Tributes to James de Berigny Wall at his funeral, given by his son, Dominic, his brother, David, and his friend, Tom Hayes, 10th September 2004 at Holy Trinity Church, Curtin.

December 15, 2010 at 6:39 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

 On behalf of our family, and in particular Geraldine, I would like to welcome and thank everyone for attending today’s ceremony to farewell my father, James. 

To day is a sad day because we say goodbye to Dad but it is also a day to celebrate the life of James, someone who was special to many people and someone who helped many who crossed his path. 

Dad was initially diagnosed with cancer almost 12 years ago. He fought the disease, won and we were blessed that he was by our side over the last 12 years. 

In late 2003 he was again diagnosed with cancer but unfortunately this time it was more advanced and aggressive and the doctor indicated that he would not live past Easter. Again, he fought the disease and showed great strength to make it to last Sunday, Father’s Day. My sister Caitilin commented that Father’s Day was an appropriate day given that Dad was such a great father! 

The last three weeks of his life he spent in Clare Holland House was a special time at a special place. He was surrounded by those he loved and was cared for by the wonderful staff at Clare Holland. He again fought hard during his days at Clare Holland and was driven by the goal of arranging a surprise party for my mother on the 1st September. This will be a treasured memory for all who attended. A special present, champagne, cake and good friends – what more could you ask for! 

In all the time of my Dad’s illness I never heard him once complain and he always remained positive. Even while his body faded he never sought pity and he seemed to accept his fate with an inner strength that you could not help but to admire. He kept his sense of humour and seemed more concerned about those he loved than himself. He was an inspiration and I am sure today he is sending his love to us from Heaven above. 

During his illness many people helped both my father and mother in many ways. There are too many to name and on behalf of the family I would like to express our sincere appreciation. I would however especially like to thank the following people: 

I have already mentioned the staff at Clare Holland House who were wonderful, as were the community and palliative care helpers who attended James at home. Thank you again – you all did and do an outstanding job. 

Tom Hayes, Rob Hutchison, Frank and Madeline Harvey – thank you for spending so much quality time by Dad’s side. He was blessed to have such great friends and you provided so much joy to him.

Father Tony Frey – thank you also for the time and support you showed my father and mother. I knew this was very special to Dad. 

And finally to my mother, Geraldine – the love, care and support you showed Dad was truly inspirational. We know that you feel Dad’s loss more than anyone but I am sure he will be with you through the days ahead.

Finally, my father was a very thoughtful and spiritual man and proud that his book, What Do We Know, What Can We Believe? was published in 2001. I would like to leave you with some words from this book, as he was always very fond of quotes. 

In talking about the qualities we should espouse in life he said: 

“Such qualities include compassion for other men and women and exclusion of none from our charity. Humility and strength of purpose and an overpowering lack of concern for self would seem to be required.” 

I am sure Dad achieved these qualities. If we too can follow in his footstepswe will also have lead an exceptional life.  

Dominic de B Wall


James de Berigny Wall

17th May 1929 – 5th September 2004 


I shall read a letter written to James on 12th November 1929: 

Darling James,

            I will be leaving you in a few weeks and the memories of your boyhood will be ever fresh in my memory. You are the sweetest baby I have nursed, with a wonderful nature – a smile for everyone. You are six months on Sunday 17th and I have been only a week away from you since birth. My one wish to you is – you will be a fine man and credit to your Mother and Father – who both love you. 

                                                                                Your nurse,

                                                                                Muriel I Ledsham 

Muriel, your wish has truly been fulfilled! 

To paraphrase Homer (James) you have been the best of men and never put to shame the lineage of your father. 

As David Biles said of your book: 

“It is a humbling, and yet moving experience to share in this work.” I would agree and add to also share in your life. 

Fells as he was known to the family – a name our father gave him derived from a children’s story that talked of a “little fellow” which our father shortened to “Fells”. 

