NOOSA – On Monday in Sydney, surrounded by his family, my good friend Andrew Greig died of the pancreatic cancer he had been living with for three years.
Andrew Burnford Greig, 77, born in Jerusalem in 1943, was a scholar, humanitarian, peacemaker and a man of consistent honour, courage, conviction and passion.
I met him first in Port Moresby in November or December 1967, when he was briefly attached to the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s educational radio unit where I had recently begun as a producer.
We quickly established a friendship and for the next 53 years - our careers variously colliding and separating wherever life took us - our pleasure in each other’s company never faltered.
After his Port Moresby assignment, Andrew had travelled around Papua New Guinea, in Madang meeting and sitting down with a young Michael Somare.
“I was certainly very impressed with his intelligence and affability,” he wrote of the man who was to become the father of PNG nationhood and its long serving prime minister.
When Somare died of pancreatic cancer in February this year, it was quickly noted by Andrew in an email.
“He had pancreas cancer like me, but for myself I’m planning to try to stay around for a while - as long as I possibly can!”
After we met in 1967, Andrew and I continued to exchange occasional letters for the next 10 years. I don’t recall seeing him in this time but memory is not always a faithful friend.
I was working at my desk with UNESCO in the Maldives in mid-1978 when Andrew’s letter arrived. It heralded a major career choice.
The letter asked if I’d be interested in applying to become the foundation manager of 2SER-FM, an educational and community radio station which was planned for Sydney.
At the time Andrew was Director of the Sydney University Television Service and also part of a small group of senior educationists seeking an educational radio licence for the city.
I decided, for reasons of family rather than career, to return to Australia and try my luck.
By the time I got to Sydney in April 1979, the University of Technology and Macquarie University had received the radio licence and now needed the station.
I was interviewed a day or so after I arrived, got the job and found myself working very closely with Andrew, whose passion for education and technical knowledge constantly fortified my work to establish 2SER-FM.
He was disappointed that Sydney University had not joined the broadcasting consortium but didn’t let this affect his enthusiasm for seeing the station succeed.
I think it was in 1980 that his wife, Elizabeth (Libby), a talented broadcaster in her own right, joined the station as a producer as we expanded its operations from Broadway in the city to the greenfields campus of Macquarie University.
Andrew and I would occasionally have lunch to talk shop and it was at one of these, in his hesitant, almost embarrassed way, he told me I needed to communicate more effectively with the radio station staff.
He said I had to be more open about what I was thinking and confide in them more about why I made the decisions I did.
During the substantial management career that followed, I frequently replayed in my mind this conversation, as I still do in retirement 40 years later.
First, because the hard edge of the conversation was a surprise coming from this mild, and in the circumstances uneasy, man.
Second, because upon reflection I knew it was well meant advice and it was well targeted.
Third, because, reasonably applied, it was advice for all time.
Over the next 20 years Andrew and I saw much of each other professionally and socially and worked together on a number of projects.
From the late 1980s, we ran many issues management workshops for senior corporate executives and public servants at Sydney University.
And for a brief period in the early 1990s he worked for my public relations company not long after I’d taken the plunge to go out on my own.
In August 1994, I saw this wonderful photo of Andrew in the Sydney Morning Herald.
He was getting vaccined-up ready to depart to Africa as part of a CARE Australia medical team.
It had been formed to assist tens of thousands of cholera-stricken Hutus streaming from Rwanda into refugee camps in what was then Zaire.
It was an horrific and transformational experience for the aid workers. “The bodies were buried in long trenches just outside the camps,” Andrew wrote later. He told me his tasks had been menial. Andrew often understated his role.
His mission to Africa demonstrated something about Andrew I had suspected but never fully understood.
He was not only a kind and sweet and tentative man, he was also an idealist and humanitarian who, when the trumpet sounded, was prepared to act.
The passion was not always clear-eyed. It came from the heart with a force to do good so powerful it could obscure quite how to do it.
As the years went by Andrew’s career path hit a rough patch. It was and is a formidable challenge trying to get career traction in one’s fifties after a false start or two.
Very well educated - he had two Master’s degrees, one in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University, the other in Education from Sydney University – Andrew had left the media behind and emerged as what he termed “a development communicator with special expertise in health extension”.
It was a real role, but in Australia there were not many jobs of that kind around. Not in the slick suburbs of the city anyway.
Apart from short term stints with a range of NSW Government agencies focussing on health policy development and training, he found slender pickings.
Through the 2000s, Andrew’s commitment to issues related to peace, including gun control, was undaunted and occupied much of his time.
He was coordinator of the Nonlethal Security for Peace Campaign, wrote a book, ‘Taming War – Culture and Technology for Peace’, and was a visiting scholar in Sydney University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies.
“It will take a while, but if we can move from the crude and dangerous devices that we currently employ in trying to end conflict to more clever and kind technology,” he wrote in New Matilda, "we might begin to see on our television screens fewer smoking ruins, crying children and pits full of bodies."
And in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in October 2020, published under the strapline, 'World backs anti-nuke treaty, it's time we do too':
“As with the 1999 mine ban treaty, this treaty will need time to take effect, but quite soon it will be recognised as a huge advance in the promotion of world peace.
“Our government is unlikely to rejoice in this remarkable achievement, which began here.
“However, our people can. Surveys show that most Australians support the treaty. At least we can celebrate the occasion while waiting for our government to catch up.”
Andrew wrote to me that day, “I was pleased to get my letter in the Herald…often they won’t have a bar of me.”
