NOOSA – When the message circled the globe a few times and finally landed in my inbox it brought the gloomy news that Barry Whitby Vincent had died last Sunday. He would have been close to 80.
My immediate thought was of a young man with a friendly grin. A more pleasant fellow than Chenz not to be found.
We called him Chenz although he had told us he preferred Barry, Bazza or BV, anointed in an earlier life.
But that’s what young men do – solicit your nickname, reject it and invent another purpose-designed to annoy you.
Anyway Chenz it was and there it is stuck nearly 60 years later, even though he and I had scarcely met – maybe just a couple of times - since we left the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) and made our way to Papua New Guinea a week before President Kennedy was shot in November 1963.
Chenz went to the Central District to become headmaster at Pari before quitting teaching in 1966, the same year I did, to become a training officer first in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and then the Department of Civil Aviation.
He left Port Moresby for Darwin in 1974 and spent four years as senior training officer in the Department of Health before being sucked into the Canberra vortex for 25 years, ending his career as assistant manager of energy management programs in the Department of Primary Industries.
He and Liz then retired to Lake Macquarie which he told me he loved, later moving to what a pal termed “very comfortable digs on a hill overlooking the water” at Hervey Bay.
Subsequent life was not kind to Chenz, though, and he had to bear the curse of Parkinson’s Disease for many of those years since.
On first landing in PNG, before his promotion to Pari, he was at Tubesereia Primary School under the respective headmasters Ian Robertson and John Maksimas.
“Tubesereia was the most memorable of my PNG assignment,” he told me.
“Confronting the challenge of living in a new country in which the first language was not English, adapting to new cultures and beliefs and realising that electricity and running water were not to be taken for granted.”
Some years later, after PNG independence, he returned for a while as part of an Australian aid project to upgrade the skills of training officers. “PNG certainly wasn’t the same,” he said. “Dare I say, a siege mentality was evident amongst expats.”
He recalled ASOPA, where we trained as teachers in 1962-63, as “two years of fellowship, friendship and fun, interlaced with a unique learning experience.”
It was always good to have guys like Chenz around. Permanently good humoured and reliably friendly, prepared to cop any drama with a benign grin even when anointed with aN unwanted nickname.
Chenz, Bazza, BV, Barry was one of those blokes who, as the wick now begins to burn low and the wax gutters, you wish you’d been sensible enough to spend more time with.
He certainly turned that ASOPA certificate in education into a fine career and gave Australia its money’s worth.