Fells was born in Sydney and in the early thirties, the family moved from Chatswood back to Melbourne – the hometown of both my mother’s and father’s families. My mother’s grandparents married in Melbourne in 1857 – her grandfather, Thiennette de Berigny practised medicine at 127 Collins Street. The Walls came from Shepherd’s Bush, London and Tosh Wall became one of the biggest bookies in Melbourne and the owner of Vanity Fair who came 2nd in the Melbourne Cup in the early 1900s. The Masons came from New Zealand and settled in Melbourne after Thomas, our grandfather, won a fortune on Carbine – winning the Melbourne Cup in the early 1890s. 

Anyhow, James was the loved one of our great Aunts and Uncle. The Aunts were women in the Victorian Edwardian mode, stern and practical. To give you an example of what I mean, when our grandmother and grandfather returned from China in 1911, our grandfather, Charles de Berigny died. Em, our great aunt is reputed to have said to Alice, our grandmother and her younger sister, “Don’t be leaving anymore of your corpses here.” But these old women loved James. 

After some years in Melbourne, we moved to Narrandera and subsequently after some years to Leeton. The move to Narrandera meant for James a short period at school at the local convent and then a stint at St Pat’s in Goulburn, where eventually my brothers, Peter and James were taken out of because they were virtually starved there. 

At the convent in Narrandera, James was called ‘muscles’ because of his slight build. It is interesting to note that my son, Andrei, at primary school because of his very similar build to James was called ‘bones’. Because he is now in England, he can’t be with us but he was very upset to hear about the death of his uncle. 

Throughout his life, James delighted us with his engaging, charming, and fetching sense of humour. It is in response to this that I reveal James’ ability as a playwright. While living in Leeton, he co-authored with Frank, our brother, the play King Zog of Albania, a work of wit and local colour animated with characters such as “Tricky Italian researchers – the idiom and pronunciation is as I said it, “White City and Mrs Jack”. Unfortunately, all copies of this classic are lost! It only had one performance. I know most of you will have no idea of what I’m talking about just now. But I do want to share this with James as I’m sure he’s looking down on us.

 From St Pat’s, James and Peter went to Riverview. Let’s move on to the end of 1946 and the beginning of 1947. James, Peter and I were sent to the old Aunts’ place at Mount Macedon. After a holiday there, James announced to our father that he was not going back to school as he had got a job in Snow’s Department Store as a Sales Assistant. It seems that this was allowed and the next we heard of James was that he was on danger money working for an explosives company. This was when our father did intervene.

From here, James had a variety of jobs on sheep and cattle properties and also working as a stock and station agent at Taralga. He also worked as an insurance salesman with Australasian Catholic Assurance. On one property near Albury, he read the Bible from cover to cover and decided to enter the priesthood. But before he did this at the beginning of 1954, our father took him to a University Catholic Federation Conference at Sancta Sophia in Sydney University. For James this was a conference of destiny, for it was here that he met Geraldine. We have always believed that Geraldine said to James that if he decides not to become a priest or leaves the Seminary, she would be waiting. But recently Geraldine said that this is wrong. In fact she says that our father took her aside and told her to convince James not to become a religious as he was the least likely of his sons and daughters to make a success of it. However, after four years in St Dominic’s Priory, Camberwell, James did come out and Geraldine and James did meet and the rest is history. 

It appears our father did come to believe that James would make a success of the religious life before he left, but when he left, he rationalized it by saying that a family needs generations of Catholicism to produce priests. Apart from Mary McCauliffe, his grandmother, the source of both families’ Catholic beliefs, yes, I did say both families on my mother’s and father’s side – my mother and father were first cousins, but that’s another story. That little Irish woman, Mary McCauliffe, has a lot to answer for in turning the de Berignys, Walls, and Masons from the Reformed faith!

After he left St Doninic’s, James studied Social Work at the University of Adelaide and then at the University of Melbourne. The later part of James’ life will be elaborated on by Tom Hayes. 

James was always his own man, in many ways, a very private person. He kept his worries generally to himself as I think he did not want to worry others – a sensitive person, a loyal son, great brother, cousin, wonderful husband, father and uncle, grandfather, dedicated public servant and social worker, a splendid cook. James, for all of these qualities, we thank you. 