Ingrid and I moved from Sydney to Noosa in mid-2013 after ill health cut short my career and our friends saw a lot less of us.
For Andrew and Libby, some agreeable years of travel and adventure had begun, Andrew writing in January 2014, “Last year we leapt on a plane for overseas and spent three and a half very interesting months - Italy, Turkey, Germany, France, UK, Bangkok and Burma.”
He said he found “travelling and living in Asia energising and also reassuring. Mostly we found numerous signs of optimism and progress. We met many friendly and helpful people.” And wherever he travelled, Andrew had peace in mind.
In 2016 he and Libby headed to the UK for a marathon two-month, 1,100 mile ‘Shetland to Scilly jaunt’.
“The aim of the trip is to travel by human power the length of Great Britain to promote the use of New Technologies for Peace,” said Andrew. And this they did.
Life was an adventure and a mission.
They were overseas again in May 2018 when something happened that was to dramatically disrupt their lives. Andrew wrote:
“I spent a day by myself walking round Rome. I remembered the time when I could drop into St Peters or the Coliseum for a few minutes. Nowadays, in summer at least, there’s a three-hour queue so I didn’t even try, but just enjoyed strolling round.
“Late that afternoon, I took a short nap and woke up with a very stiff neck. This went away after a few days, but it was the first indication of the significant change about to enter our lives.
“By the time Libby and I returned to Sydney, my stiff neck had gone away but I had continuing mild pain below my right shoulder blade. It didn’t seem serious, but a few weeks later (while reading in bed one night) I felt a small lump on my stomach.
“My excellent GP thought it was probably benign but ordered some tests. One morning in mid-July I received a call from her – the one that you don’t want to get – ‘Andrew, the results of your tests have come in and we need to take a closer look.’
“By the end of the day we knew that I had cancer in the lump, in the pancreas and some on my liver. Blood tests from my routine health check-up in April just before we went on holiday had been normal, so matters had progressed very quickly. Within just over two weeks we’d seen a surgeon (surgery not indicated) and then an oncologist and I’d started outpatient chemotherapy.”
Andrew later discovered that the source of his illness was a mutation of the BRCA2 gene, an hereditary condition.
Always candid and straightforward in letters, he wrote in October 2018:
“The question I think that you may not feel like asking: ‘What is the prognosis?’ That’s a word I try to avoid, so I’ll just phrase it simply: ‘How long do I have?’
“If I’d faced this five years ago, matters could have been rather more difficult. Alternatively, if, hypothetically, this had occurred five years in the future, I believe that with the progress of science matters would be looking very optimistic.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have had a fairly varied and rewarding life to date. Facing PC was not what I had would have chosen, but it’s what quite a number of people have to go through.”
Andrew wrote in November 2018:
“Of course I’m also extremely fortunate in having the wonderful Libby both ensuring a good diet and other care and also much involved in exploring treatment options and keeping me on track with the drugs, the quacks and the exercise.”
Andrew would always mention Libby in his letters, and he would mention her many times. Libby was his rock and his bulwark.
By this time, my own ill health had slowed me down significantly, and trips to Sydney were out of the question.
Every few months Andrew and I exchanged emails and reminisced about the good times:
“I’m still remembering our many well-wined lunches. What great fun they were. I’m taking it a fairly easy on the grog at present – not wanting to compromise my immune system – but, as I wrote, I enjoy one or two glasses quite frequently and perhaps better appreciate the taste more than I used to.”
Those who participated in those memorable lunches, and who still vaguely recall them, would charge that 'well-wined' was a deceptively elegant way to describe them.
By March 2019, the chemotherapy was working and CT scans showed the cancer retreating. Andrew knew it would almost inevitably develop resistance to the drugs, but he remained optimistic:
“Research on cancer is proceeding very fast and there are various further treatments being developed all the time. With much help from Libby and excellent medical advice, I’m being very proactive in lining up new treatments for the future.”
Meanwhile, he continued his mission. “My Nonlethal Security for Peace Campaign, is progressing slowly, but faster than it did last year,” he wrote in April 2020.
“I’ve written to the ABC a number of times, who just say they don’t have the money – period. So I’m now taking it to the Board (most politely).
"A TV Knowledge Channel could restore credibility and the funding would follow. I’m waiting for an answer and thought it would be a good time to tell you about it.
And at about the same time:
“I’ve also re-joined the local branch of the Labor Party. This does not take up too much time, but at least I feel I’m doing something to counteract our appalling State and Federal Coalition governments.”
In January this year Andrew remarked Biden’s election as US president might yield action on international disarmament and gun control. “Maybe too much to hope for just yet, but you never know. In peace – Andrew.”
In early March, he wrote to me that there was “no special news from here”, adding almost as a throwaway line that oncologists had discovered the cause of a pain he’d been telling them about and he’d already had several sessions of radiotherapy.
“Plenty of other matters to be getting on with,” he ended. It was our last communication.
“There are various stupidities and abuses re-occurring around the world, which I thought we’d dealt with years ago.
“The Australian government’s ongoing cruelty to refugees being just one disgraceful example.
“It’s extraordinary that at this time – even in Australia – we have increasing unaffordability of housing and increased costs of university education. We should treat our young people much better.
“And that’s not to mention the continuing increase in the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
"So plenty still to be done.”
There was and is and always will be plenty to be done, old mate. You did your best to address the world's shortcomings and never lost the will to make things better for the rest of us. But it was too much for one lifetime. It always is.
In peace – Keith.
And to Libby and Charlotte and Jasper and the extended family, my deepest condolences