Eulogising a good friend

The following is the eulogy the blog delivered a year ago for his friend Don Macfarlane. It joined other eulogies by family, friends and colleagues and representatives of organisations he had generously helped.

I had lunch with Don on May 27.

On that Friday Don had just come from a meeting with a professor who was giving him advice about the next stages. The advice – focus on one thing. When I asked Don what his one thing would be his answer was – of course – painting.

When Don retired he could have taken on a variety of non-executive directorships. Instead, among other things, he deepened his passion for art history, making art, thinking about art, and talking about art.

Over the years we often talked about many things – but the subject we always kept coming back to was art – just as it did on that Friday.

One particular artist we often talked about was Sargent – a painter who epitomised much about what – and how – Don thought about art. Don would have loved to go to the great Met exhibition of Sargent’s portraits – but that was not possible. Instead, I brought back the catalogue for him and that prompted one of the many discussions we had over the years about why Sargent was so misunderstood by some. Some saw him as superficial but Don admired and respected his creativity, his brush work, his imaginative realism and understood the sheer technical excellence of Sargent’s work.

Don was extraordinarily insightful about art whether it was: identifying unexpected gems in the NGVs Hermitage display; his discovery of Lovis Corinth; his views of the Scottish colourists and the Canadian Group of Seven; the value of still life; the great Italians; or a magnificent Rubens.

His insightfulness also informed his contributions to the community – such as the outfitting of an entire young Vietnamese soccer team based in Springvale; and the lasting impact he made as Chair of Leadership Victoria – the Williamson Community Leadership program.

As Chair he never lost track of the fundamental purpose of the Williamson program. He understood that narrow professional expertise was not enough for emerging leaders – they also needed knowledge of how diverse the world in which they had to operate was.

One of the perennial discussions some Board members had was whether Leadership Victoria was producing CEOs, top public servants and so on. Williamson did that – but Don always stressed the inadequacy of that as a measure of success. Instead, he always asked: did we change these young people’s lives; did they learn things they might never have otherwise learnt; did they meet people they would never have met otherwise; did they learn how to change things?

In other words – did they live reflective, productive and rewarding lives?

The sort of life Don lived so magnificently.