Jim Learmonth was a delightful man, who died after a very long, rich, life at the age of 93. I was extremely honoured to be ask to take his funeral, and to give this eulogy as part of the service. ‘Eulogy’ is Greek for ‘good words’ and I hope that these are good words for a good man.
Jim was born in 1926, the year of the ‘Canberra Florin’ coin, the son of Alexander Robert and Alice Learmonth. He had three brothers, Rus, Lyn, and James. His father worked at Massey Ferguson, as did John Twigg, who would become his father-in-law, and as Jim himself did later.
Jim was an industrious young man. He got up at 6 am, year-round, to ride his bike to the Sunshine Station to meet the 6.25 from Flinders Street. There he would pick up the morning papers from the guard and race back to the Newsagent. From 6.30 to 8 am he did his rounds. At 4.15 it was the same, this time with The Herald. When the whistle blew for knock-off at Massey Ferguson, Jim was always there. Hundreds of workers would stream out of the gates, buy The Herald and walk home. Jim knew the ones who tipped well.
Jim would also hand out flyers, or dodgers as he called them, for the Sunshine Picture Theatre. He wasn’t paid, but he did get to see two free films there every weekend. The Theatre was owned by the Kirby Brothers, his neighbours, who later went on to create Village Roadshow.
Jim met the love of his life, Alma Twigg, when she went to her aunt’s house for music lessons. Jim lived next door to Alma’s aunt in Sunshine, and Alma would arrive fifteen minutes early for those lessons to spend time with him. They were also both members of the Sunshine Technical College Ex-Students Association, and went to dances together. Jim took Alma on their first date when she was 16 and brought her home when she was 17. This was because they went to see the film Kiss and Tell on the day before she turned 17. Their train got to the station at ten minutes to twelve, and as they were walking home they heard the chimes of midnight, and Jim kissed Alma. He did this under a light and she was worried that someone would see them, but he reassured her that it was so late that everyone else was asleep. Jim was a cradle-snatcher; he was 21 to her 17. The first time Jim came to the family home to meet Alma’s parents he shook her father’s hand and said, ‘Glad to finally be here, Jack,’ which horrified Alma. She hadn’t realized that Jim knew her father from work as ‘Twiggy’.
The family story is that Alma proposed to Jim. They had been to a dance at the Williamstown Town Hall, and after it was over they walked down Ferguson Street to the Pier. On the pier, Alma asked Jim to marry her. We know that the date must have been February 29, 1948, a leap year.
Jim married Alma on the day of the 1951 Carlton-Collingwood Grand Final. They had waited three years to be married, while they built their own home, and they did literally build their house themselves, working on it on weekends with the help of their fathers, brothers and friends.
Jim and Alma spent their first night as a married couple in their own home, were given breakfast by their neighbours, Ed and May Mackenzie, and then flew to Tasmania for their honeymoon. They were married for 66 happy years.
Being a member of the Masonic Lodge was very important to Jim. He was a continuous member for 71 years, and made lifelong friends there, some of whom are with us today.
Jim worked at Massey Ferguson in varying roles for 36 years, from doing his apprenticeship to working in the Personnel Department where he employed thousands of newly arrived migrants. When he was retrenched, a letter was written to him on behalf of the Shop Stewards and Members of the Amalgamated Metal Workers’ Union, the Australian Society of Engineers, Electrical Trades Union and Gasfitters and Plumbers Union. It says in part:
Since your departure from the Company, it is gratifying to hear the remarks made by members here at Sunshine of the pleasant manner in which you carried out your duties during those past 36 and a half years. There would not be one member, out of all our 1100 workers, who could say a word out of place about you, James, and we feel that we have lost a tremendous mate.
After leaving Massy Ferguson Jim worked at Rockwell International, an American Aeronautical firm, and then became an Apprentice Master for the Master Builders Association, travelling all over Victoria ensuring that all the Apprentices were being treated well and receiving their full entitlements.
Jim and Alma eventually sold their houses in Sunshine and Port Fairy and moved to Williamstown, a very happy move. They joined the Garden Club, and the Uniting Church, and made many very good friends. By the time of Alma’s death, she and Jim had moved into the Uniting AgeWell home at Kingsville, where Jim became a loved and valued member of the community, making friends with everyone. Jim was a great spruiker for Uniting AgeWell, always encouraging others to join him there.
Like everyone who knew him, I loved Jim. It was a great honour and privilege to be his minister, although I think most of the ministry went the other way, from him to me. Jim was a lifelong churchgoer, and a great encourager, and it always made me happy to see him in the congregation. Over the last couple of years, when Jim couldn’t attend church at Electra St, I would visit him in Kingsville and we would take it in turn to buy each other coffees in the café. On the couple of occasions when I took the service in the Kingsville Chapel Jim took great delight in introducing me and presenting me with presents at the end. Every minister should have someone as warmly encouraging in their congregation. I am going to miss him very much.
Now we have gathered to say good-bye to Jim. The memories that we have shared during this service tell only a small part of Jim’s long, rich life, and you will all have your own memories to share as we continue to celebrate his life in the weeks and months and years to come. As well as giving thanks to God for Jim’s life, we are able to give thanks for the certainty that he is now in the hands of the loving God who cared for him throughout his life. The God who kept Jim’s going out and coming in all the days of his life, the God who watches over us all and neither slumbers not sleeps, will continue to care for Jim in death as in life. Funerals are times of joy and of sorrow, and in our sorrow we are comforted with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, the faith that death is not the end.
When Jim was a paperboy he spent all the money that he earned on a Christmas present for his mother, a piece of crystal. She said to him, ‘Jimmy, you’ll never be a rich men’. But today, as we gather here to celebrate Jim’s life, we do so knowing that in all the ways that mattered Jim was an extremely rich man, and for that we give thanks to God.