A Tribute to Patrick John Lear Corbett (1938-2011)
On 8 March 1938 in the growing dusty railway colony of Moradabad, UP, amid red brick homes, a railway institute, churchyard and bustling bazaars, a bonnie baby boy was born to young Denis and Charlotte Corbett. They named him Patrick John Lear and prayed this little acorn would one day grow into a mighty oak.
And so it was, at the age of 6, little dark-haired, green-eyed Patrick was packed off to boarding school complete with kitbag, trunk and tuck-box and found himself riding the exclusive OG Special to Oak Grove – a place that would become his home away from home for the next 12 years and beyond.
Patrick started in the Lower Kindergarten in 1944 and the following year was happily joined by 2 little 7-yr olds sitting at brightly coloured desks whose destinies would become inexorably intermingled and intertwined into a knot of everlasting friendship and memorable experiences – little David D’Lemos, a cheeky round-faced lad with dimpled cheeks who promised fun, and a shy yet talented Sheila Cameron chosen for ballet by dance mistress, Mrs Ferrier (‘Sheila dances prettily‘ her school report read), who learned to play the piano and conducted the kindergarten percussion band under the guidance of Miss MacJohn, the music teacher.
The years rolled by and soon Patrick began to shine on the sports field. Being fleet of foot he ran away with prizes for sprinting, high jump, broad jump, hop-step-and-jump and flew over the hurdles like a cheetah in the chase, standing proudly on the victory stand in no.1 position and going home with an armful of cups and trophies. Given the opportunity to play hockey, cricket and tennis he did so with enthusiasm.
His achievements in the classroom were of no less importance, and Patrick soon developed a love for language and literature and the manipulation of and play on words. He read all the classics he could from the school library, wrote essays, memorised inspiring quotes, spoke well and gravitated towards Shakespeare. He proved this by winning the Elocution contest for the Boys in his final year for his perfect rendition of Hamlet’s speech, “To be or not to be: that is the question: ..” under the aegis of Mr Reghelini, English master.
Sheila, on the other hand, won it for the Girls by her recitation of Lady Macbeth’s sleep-walking soliloquy, “Yet, here’s a spot. Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” coached by Mrs Edwards, her English teacher.
David, ever the fun-loving, spirited adventurer and aspiring sportsman, was keen on other things and led midnight raids into farmers’ fields, making catapults, whacking baboons and birds, spinning tops and spinning yarns, enjoying conker fights and collecting creepy-crawlies. He was a born leader who lived by his wits and seemed to get a kick out of life.
During this time another new student, Vinod Kapur, portended to also play a major role in Patrick’s future life, had joined their ranks and became part of the team. Vinod was a sensible lad of studious disposition.
All this time, Patrick’s home life had been tough because his loving mum had taken ill soon after marriage and sadly was never there to meet him when he returned home for his 3-month annual holiday. She was either too ill or in a sanatorium but he doted on her and felt compassion for her chronic suffering. His dad was always there for him, but he worked long hours. To fill the gap in his life, Patrick escaped to the movies and soaked up knowledge from every film he saw. He loved the glamour of the silver screen and soon developed a flair for acting. He read up on the lives of his favourite movie stars and wore his hair in the Tony Curtis hairstyle, a comb at the ready in his back pocket! Films were shown in the Covered Shed of the Girls School and the senior boys were additionally allowed a monthly trip to Mussoorie to go to the cinema, much to Patrick’s delight. Surprisingly, his mum occasionally made the trip up to Oak Grove and would take him out for the weekend, staying at The Savoy, Mussoorie, and having tea at Hakman’s. This was a bonus for young Patrick and no doubt he visited all the movie theatres.
In 1955 the original 3 classmates sat their Senior Cambridge Examination and Patrick left with Div.II and 3As in Language, Literature and Scripture, Sheila with Div.I and 5As and David too made it with Div unknown. Vinod finished with a Div.II in 1956.
With the strong foundation of a good all-round education in the arts and sciences and on the sports field, these tiny acorns had grown into lanky oaks with their deep tap roots firmly anchoring their spreading branches, and were now ready to burst forth on the threshold of life and grow into mighty oaks. Only time would tell how well they had been shaped and conditioned and how well adapted, pruned and seasoned they would become by their new environment.