James’ faith was grounded on hope and charity. James loved humanity and his life affirmed this. Like Ruth (in the Book of Ruth), he did not abandon or forsake us, we were all his people, and his God is our God. Death does not separate us from him. Au Revoir, dear brother, we shall see each other again. 

In a birthday book of my mother’s under 17th May she has written: James de Berigny Wall under a quote from The Psalm of Life, is an apt message that I’m sure James would like to leave the living: 

“Let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate; still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labour and to wait.”

David A de B Wall


 James de Berigny Wall, Born in Sydney, 17 May 1929, Died Canberra, 5 September 2004aged 75 

James was a rare kind of man. He was naturally good. He left a trail of goodness wherever he involved himself. He did good things and inspired others to do good things. This was not because he had an eye for how he might be regarded or even because he wanted to build up credits with St Peter. He didn’t have time for that kind of thing. He did good things simply and naturally. That was just the way he was. 

I am going to take you on a brief but incomplete tour of James’ professional life because I think that shows us a lot about James. 

James’ first job was as a Youth Parole Officer with the Victorian Department of Social Welfare. This was a job that meant dealing with 14 year old delinquents. These were the “toughies”. Today most of those people would be in their late fifties or early sixties. I like to think that if I could find some of them, perhaps on the park benches in Fitzroy gardens, or more likely in the Board Rooms on Collins St, they would remember James for his gentleness and unconditional charity. 

Here is a small example of how James sought to make a contribution in addition to holding down a difficult job and supporting a family. While he was in Melbourne he became very involved with the Social Workers Association. Those were the days of the “engineer’s case”. James was at the forefront in the battle by the Association for comparable salary justice for social workers who in those days were mostly women. They were successful but after a long struggle. 

Also while they were living in Melbourne James and Geraldine joined the organization known as the Teams of Our Lady. It was very early days in Australia for that organization and James and Geraldine were amongst the handful of pioneers who got it off to a wonderful start. Today as many of you will know the organization is widespread and is a great source of strength and grace for married couples. 

In the mid sixties James switched to the Victorian Office of the Department of Veteran Affairs and a few years later to the Rehabilitation Division of Social Security in Canberra. The family gave up their home in Doncaster and settled in Curtin. That was 1969. 

After six years in the Department of Social Security James moved to the Welfare Division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. This was just at the end of the Whitlam era and the beginning of the Fraser years.

I think it was while James was in PM&C that he got entangled in a committee trying to deal with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. One of the members of the Committee was an Aboriginal elder, Chicka Dickson, who had a background as a wharfie. Chicka was one of the early occupants of the Tent Embassy when it was established in 1972. Chicka obviously thought a lot of James because it wasn’t long before he was calling James “brother”. I doubt this did James much good in PM&C. 

A few years later James became the Parliamentary Liaison Officer in the Senate. In this position he worked in the Office of Sir John Carrick, Leader in the Senate and was involved in arranging the Government’s programme of business in the Senate.

I have spoken to Sir John and he remembers James very well as someone who (in his words) was at peace with himself, quietly spoken and very polite but with a good sense of humour. He sends his deepest sympathy. 

While James was still working in the Senate he took on the major job of re-editing the Legislative Handbook which is issued to all Government Departments. Most public servants would avoid that task like the plague. But to James it was important to get the documentation right. He was a clear writer with an economical style, exactly what was needed to clean up the Legislative Handbook. 

In 1980 James became the Assistant Secretary of the Welfare Branch of the Department of Capital Territory. Without doubt that job has to be the most perilous in the whole ACT. Its most important task is the provision of welfare services for children in trouble. Almost everything it does involves an unresolved conflict between the rights of the child and the interests of the community. It is a great tribute to James’ skills and application that he survived in that job as long as he did.

 His colleagues in the Branch remember him fondly, very dedicated, personable and hard working. He is remembered for another rather quaint reason. As I hear it James was by far and away the most successful Branch Head in establishing a good working relationship with Ethel Maquire, who is with us today. Ethel was a prominent, even famous, member of the Branch and I don’t think that she will mind me saying that she has a reputation for saying what she thinks, and for not tolerating fools. It is a fact that there were quite a few higher ups in the Department who would run a mile rather than confront Ethel. 

