Memories of Eric from the Tennis Academia
RON SLEE: Eric Richards, Renaissance man
My first and last encounters with Eric were on a court. 40 years ago at Flinders University, we played squash at lunch time. Four weeks ago, we played tennis at Eden Hills on Saturday afternoon, just up the road from that Flinders squash court. Sport kept bringing us together over those four decades. We enjoyed different sports, but tennis was the enduring one.
Eric was my favourite doubles partner – with him at net, his long arms and legs so menacingly effective, we rarely lost a set! Whether it was against Tony McMichael and David Roder, Graeme Hugo and Chris Sumner, or Judith Healy and Neal Blewett on the Healy/McMichael court; or against the ‘Flinders’ combinations – variously, Ralph Shlomowitz, Michael Roberts, Michael Morley, Norm Feather, Alex Hope, Justin Labrooy, Rob George, Fred Leaney, John Smith, Dick Blandy, Digger Agnew, Patti Greethead, Syd Harrex and many others who rarely or no longer play.
Eric was hard to beat on the court. His advantage was not just height and wing span but a reliable forehand and a dogged determination to return every shot. He loved a long rally because his stamina rarely waned. He particularly enjoyed rallies in summer when the mercury climbed to 40 degrees in the shade, running opponents ragged as they sagged under his relentless consistency! On those occasions, one could almost be forgiven for imagining behind his otherwise genial civility there lurked a competitive malice!
He was also hard to beat off the court – his recall of football (by which he meant soccer) was encyclopaedic – goals, results, players, officials, incidents. Other sports, too – rugby union, especially Welsh, and tennis. For many years, Eric and Ngaire would host a dinner on the night of the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Final where his culinary skills demonstrated yet another competitive edge!
The last time I visited him at Brighton was to deliver bags of home grown cumquats. In recent years, he has made an excellent cumquat marmalade using my fruit and his recipe and labour. I cannot believe my jar from this latest batch, simply but so poignantly labelled ‘CUMQUAT MARMALADE Eric Richards, August 2018’, will be his last.
Eric was probably the wisest man I have known. He not only knew a lot but he always talked so much sense. His prodigious knowledge, unsurprisingly, was not confined to sport. History, of course, politics, music, especially jazz, cinema, literature, language, the arts generally; his spontaneous recollection of detail produced some memorable contests against Michael Morley and Rob George between sets of tennis and afterwards at the Blackwood RSL Bar. We seldom consulted Google when Eric was present!
But, it was his discerning judgement and values that made him wise. Though rarely judgmental about human frailty, he had a diplomatic way of ruffling feathers!
He also wore his immense intellect gently. Articulate and astute, he could explain complex things simply and while he wrote with flair it was never over-egged. He celebrated scholarship, profoundly respected it, and was internationally honoured in his chosen fields of history, but he never bragged. He was an expert in the most profound human issue of our era – migration – but he wore that expertise with humility. And, I never saw him demean. Whether in a history seminar or in conversation with a dilettante like me, he was interested in our views, valued them and if he offered an alternative opinion it was never harsh. Kind and sincere, I don’t think he had a cruel bone in his body – except on the court!
I admired Eric and loved being around him. I will miss him as will many others; but none more so than my dear friend, Ngaire, who I met 10 years before she got together with Eric. They meant everything to each other and my tears still run for her devastating loss.
While we all remain overwhelmed by sorrow, we recall the things that made Eric so extraordinary. Our memory of the stimulating conversations and competitive rallies (on and off the court) will sustain us and, of course, his scholarship will outlive us all.
Eric did not seek solace in an after-life but his remarkable life will continue to enrich ours and, while we can still serve and volley, there will always be a special place on our court for that hustling, stretching, combative colossus, Eric Richards.
When I saw the subject line within Ron Slee’s original email, I simply assumed this was to be a joke about Eric further damaging his knee while climbing the Eiffel Tower or the steps to Montmartre, or some other expedition in the South of France.
I still have difficulty accepting the real news. And cannot think of anything even vaguely appropriate to write. I was so looking forward to catching up with him and hearing tales of Paris, South of France and the UK, when I would have welcomed the opportunity to tell him once more what he should have done in terms of London theatre, French culture. etc. etc.
I won’t say I knew Eric better than any of the others from the tennis gang: but I can safely say he had to put up with more — and more often– from me, than any of the others. Simply because — and it was a standing joke — we played as partners more often than anyone else.
Which, of course, meant that he had to put up with more suffering than anyone else —- a task he undertook with something like unfailing grace.
I cannot grasp that I will not be hearing him benevolently, and with more than a touch of paternal patronising, incidentally trying to put me right on anything from the inappropriateness of my use of Latin tags; obscure pieces of standard jazz which I really SHOULD know; the sex of Ruby Braff (?) — the trumpeter; the ‘unnecessary’ violence in cinema and TV; and what SHOULD be the only attitude to people of an Oxford persuasion.
Frankly, he always reminded me of some of the better examples of that breed. And, unlike some of them, nobody could dislike Eric. Warm, witty, long-suffering (certainly vis a vis me), constantly raising an eyebrow at things like French champagne, he will be deeply, and always missed.
He leaves me, and others, unhappily wondering about what his responses would have been to PATRICK MELROSE and A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL — both programmes which I was looking forward to (perhaps) arguing with him, or even agreeing about, when he returned….
