By Richard Mackenzie

As I sit in my study in the small hours of the morning in Silver Spring, Maryland, writing a eulogy to the greatest man I've ever known, I try to focus my thoughts and concentrate on the scattered piles of notes all around me.

It's not easy -- in part because of the pain -- but also because there is so much to condense about the spectacular life of my father, Roy Mackenzie.

A child of abject poverty, Roy Mackenzie pulled himself up not with bootlaces but with grit and courage. Roy Mackenzie walked tall in fact and in spirit. A fine writer and critically-acclaimed author, he was also an ardent Rugby League fan. A former radio announcer and award-winning actor, he also was an accomplished carpenter and house builder. A liturgical assistant in his Church, he also understood and embraced the beliefs of Islam and Aboriginal faiths.

This was Roy Mackenzie, occasionally an enigma, always the quintessential Australian. Like some of the fine wines he could extol, he was an original who got even better with age.

He was born Roy Douglas Mackenzie on the 8th of August, 1918. His father, a soldier, went missing in World War One. His mother, Olive, and his grandmother, Florence, supported them by sewing garments which they hauled by horse and sulky from their home in Moorooka to Alan and Starke in Brisbane.

Roy was eight years old when his mother died, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother. He was 13 when he was struck by rheumatic fever. Bed-ridden by the debilitating disease, he was forced to leave school -- and was left with heart problems that would disqualify him when he later tried to enlist during World War Two -- and haunt him for the rest of his life.

Missing critical years of school, young Roy simply decided he would educate himself. With a passion for the English language, he surrounded himself with books, which he devoured.

In his late teens, he began wrestling with his invalidism, finally breaking out into the outside world by joining an amateur theatre company -- where he developed a lifelong passion for Shakespeare. He got his first job as a drum maker and then became a radio announcer with a country station. Years later he would tell of his most memorable moment there. It was the day he slept through his alarm clock at his boarding house room -- on a morning he was to fire up the station and host the breakfast program. He grabbed his clothes in a bundle and ran in his pajamas through town to the station. He got a record playing and all was going well -- until he took off his pajama pants. That was when he heard a mighty scream at the studio door. The cleaning lady had arrived at precisely the wrong moment.

He graduated to Brisbane radio and was an announcer and copywriter at 4BH and 4BC. He went on to become the Public Relations Officer for Hoyts Theaters.

At the Regent Theater he met and fell in love with a young secretary named Meg Goodwin. Roy and Meg Mackenzie were married on the 23rd of December, 1944.

He continued his part-time work with "live" theatre, winning awards as both an actor and as a director. One of his more successful roles was as the villain in "A Murder Has Been Arranged." He left such a mark on one member of the audience that when she later saw him on a crowded Brisbane street, the woman shouted frantically, "There he is. There's the murderer." As shocked onlookers stared, Roy says he hurried away and tried not to look back.

He was in his late 20s when he wrote and published his first book -- a "penny Western" called "The Gunman of Red Ravine."

Roy and Meg had their first child on April 2, 1946. Decades later, Roy would say he wished times had been more advanced then. Unlike today, no father was allowed anywhere near the delivery room. Dismissed and sent home by the nurses, he heard details of his son's birth by calling the hospital from a public phone.

It was also at that time that he made friends with a young man who would become his closest lifelong mate, Tom Fitzwalter.

Roy and Meg and their son moved to Thorneside in 1950 where their daughter, Mary, was born on December 11, 1951 with Tom as her godfather. Roy in turn would be godfather to Tom's youngest daughter, Jillian.

Roy and Meg had a second daughter, Veronica, on September 6, 1954.

Roy was now working in advertising and public relations for City Electric Light, which became SEAQ and a string of other titles. But no career in bureaucracy could hold Roy Mackenzie back. He wanted a dream home for his family -- so he decided to teach himself carpentry and build one himself. He did it on week-ends on a plot he bought overlooking Waterloo Bay. The dream ended when the land leading down to the water was sub-divided and the view from his house became an outdoor "loo" a few feet away.

He wrote a delightful children's story, The King of Mizamazoo, which was not only an enchanting tale but also a dramatic environmental lesson long before later generations decided to save the planet. It was released as a record and played often on Australian radio.

Roy, Meg and their children moved to Gaythorne in February, 1958 where he turned a rambling old Queensland house into a home and built a back yard garden that would resemble paradise -- a feat he would repeat when he and Meg moved to Tewantin 28 years later.

The people he most admired in life were, not surprisingly, "battlers" -- those who had pulled themselves up and fought great odds. One such man was Queensland aviator Bert Hinkler, the first person to fly solo from England to Australia.

In fact, Roy Mackenzie thought Bert Hinkler would make a good subject for an ABC radio biography program of the day and wanted to write it. So he went to the library to check out a book on Hinkler. When he found that none had been written, he decided to write one himself. It took him several years of international research and getting up before dawn every day to pen a few paragraphs or pages in longhand before setting out on his bicycle to ride more than two miles to catch the train for an hour-long trip to his "day job."

