Sunday, July 01, 2012

RIP Bill Fullagar 1928 – 2012

My friend and father-in-law Bill passed away peacefully early yesterday morning, at home. He had done everything that he wanted to do, and once he was ready the end came quickly. His heart had been beating irregularly for a few weeks, and there were a few other things wrong, but what took him in the end was cancer which spread from his lungs (he wasn't interested in chemotherapy). He was listening to Beethoven's ninth.

I met Bill not long after I met his daughter Elf, who I married. We stayed with Bill and Felicity in Canberra over Christmas, and we were all required to play a handbell in a team rendition of Joy to the World. Felicity had written out the music for us so we could all see when it was our turn to play. Bill may have had his wrong glasses on - every time his bell was required Felicity had to say "Bill … BILL!!".

As time went by I heard from Elf more and more impressive stories about Bill's exploits as a merchant seaman, diplomat and intelligence analyst. (Bill would expand on the stories if pressed but he was modest to a fault). In his days as first mate on British India company ships, he had travelled the world. He could tell you about the tricky navigation hazards of Valparaiso, Vancouver or Valetta, Malta.

Bill came from a thoroughly lawyerly family, but he turned his back on that life to go to sea. His father Sir Wilfred was Chief Justice of Victoria, and took a dim view of his middle of son of five, declining to continue the family trade.

Bill was 2nd-in-command of a merchant vessel for a long time, and one day re
alised the shipping company was slowly going bust. He was ashore in Singapore at the time. He posted his resignation, made his own way back to Australia, and resumed studying classics. Like most educated people of his generation, Bill spoke and read Ancient Greek and Latin, and his love of the classics lasted until the end of his life.

At some point in his studies he was talent-scouted by the Department of Foreign Affairs. When Elf was eight (with three younger siblings) he was posted to the Australian High Commission in Delhi. Later he held a similar post in Seoul. I believe it is customary to have officers with titles such as Third Assistant Secretary who are simply there to keep their eyes and ears open.

I don't know a lot about Bill's work, but he often served us drinks out of engraved Australian Secret Intelligence Service whisky glasses, and later gave us our own set. They all mysteriously broke within a couple of years. Cheap workmanship – or cunningly planned self-destruction to avoid leaving behind clues?

When I met Bill he was in his seventies, and still required at the Department two days a week to analyse intelligence, as he had irreplaceable knowledge. As his health declined, and eye and knee operations slowed him down, he finally retired fully.

He is survived by Felicity; his children Elf, Fred, Imp, and Chonk; and grandchildren Karri, Marcus, Miah, Michael, Beatrice and Eric.

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