Born at Wakefield Private Hospital, John was the third son in a family of four siblings.
He attended kindergarten at St Aloysius College before going to school at Christian Brothers College with his brothers. All the boys were altar servers at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral.
John excelled in cricket and handball, playing both at elite levels well into his adulthood.
After completing Year 12, he received a full scholarship to attend Teachers College and his first placement after graduation was on the West Coast of SA. He loved his time there and became an integral part of the farming community.
At Mt Hill he taught students as young as five and as old as 13 in a classroom that had no fan, let alone air conditioning. When it was hot he would put a sign on the door saying ‘swimming lesson’ and take the kids to the beach.
He then joined Adelaide’s new Christian Brothers school, St Paul’s, as its first lay teacher.
In 1965 he met Ann, who had just completed her nursing studies at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. John was planning a trip to Europe while Ann went to Sydney with two friends to save money before heading overseas. John and Ann corresponded over the next year and after reuniting in England they were married in London on March 18 1967.
After a driving holiday through Europe they emigrated to Canada before eventually making their home back in SA in Belair. They had three children, Nicholas, Jane and Josh.
As a teacher at Mercedes College for more than three decades, including more than 20 years as deputy principal, John achieved legendary status. He taught across primary year levels to Year 12 Classics and the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge. He had a profound impact on a great many students, parents and staff. A staunch supporter of the Mercedes Old Scholars’ Association, he attended many reunions, which reinforced his strong bond with the community.
Hundreds of moving and heartfelt tributes from old scholars were posted on social media after John’s death.
On a practical level, there were many legacies for which Mercedes should be grateful. The oval and tennis courts became a reality only because of John’s insistence. Soil became available because of work on the freeway and with the help of parents found its way onto the Mercedes grounds. There was no money for development but John’s strong representations to the bursar of the Mercy Sisters, the formidable Sr Nance Munro, extricated a loan and the oval and court projects proceeded.
John’s great friend and colleague was Sr Monica Gallivan, fellow deputy principal. Together they were a great support for staff and advocates for the Mercy charism. When principal Chris McCabe brought back what became known as the Mercy Keys – compassion, loyalty, justice, integrity, responsibility and mutual respect – John became an enthusiastic advocate. In so many ways he epitomised all that the Mercy Keys represented.
When John left Mercedes at the age of 61 after a restructure, he went to work at Christian Brothers College where he re-skilled and continued to innovate. Among other initiatives, he launched the first annual student pilgrimage to Vietnam.
For John, each individual was significant. Totally self-effacing and committed, he made all he met feel more important, more listened to, always affirmed. This approach to each person he met was founded in a deep inner faith, a belief in the value of each person, and a humility which paradoxically spoke volumes about the greatness of the man. For John, the Christian Gospel and the person of Jesus were not artificial constructs but lived realities, completely integrated into all he did and said.
John attended daily Mass at The Monastery for 40 years and was a member of the St Paul’s parish council. For many of those years, he would go to work at Mercedes at 6am or before, organise to cover for teachers who may have phoned in ill, and dash down to Mass at 7am. The back seat near the door was his permanent place, ready for a quick exit to be back at Mercedes just after 7.30am, ready to greet staff, students and parents alike.
While at CBC he was invited to join the Friends of the Cathedral and he was a tour guide of the heritage-listed building well into his retirement. When Emeritus Archbishop Philip Wilson established the Bishop Murphy Society to honour Adelaide’s first bishop and encourage philanthropy in the Archdiocese, John was among the first to join. He rarely missed a Bishop Murphy Society function and was actively involved in Church and parish activities.
He administered communion to the residents of the War Veterans Home weekly, always with the greatest respect for their dignity.
John was generous with his time, his energy and his love. He was generous with his students and colleagues, always attempting to understand their perspective, always trying to be just and forgiving, to restore relationships and find the best solution for all.
He instilled in his children a love of stories – Greek ones yes, but Russian ones too. He taught them to love travel and adventure, other cultures, people and places over and above material possessions.
Always focused on what he was grateful for, John’s glass was literally and figuratively half full. He loved people of all ages, races and creeds. And people could not help but love him in return.
The people he most loved were his wife and three children, and his six beautiful grandchildren.