In late 1985 James took early retirement and became the founding CEO for the then brand new Multiple Sclerosis Society of the ACT. It was six months before he received any remuneration for his work. Even then it wasn’t full pay. James only ever received a part time salary even though for many years he worked a full time week and more.

Initially the new organization had only a small office in Hughes shopping centre. But it wasn’t long before it had an empty block in Denison St Deakin and not much longer before it had two brand new buildings, administrative and field staff and a decent computer system. James was a genius in setting up effective committees and getting them to work together. He was a genius too at getting the best out of volunteers. When James asked if you could do something you simply couldn’t refuse. Over 90% of the funds needed by the Society are raised through raffles, READ-a-thons, and other special events such as fetes. By the time that James left the organization at the end of 1900 the Society was delivering extensive support services to many MS sufferers in the ACT and was in good financial shape. 

Many people have told me how wonderful James was as CEO of the MS Society. No matter what the problem was he was prepared to work it through. He gave people space to do their thing. He never crowded the scene. He got the best out of everyone. He was very reluctant to criticize. He was a gracious, low keyed CEO who cared deeply for the Society and the people who worked for it. 

After leaving in November 1990 James was appointed by the Archbishop for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn to the position of Chairman of the Board of Mary Mead. Mary Mead is an organization that provides a wide variety of support services to families and children in crisis in the ACT. 

James’ close association with Mary Mead went back to his time as Assistant Secretary of the Welfare Branch and possibly, I suspect, a lot further. 

The Chairman of the Board of Mary Mead is an unpaid position. It has a Catholic culture you understand! Nevertheless James absorbed himself in the work of Mary Mead almost as if it was another full time job. 

Again there has been no shortage of people who wanted to tell me about James at Mary Mead. He was totally supportive and could always see the big picture. He was always sensitive and wise when confronted with difficulty. From time to time he had to cope with angry people and he handled these situations with courage and compassion. He put in incredibly long hours. 

The years that James spent with Mary Mead were the years when the world became more litigious and it became essential for Mary Mead to have a thoroughly comprehensive Policy and Procedures Manual. So James sat down and wrote it. It is in excellent plain English, economical and easy to read. James never shirked attending to hard things. 

In the second half of the 1990s James had to cope with a string of health problems and it was about 1998 when James eventually relinquished his links with Mary Mead. 

So what did he do? Well he wrote a book. It is called What Do We Know,What Can We Believe? It is only a short book but it covers a lot of ground. Typically of James, the English is pared to the bone. Howard Bath was CEO at Mary Mead while James was Chairman and is with us today and this is what he wrote about James’ book: 

“James Wall’s reflections take us on a stimulating journey through the significant social, economic, ecological and spiritual issues that exercise contemporary society. He grapples with these issues as a thoughtful, widely read layperson who values his rich Catholic tradition and engages honestly with the world around him. Perceptive, challenging and well reasoned, his insights inform the quest for a meaningful marriage of reason and faith.”

As well as writing his book James found time to do other things. Every Wednesday for the last six years James visited a Miss Lillian Carlton, an elderly lady with impaired vision, and read to her. 

He also helped Fr John Ryan with important work at Centre Care. On top of that Archbishop Carroll and Bishop Power called on him from time to time to help with special tasks. 

I don’t want to dwell on the last six months. It is too painful, except to say this. Through all his suffering, and there was a hell of a lot of it, James communicated a sense of resignation and remarkable acceptance. He never displayed any angst or emotional distress. In his assessment he had had a good innings and it would be no great tragedy if he passed on. 

So James, farewell, my friend, as I said at the beginning you have passed through this world leaving nothing but a trail of goodness. As one of your many friends said about you, “you gave and you gave and you gave.” This makes it especially hard for us all to understand why you have had to go.

Tom Hayes


1 Comment

  1. Caitilin de Berigny Wall said,

    What beautiful speeches! What a beautiful person James de Berigny Wall was, I feel so blessed to have known him in this life time as my Father. I will love you forever James.

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