The book was published to critical acclaim in 1962. Roy's writing was called inspiring, vivid, intensely human and absorbing. The Sydney Morning Herald called it "an important contribution to the history of Australian aviation." A British book critic said, "Only Hinkler himself could have described even more vividly the hours he spent cramped in a tiny cockpit" To this day, it is the definitive work on Hinkler's life.

He later wrote features for The Australian and Brisbane newspapers -- and a dramatic history of the order of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit who survived capture by Japanese forces in New Guinea and who founded Holy Spirit Hospital in Brisbane.

Not satisfied with his understanding of the language he loved, however, the man who dropped out of school at 13 enrolled at Queensland University in his 60s to study the impenetrable subject of Anglo Saxon English. On an academic scale of 7.0, he scored a distinction with 6.7.

He was, of course, the man his in-laws called when there they needed help. If he wasn't replacing towering stumps at a house in Red Hill, he was cutting back years of undergrowth at another relative's home. Later, they called when one great-aunt or another passed away. Ask his children to tell you the story of The Tea Cup and the Mystery Death. How that story made him laugh.

Whatever the chore, there was a generation in the family that solved many a dilemma with a simple phrase, "Just call Mac."

As we face the agony and despair of life without Roy Mackenzie, we cannot physically "Just call Mac" -- who would give us such great advice and quickly solve what ails us. But we can call on his eternal spirit. His memory and his ever-present love are there for the asking. They will never leave us.

This is the man who remembered his childhood experience of writing to a pen pal in England, posting the letter, which then took six weeks to reach its destination. Doing the math, he said at best he got a reply back from his pen pal in three months. He told this story in the early '90s after he discovered and embraced the joys of the Internet and e-mail that zapped around the globe in seconds or less.

Long before it was vogue, he discovered the benefit and joy of exercise and good health. He conquered a grueling Canadian Air Force regimen known as 5BX. He walked every morning and gave up cigarettes decades before it was the thing to do. But his determination could also drive you batty. When working out one morning before work, he had severe chest pains after walking over a high railway crossing. Rather than stop and ask for help, he walked back up over the big bridge and back home, telling his family he would go to the office a little late that day. In fact, he'd just had his first heart attack.

He would face Job-like ills in the years to come, having heart surgery, brain surgery and too many other close encounters with death to recall. He simply rolled with the punches.

He visited his son in the United States in the early 1970s, finding excitement in Civil War history, New Orleans jazz and the Mississippi River.

His escapes at home were less exotic. Each Saturday afternoon, two nondescript men in shorts and singlets would join the patrons at the Alderly Alms Hotel for a few drinks and a friendly chat. No one passing by them could have had the slightest idea that they were acclaimed writer Roy Mackenzie and his longtime friend, senior bank executive Tom Fitzwalter.

He was a pillar of his church -- first at All Saints, then at Saint Matthews, serving it in every task from newsletter editor to Church Warden.

In Tewantin, Roy and Meg found the dream home they had long deserved.

He lost his dear friend, Tom Fitzwalter, and spoke at his funeral on January 6, 2000. He wrote an e-mail that morning recalling his love for the man.

Life continued to throw more challenges at Roy's embattled body, but he stood tall and strong. The Sunshine Coast Daily ran a feature and a photo of Roy Mackenzie and his son when I came from Afghanistan to visit him -- and say good-bye -- in November. Of course, no one looking at the picture could believe how terribly ill my dad was.

Even as his body, and finally his mind were slipping away, he struggled to read one last book in his life -- the Muslim Holy Book The Koran. Intrigued by the belief and determination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan who battled against all odds for more than 25 years to free his nation, he wanted to get to the kernel of the man and the faith that drove him. As distant and exotic as the topic was to a man living on the glorious coastline of Queensland, Australia, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knew Roy Mackenzie.

He thought Massoud -- who was assassinated by Osama bin Laden terrorists two days before the attack on America -- was a great example for humanity. Roy Mackenzie could recognize a kindred spirit when he found one. This we know for sure.

As long as we are in this world, we will never know what it was that made Roy smile so gently and so sweetly the moment he took his last breath at 3:45 a.m. on February 26, 2002. He'll tell us at another time in another place.

As we say "farewell" to Roy Mackenzie's human remains, we must remember the most important part of him that can never die -- his eternal soul. Which should be our lasting inspiration.

Thank you to so many Afghans who have written, called and who came to Roy Mackenzie's memorial service -- and especially for the prayers you offered for his soul.

Roy Douglas Mackenzie

(1918-2002) RIP:

An Appreciation

For a Great Man

Roy Mackenzie (at left)

in Tewantin, QLD, 2001

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