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Visionary sustained by unshakeable faith


Kevin Magarey - Born: November 18 1925 | Died: June 8 2017

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Kevin was born in Norwood, to Rupert and Elsie (nee Cowell) Magarey, their fifth and final child. When Kevin was three, his parents and other family members were involved in a serious car crash and his mother was severely injured, never fully recovering.

Kevin went to St Peter’s College from nine to 17 and enlisted in the navy in 1943. From 1947-49 he studied a Bachelor of Arts at Adelaide University. With the support of the Women’s League and by voting for himself, he defeated Don Dunstan to become president of the Student Representative Council. Around this time, Kevin became a Catholic, to the dismay of his family.

His academic career blossomed in the early ‘50s when he attended Oxford University (Magdalen College) where he was tutored and strongly influenced by CS Lewis, and also encountered JRR Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh and others. He was awarded Bachelor with honours and Master of Arts, Oxford University. During his time at Oxford Kevin considered joining a religious order in Italy. He also became stranded penniless in India after having gone there to see the remains of St Francis Xavier. His family in Adelaide telegraphed him money for the boat trip home but instead he ended up lecturing at the University of Cape Town where one of his students was Nobel prize-winning author JM Coetzee.

Kevin taught for six months at Pius XII University College, Roma, Lesotho, where he met Margaret who was also teaching at the college. In 1960 he returned to Adelaide to lecture in English at the University of Adelaide. He married Margaret in Holy Name Church, St Peter’s, in 1960.

In 1961 the couple travelled to South Africa to see Margaret’s family and their first child, Sean, was born there. Kirsty was born in 1964, Paul in 1967 and Joel in 1969. In 1971 the family moved to Fribourg, Switzerland as part of an academic exchange.

Kevin was the founding co-editor of Southern Review (Adelaide), Journal Literature and Interdisciplinary Essays, a position he held for 13 years (1963-76). He was a founding member of the Newman Association and an active participant in Teams of Our Lady.

This included participating in Sunday Masses at Aquinas College, attending camps on Yorke Peninsula and in the Flinders Ranges, running retreats and travelling to Assisi to represent Australian teams at the International Congress of the Teams of Our Lady.

While working late at the university, Kevin met a South Sudanese refugee called Mariano Ngor who was working as a security guard. Through this friendship, he joined others in setting up the North Africa Interest Group under the aegis of Community Aid Abroad.

Under the leadership of Mariano and ‘Uncle Kevin’, as the Ngors began to call him, from the early 1980s for well over a decade, the group lobbied and met with foreign ministers, including Gareth Evans; achieved adoption of the plight of the south Sudanese by the Australian churches; and achieved inclusion of support for south Sudanese self-determination as an ALP policy.

In 2005, the Sudanese civil war ended, and in 2011 South Sudan became an independent state and in 2012 Mariano became South Sudanese ambassador to Kenya.

Words that appear in conversations about Kevin are ‘warm’. ‘loving’, ‘lovable’ , ‘funny’, ‘eccentric’, ‘extraordinarily well read’, ‘quirky’.

He had many interests: he was a rugby footballer; he had a passion for snorkelling, inherited from boyhood holidays on Kangaroo Island; he rode his bike wherever he could; he lectured in the Athurian legend and Chaucer, on Shakespeare, on African and Australian literature. He was the initiator of the interdisciplinary journal Southern Review. Above all, he was a loving husband and father, sustained by his unshakeable faith.

Rene Pols, from the Teams movement, provided this tribute to Kevin.

The spirit of Teams was exemplified by Kevin and Margaret by lived decision and choosing of ways different from his forebears… Truth for him was paramount: faith meant enactment of your beliefs and there he was with a deeply intellectual commitment to Catholicism and Teams; enacting it by sharing this; showing others how it should be lived when there had been no template or training for him. Indeed, it was foreign for him: Catholic culture wrenched him from his family of origin; he and Margaret led us with that vision of what it meant to be a true follower of Christ. His and Margaret’s vision for the world had a Teams’ character; a view of the way that the world should be. It is a vision that is still needed today.

Taken from eulogies by Alan Brissendon and the Magarey children.



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