John Meegan was the second of five children to Jack and Grace Meegan who lived on Military Road at Largs Bay. His family had Irish, English and French backgrounds. Only a week before his own death he attended the funeral of his sister Molly who was 98 when she died.
His family was well known and lived for generations in the Largs Bay and Semaphore areas. John was a Port boy: there were two impressive strands in the Meegan family – nautical and musical – and these shaped his development.
As a child he would sail with his seagoing uncles on ketches such as the Falie and the One and All, carting grain across Spencer Gulf. He would climb the rigging without a harness, even in wild weather. He loved his swarthy, hard-drinking, knock-about sailor uncles Kevin and Richard Meegan.
In contrast, his father Jack Meegan was a quiet, sensitive violinist and music teacher who at 16 years of age won a national prize playing the very moving Bruch violin concerto. John would play recordings of the piece in tears, remembering his own father. Never afraid to openly display tenderness and emotions, he was demonstratively affectionate and never tired of telling his children he loved them.
John was educated at Marist Brothers, Alberton, at Christian Brothers College and Rostrevor College. He excelled at sport and enjoyed repeating stories such as ‘I could chin the bar with one arm’, and ‘I was the half-mile champ at Rostrevor’. It was sometimes hard to know what stories were embellished myth and legend.
After finishing school he worked at a vacuum oil company. When war broke out his parents refused him entry to the air force, so like many his age he volunteered for the army against his parents’ wishes and joined an anti-tank regiment.
He rose to the rank of sergeant major training in far north Queensland and repatriated Japanese from New Guinea. He was also involved in the rescue of some Australian nuns and a priest, who happened to know his father, from the jungle.
After the army he joined the airline TAA as the inaugural sales manager for SA/NT. He would often say ‘I put the route through to Darwin’. With an injured knee from service, he took up his lifelong passion for golf and was a founding member of the Grange Golf Club.
John left TAA and made the courageous, deeply spiritual decision to train as a Catholic priest and used his own savings to do so. He sought permission from the Archbishop of Adelaide to train at Werribee in Victoria with the academic Jesuits. It was there, in his 20s, that he met Fr Bob Wilkinson who at the time was in his teens and training to be a priest.
John received a broad, classical tertiary level education at Werribee in areas such as Greek, Latin, theology and philosophy. On trips home he became much closer and more intimate with his parents, especially his father, and it was a time he remembered fondly. He led the choir at St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne for a major Easter service – a proud moment with his parents in the front row and his dad, a professional musician, weeping tears of pride.
After six years in the seminary he made the equally brave decision to leave the priesthood. This reflected his incredible commitment to his principles. There was great stigma at that time in such a move and he also had to overcome the difficulty of devoting six years of his life, and his savings, to that vocation. He felt unable, however, to teach the Catholic message as it was then, before the Vatican II reforms. He remained a devout Catholic with a close and personal relationship with God. This led to a life guided by love, a constant awareness of God in all things and a deep capacity for gratitude even for the smallest things.
On leaving the priesthood he lived with his parents and took solace in golf and piano. He had trained to an accomplished level with his aunty Alice Meegan who was an Elder Conservatorium scholar.
With Fr Bob Wilkinson asking John to look out for his mother and his sister Betty when he returned to Adelaide, the somewhat shy John (around women) became romantically involved with Betty and the rest is history. They married and had nine children in just 13 years. It was through Betty, his children and their partners, the grandchildren and, more recently, great-grandchildren that John experienced his happiest moments.
John did not want things for himself – he was never happier than observing and celebrating the happiness and good fortune of others. He would find God in nature – a sunset, a flower that he picked for Betty each day, in all the people he met and befriended and most of all in his family.
He worked hard as a leading car salesman and as a sales manager for several decades. It was no easy task to provide for nine children on a commission basis but he was ably assisted by Betty and gained a large and loyal client basis built on his engaging personality, his honesty and integrity.
He also was a hands on dad and as well as helping out around the home there were endless drives, picnics and caravan holidays.
In an effort to provide for the family, not all of his ventures worked out but he would redouble his efforts with humour and determination.
He and Betty spent 30 years enjoying retirement at Somerton Park before moving into John Paul II Village two years ago.
John would wake up every morning in the nursing home and his first question was ‘how’s Betty?’. He would get her a cup of tea and a flower, stopping to take in the joy of natural beauty and saying ‘that is my theology’.
Taken from the Meegan children’s eulogies.
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