Peter O'Sullivan

What is the ordinary live worth? On 15 January 2006 my friend Peter O’Sullivan died of cancer at 43.

His was not a remarkable life, or death. He was not a Kerry Packer who left a huge footprint on this planet, for good or ill. He was not a Nguyen Tuong Van who became a celebrity in his death by execution in Singapore. His was just an ordinary life, the life of most of us, passed unremarkable.

Acres of newsprint will not be spent on his life, as they will not on yours or mine. The obituarists are not rushing to their computers to come up with an angle. The editorialists are likewise silent. He was just one of us, who make up the world, in all its wonder.

He worked in that most unlovely of places, Morwell, in that most unlovely of industries, power generation. His family, devout Catholics, despaired I fear a little, at his agnosticism. Just another story of the changing generations. But yet he did not fall too far from the tree for his compassion and his loyalty was always there.

And his laugh. It was the laugh of the Australian pub, of the Australian bush. It was the humour of the sceptic but never the cynic. It was the humour of the man who could laugh at others, gently, because they laughed so at themselves. It was the laugh that pricked the bubble of pomposity but in doing so made the pompous comfortable that they were welcome. It was the laugh which said, “mate, we are all mates here”. And he wasn’t just talking about the straight blokes who were about.

Did he like “things”? Yes, just a little. He liked a swap meet. He liked a used auto part or a bit of a lawn mower. He liked to drive a friends Jag if they lent it to him. He liked to discuss the odd tip on the stock market. He worked hard and loyally, but life was always more than this. He was not Donald Trump.

And when the power station said “you’re laid-off, we’re sorry” there was no self pity in him. He had a little think and thought that he would like to teach children. He went back to University and was getting ready to take his first classes of secondary students when he became ill. He was just an ordinary bloke but would have made an extraordinary teacher – he had that way about him.

Did he love his family and his friends? Yes with a depth and loyalty that knew no bounds. He was just like you or I and treasured these above all else. With his wife, Jenny, he would have loved to have had children but the cancer came too soon.

He knew a fair bit of the world as he had had gone on a few overseas trips. He had served his country as a member of the army reserves for many years. And after all of this he reckoned that we were all pretty much the same under the skin. And was pretty happy to learn about the differences.

He liked a holiday at Lakes Entrance. Nothing flash, just a fibro on the flats, close to the mini golf and the beach. A few friends could come over for a glass of wine and a chat. Just an ordinary bloke.

He fought like the dickens to beat his cancer. He took all the advice and all the medicine the doctors gave him. He finally did a meditation retreat in the Yarra Valley and, I think, found some peace. He certainly found grace.

His is just an ordinary death. But a life as extraordinary and rich and wonderful as all of ours.

Peter O'Sullivan


Emerald, Australia

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