Tim Fischer AO “Reasonable and Happy”
Vicar-General Fr Tony Percy was an assistant priest at Young when he first met Tim Fischer. They chatted about the GST. A long and firm friendship followed, and Fr Tony was asked to give the Final Blessing at Tim Fischer’s state funeral at Albury on August 29. Here, Fr Tony shares some reflections about his friend, who was one of Australia’s most admired politicians.
Tim Fischer was a wonderful human being. I first met him as a young priest in Young, NSW. Those were the days of John Hewson’s Fightback package, which Paul Keating successfully savaged! At a civic gathering, I asked whether a GST was going to apply to school fees. Tim was clear in his rebuttal. Thus began a friendship.
He became Deputy Prime Minister in 1996. Nothing changed. He was busy, but always had time to chat. Later he married Judy Brewer, an intelligent and beautiful woman, who became a great soul-mate and they forged a wonderful, fruitful life together. In recent days, Judy informed me that Tim encouraged her to take risks and to advance her professional life.
Tim had a great sense of humour and prodigious memory. He occasionally visited me when I was assistant priest at Queanbeyan parish in the late ’90s. The parish priest at the time, Father Michael Burke, held a Labor ticket. He informed Tim that he liked him, but that “he would have to fumigate the presbytery when he left!” When Tim visited a short time after, he enquired whether the purifying action had been carried out.
I was privileged to baptise their first son Harrison, whose faith in Christ has blossomed. When I travelled to the family home to say Mass and anoint Tim when the cancer emerged, I was deeply moved by Harrison’s tangible faith. He had arranged and planned the Liturgy to the last detail. A few years back I celebrated Tim and Judy’s 25th anniversary of marriage with family and friends in Mudgegonga, which is near Yackandandah, which is near Tangambalanga – I kid you not!
Tim would do anything for anyone. He was given over to others. I once asked him if he could help out with a very serious situation that had developed in an overseas country. Tim responded immediately. When I approached him – along with Ursula Stephens from the Labor side of politics – to help raise money for the restoration of St. Peter & St. Paul’s Old Cathedral in Goulburn, he was more than enthusiastic. Their efforts helped raise $1.5Million.
In 2008, Sydney hosted World Youth Day. Then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, appointed Tim as Australia’s first ambassador to the Holy See. Tim called me, unsure if he was fit for such a position. Imagine! Michael Tate, who was a minister in Keating’s government, told me that Tim also called him, asking if he thought such an ambassadorship was a full-time job. Michael said absolutely not! Tim didn’t “bat an eyelid.” He went on to ask, “What should I not do when in Rome?” Tate told me, “the perfect, prudent question.”
I was privileged to speak with Tim two days before he died. He told me the cancer treatment was no longer working, that he would last until Christmas and that funeral arrangements were in place. As we observed, he had planned meticulously. Judy subsequently informed me that Tim had just emerged from a period of unconsciousness to phone me and that no one – yes, no one – had any clue that he was close to death. Such was Tim’s selflessness.
Not to my surprise, he wanted to talk about the Gospel of John, which fascinated him. He would sometimes call me on Christmas day complaining that the priests never proclaimed the prologue of John’s Gospel at Christmas Masses, instead focusing on the Christmas story. He had the last word, of course, having the prologue proclaimed by John Anderson at his State funeral.
Judy asked me to deliver the blessing and prayer during that magnificent celebration, which ended with Beethoven’s 5th. It was a great honour. The next day I was interviewed by ABC radio. I was asked what legacy Tim Fischer AO has bequeathed to our nation. I made the point that young people could see him as a role model who reached the heights of his profession without compromising himself.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) claimed there are three types of people:
Those who have sought God and found him. They are both reasonable and happy.
Those who have sought God and have not found him. They are reasonable but unhappy.
Those who have neither sought God nor found him. They are unreasonable and unhappy.
Tim was a reasonable man. Tim was a happy man.
He was a terrific person – a faithful husband, a tender father and a treasured friend. He was truly a great Australian.
To honour the legacy of Tim Fischer, the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn will host the Inaugural Tim Fischer Oration entitled, Ethics in Public and Political Life, in August 2020.