman and go-getter. We remember him with pride and gratitude.


Tribute to Russell Raymond OAM

We are meeting on Wadchuk Noongah land and I acknowledge their traditional ownership of it and pay my respects to their leaders, past, present and emerging.

Friends, welcome, and thanks for joining us today in paying tribute to a wonderful human being, the late Russell Cuthbert Raymond OAM. What brings us together today is not our religion, ethnicity faith etc. but our love and admiration of a man who touched our hearts and our lives in so many ways. The following text in his memorial service captures this well. “Some people just can’t help make a difference in our lives by simply being who they are. They make the world a little bit brighter, a little warmer, and a little more gentle; and when they are gone, we realise how lucky we are to have known them”. Russell was all this and much more.

I had no idea that I would be credited the authorship of the Tribute that Mark Mallabone the Dy. Editor of the West Australian published as I thought all I did was to provide material for it to be written by the West. Had I known, I would have written it somewhat differently. However, given what the West published, I will focus on Russell’s endearing personality rather than detail all of his achievements covered by it and the Media Release issued by ECCWA.

Women and men from diverse communities have inspired me and significantly influenced my life and work in different ways. Sri Lankan Australians have had a disproportionate impact in this regard, thanks to the Late Charles Oorloff, the Late Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya AM, (whose wife Rohini and son Kanishka are here), Dr. Leela de Mel the former Executive Director of the Office of Multicultural Interests and the late Russell Raymond OAM whose life and contributions we are celebrating today. Russell’s wife Shirley, their children and their extended families are celebrating this event with us and I thank them for the same. Many of you have known Russell for decades but pardon me for just acknowledging two, Kathy Ursich and Nick Agocs. Both have known Russell and engaged with him from MSC and ECC perspectives for 40 years.

Russell and I go back to the late 70s and we spent a lot of time together in the roles that we had at the ECC, MSC and FECCA. For more than 25 of the 40 years, he was my boss in his capacity as the Chair of the MSC or as the President of ECC. Both organisations and I have immensely benefited from Russell’s guidance and substantial contribution.

As many of you would know Russell retired much earlier than he needed to and many organisations and individuals, including I, benefitted greatly because of it. He was a gifted journalist and could easily have written many a book that would have appealed to a wide audience and made him much money. He chose instead, to maximize the impact of the advocacy and lobbying work that ECC undertook by making bland and complex subjects very appealing and well worth considering. I am more than happy to admit that many articles, submissions etc. that were attributed to presidents of ECC including me, wouldn’t be what they were but for Russell’s editing of it.

When Russell worked from the West Australian office in St Georges Terrace, he used to come home every morning in his flashy BMW. I then drove him to work and took his car to the ECC office in East Perth where I had access to cost free undercover parking. Therefore, Russell not just made my writing look much better than it was; he also made me look more flamboyant than I ever could be.Russell’s quirky and endearing sense of humour did not pass on when he left us for as some of you would know, before his passing he convinced the priest who conducted his funeral service to have a bottle of whisky placed on his coffin. Russell’s love of whisky is well known and whilst he always drank in moderation, he was very generous when he served it to friends and family.

What is less known was his love of mangoes, which he never lost until days before his passing. In Perth, mangos other than tinned ones are not available in September. I had frozen some home grown ones more than a year and was pleasantly surprised that it had lost none of its taste. So a very simple wish of his was fulfilled before his passing. Whilst on the subject of food, I am not sure how many of you have tasted Russell’s Love cake. Love must have been one of the ingredients and Russell put a lot of that in it, for its taste was out of this world.

Being the thorough professional that he was, until his final days, Russell diligently read all reports that he received as the Vice Chair of MSC. He often asked me pointed questions about various aspects of the Centre’s work, by phone or in the hospital and nursing home. As you would have noticed in the videos Russell engaged with Premiers, Ministers state and federal on both sides of politics and never hesitated to take them to task in pursuing social justice and social cohesion objectives. He was a more strident social worker than me, without having studied social work.

Over the years, Russell shared two things with me many a time. The first was, help your children as much as you can, when they need it most; and not as inheritances. The second was, Ramdas we are both very lucky that we have wives who will sacrifice anything for us. I couldn’t agree more.
Russell’s son Chris in his eulogy told us about Russell’s advice, which resonated with him, namely,Work hard, Save your money, Never forget your God and Time will heal all wounds. Russell practiced all of it. I am no good at saving money and as for God; my faith is best described, by the title of Hugh McKay’s book “Beyond Belief”. So it is obvious that I still have much to learn from Russell.
Another endearing quality of Russell was how he engaged with the staff of the organisations that he served. I know that one of them called him buddy; and he enjoyed it immensely rather than take offence, as most people his vintage would have done.

I have two sons, three grandsons and one granddaughter who I consider the apple of my life or as I often put it, my stress relief. When a very close colleague of mine shared this with Russell at the nursing home, his quick response was that he had two people for stress relief, his wife Shirley and his daughter Carmela. I hasten to add Russell’s other children also adored him and would have done anything he wanted. However, they were living in Melbourne or working on a fly in fly out basis. His elder son Chris has flown down from Melbourne for this event.

I would now like to share a poem that was part of the funeral service of my younger son’s Godmother. It is called, Miss me, but let me go. It reflects the Russell we have all loved and admired for so many years; and I suspect how he would have wanted us to accept his passing. “When I come to the end of the road and the sun has set for me. I want no tears in a gloom-filled moon, why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little but not too long and not with your head bowed low. Remember the love that we once shared. Miss me but let me go. For this is a journey, we all must take; and each must go alone. It is all, part of a Master plan; a step on the road to home.

When you are lonely, and sick of the heart, go to the friends we know.Bury your sorrows in doing good deeds. Miss me, but let me go.”

Shirley and the family; we thank you immensely for sharing Russell with us for our lives are so much richer because of it. I did not have the emotional strength to accept your invitations to do a eulogy at Russell’s memorial service but hope that this event makes up for it.

My tribute will end with the song Light a Candle by Daniel O’Donnell. Whilst you listen to the lyrics, please reflect upon Russell’s enormous contribution to so many causes, his personal attributes, his love of family, his mateship, and his unbinding faith. If the impact of his passing on others at MSC and I; are anything to go by, I can only imagine what Shirley, their children, and the grandchildren must be experiencing. So let us think of them; as well as the siblings of Russell and Shirley, for theirs is an irretrievable loss.

Russell not just believed but practiced the message in the song, that “we could unite the world from one tiny spark; and it is better to light a candle than curse in the dark”. Russell lit candles for many causes and some of them still shine brightly. He lives on, in all of us and I am sure this song will inspire us to keep lighting candles just as he did.

I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for me, ECC and MSC. I would like to think you are her with us in spirit and enjoying, what we have organised by way of tribute.

Vale Russell Raymond, Thanks for listening.

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