Others can tell of Eric’s deep love for Ngaire, his children and grandchildren; his admiration of Ngaire’s scholarship and her current enrolment as an undergraduate fine arts student, and his delight at Sally’s PhD in Drama; that he was an outstanding scholar.
I would rather tell of his modesty, warmth, kindness and generosity. My children, who knew him well, will attest to this, as do his friends in NZ, Ireland and Canada, with whom I have been in contact.
Eric was a wonderful supportive friend: he will be greatly missed.
What a delight it was to get to know Eric and to play tennis with and against him. He was a formidable and determined opponent and a significant problem to get past if he was playing at net. His height, his long arms and his great reflexes combined to make him almost unpassable. But it was the chats during the break and over beers in the pub where Eric’s droll wit, astute insights and eclectic interests meant that he was wonderful company. Eric was interested and curious about a wide range of subjects from sport to history to cuisine and his enthusiasm for the produce from my garden always flattering.
I have only had the chance to read one of Eric’s published books, the subject matter was the Highland Clearances, a topic on which he is a major authority and it was beautifully written, clear, concise and, like Eric, witty and erudite. Eric also attempted to help me get an article published in the SA Historical Society Journal but alas our attempts were crushingly unsuccessful.
We all sadly miss Eric at tennis. The world is a less interesting and less entertaining place without him
MICHAEL & SHONA ROBERTS
We have lost ERIC
No more revelations on British migration patterns
…. And for me personally
No more togetherness at the Oval watching soccer
Or … meandering on Brighton Beach
…. And for Shona and I
No more Sunday Jazz sessions with Ngaire & Eric at the Blackwood RSL
…. And for his tennis partners at doubles
Entangled in a long battle rally
That LACONIC CHEERY REMARK
“Now we have them”
WE SHALL ALL DRINK TO THAT
As the newcomer to the Saturday tennis cooperative, getting the opportunity to meet and to know Eric was a real bonus. From the beginning, he was the proverbial gentle giant, kind and generous from our first set together. As a tennis partner, he always gave his all, clearly thriving on competition. A knee replacement simply meant a temporary hiccup to his always reliable game. As an opponent, with his great reach he was an ominous and intimidating presence at net.
Off court, our discussions were always enjoyable and illuminating. We’d exchange views on movies always with a gentle niggle as he avoided those with “gratuitous violence”. Fruit and veg produce from the Emma Street gardens always found an appreciative home with Eric. The following week he’d always let us know what he made with it and how wonderful it was.
Spending time with Eric came with a guarantee of making your day better.
I find it hard to believe that Eric is no longer with us. I knew him for many years right back to 1972. He was a colleague here at Flinders and a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences, a highly distinguished scholar who was always modest about his achievements. He sometimes asked me about my work or about psychology more generally. And he was interested in how my son Mark was doing in his career, an interest that related to the fact that Mark was employed in the organisation that Eric’s friend, Callum McCarthy, had headed in London.
But I knew Eric best on the tennis court. He was a great competitor and always a fair one. He was a bit prone to leaving his side line open which was a bit disconcerting to an old codger like me who he was always trying to support. He was a man of gentle humour, self-effacing, a truly civilised gentleman, if one can use that term these days. He had wide interests in theatre, cinema, jazz and the arts, always a joy to talk to. I am so sad that he is no longer with us. Hale and farewell my dear friend. You lived a good life with kindness and interest in others and in the world around you. You will have a special place in our memories.
JUSTIN LA BROOY I concur with all the descriptions of Eric’s grace, sardonic humour and gentlemanly behaviour on the tennis court that the rest of you have contributed. I hesitated to respond with memories when they were initially requested, because my knowledge of Eric was very much a shared one with the rest of you.
There are two sets of memories which have perhaps remained private.
The first relates to the number of occasions when the ambient temperature in Adelaide was above the “century” and Eric and I were deserted by our erstwhile friends and were the only ones who turned up for tennis. I had at least the benefit of a youth spent in the tropics to prepare me for this; Eric’s only excuse was that so elegantly expressed by Noel Coward, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun”! The individual games were usually shorter but we were out there for two hours or more discussing a variety of unrelated topics under the tall tree that has now lost its leaves, as we recuperated between games.
The other was my “off duty” medical advice which he occasionally sought. I remember a prolonged multi-segment discussion about the pros and cons of knee-surgery, a topic in which my expertise was limited to watching its effects at close quarters when my wife had been through the experience twice with the same surgeon to whom Eric turned when he decided to go ahead with it. The other prolonged and again multi-part discussion was when Eric and Ngaire stepped in to help Eric’s daughter who was battling significant health issues half way across Australia, with her treatment happening in Melbourne where Eric joined her, and then in Adelaide. He did not discuss this much with others but I saw someone willing to travel “the second mile” giving the care and help he provided.
JOHN & JUDY SMITH
Judy and I have just arrived home and are saddened by the news of Eric’s death.
In the short time I knew Eric I found him to be wonderful companion on and off the tennis court. His droll humour was of a type I particularly enjoyed. His slashing forehand volley that never rose more than 20cm above the ground, yet somehow cleared the net was a wonder to behold. His service that he never tossed more than 2cm above his eyebrows was equally effective as a weapon of surprise.
Rest well Eric, yours was a life worth living.