The art of the obit is a tricky one and potential exponents have had a field day recently what with Joh – a unique amalgam of the mayor of Porpoise Spit in Muriel’s Wedding and a dyslexic John Calvin – and Al Grassby. Al was a colourful – shall we say larger-than-life? – dude whose singular achivement was to be the worst-dressed person of the entire 1970’s. And achievements don’t get much more singular than that. It should be said at the outset that while Al knew a lot of Calabrians round Griffith, he wasn’t the Father of Australian Multiculturalism. That’s an accolade that properly belogs to Professor Jerzy (George)Zubrzyicki who is, of course a Sociologist.
Apart from Peter Costello who accorded Joh the title of ‘the outstanding premier of Queensland’ (presumably on the basis that Joh “stood-out” so to speak) most people have stuck to the tried-and-true “larger-than-life” stuff in respect of Joh which, fortuitously, can mean anything you want from “should’ve done at least 35 years in the pokey” to “morbidly obese” (vide Russ Hinze) and anything in between. For instance, Jenny Macklin observed that Joh was a larger-than-life character who dominated Queensland politics for many years and therefore earned a place in Australian political history. John Anderson suggested that he made Queensland what it is (which could work on a number of levels) and Flo declared that he’s with the Lord – which seems a bit more dubious.
However, rather that appproach perhaps than the warm reminiscence penned by a friend. Barry Cohen in an allegedly ‘affectionate’ piece in the Oz, takes Al’s already checkered (and vividly checked) rep and dishes it totally, revealing – in an entirely affectionate way – that Al was disorganised, loud, manic, chaotic, repetitive, an office boozer, appallingly dressed and staggeringly naive about poofs, all in about 600 words . Barry wraps it up by pointing out that “Al Grassby was an endless source of fun, but first and foremost he was a wonderfully warm human being who loved to help people if it was possible.” He does go on to say that Al helped thousands but it’s unclear as to whether it was by providing much needed belly laughs or something more tangible.
I’m sure Barry meant well but I’d think twice before commissioning him to write your epitaph.