The following year the Corbetts sailed for New Zealand. Sheila eventually went to the UK. David tarried a while, finishing his contract with the Indian Air Force, then left for Australia. Vinod remained in India to make his fortune there. True friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance.
In Auckland, Patrick went into traineeship in the Retail Business (should have gone on stage, but all the world’s a stage and he was already playing his part) and soon became Trainee Manager responsible for training the next batch of new recruits for the retail giant, Woolworths. The trainees were in the same age group as himself and they formed lasting friendships, having reunions from time to time in later years.
Patrick was at this time drafted into the Army Reserve to do his National Service with The 11st Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) Battalion and thoroughly enjoyed his stint in the army, said it was the best days of his life and naturally made many friends. On finishing his National Service, Patrick successfully completed a course in Business Management and coupled with his talents of leadership, speech and charm and the 4 Ps for success – punctuality, presentation, personality and performance – secured himself a promotion to the plum position of National Manager, Woolworths.
He now travelled the antipodes as National Manager in charge of setting up and establishing new branch offices in both North and South Island. He remained devoted to his parents, had a large circle of friends, met and charmed the ladies and the world was his oyster. He referred to himself as a young Lothario, after all it was the swinging 60s and he had a dynamic magnetism with movie star looks. He experienced life to the full and was moving up the ladder of worldly wisdom and success.
Finally in 1967 he married a girl named Hilary producing 2 lovely children – Joelle and Blair. He was a youthful, fun father, as they recall who encouraged them to be true to themselves and live their dreams. Later, Patrick changed jobs but remained in the retail business, working long hours as Manager in Real Estate and making a fortune buying and selling expensive properties along the Bay -and as soon gave it all away. Joelle was enrolled in ballet classes, had been given two Arab horses in her time as she was proving a keen rider, entering in dressage competitions and winning ribbons and trophies. Blair was into body boarding and surfing and was encouraged in his sport to an excellent standard with well known sponsors. Both kids were active on the sportsfield and won prizes for sprinting – perhaps a chip off the old block! Patrick also helped run a business with his wife, and for relaxation played tennis. He gave his kids an excellent upbringing and a private school education with both children finishing with a degree from Auckland University, Joelle in Psychology/Sociology and Blair in Computer Science and both are now well established in their careers. Patrick was now working in a responsible and secure position and had matured into a mighty oak.
Meantime, David an aircraft mechanic had settled in Darwin, was married with 4 kids and was still having hair-raising adventures. He experienced the full force of cyclone Tracey on Christmas Eve in 1974 which obliterated the city of Darwin and he lost his home, but miraculously he and his family survived. However, it was now becoming clear that his marriage was crumbling, but ever the go-getter he divorced and moved away to Queensland and set up home in his castle atop Mt. Tamborine. He established an exotic tropical fruit orchard, had a fowl-run at the bottom near a trickling stream, with chooks, a rooster, ducks, geese and a turkey. He was king of all he surveyed but in his veritable Garden of Eden the apple wasn’t the forbidden fruit, it was a long leafed bush with a ransom on its head! and the serpent was more interested in stealing the chooks’ eggs than tempting any Eve he might have had staying with him. Patrick visited several times and the 2 school friends spent many hours discussing life, joking and spinning yarns, reminiscing on the good old, bad old days and doing everything and nothing and having the best time of their lives.
Sheila in the interim qualified as a top secretary with bilingual skills, worked in swinging London in the 1960s for a progressive mainframe Computer Firm, then for the Vice President of an American Oil Company and finally moved to Zurich, Switzerland to work for the British Consulate General in the pay of the Foreign Office, hobnobbing with diplomats at cocktail parties and travelling the world. When the British Foreign office closed most of its consulates in Europe due to its entrance into the EEC, she transferred to the Kenyan Consulate General but still retained her previous contacts. From here she finally emigrated to Australia.
Vinod had married the lovely Shalini and had 3 well brought up and university educated children. He had established a milling and clothing business of his own in Delhi and was travelling the world selling his products to top retailers. Patrick visited Vinod often and saw his 3 children growing up and they grew to love him.
It was at this time, thanks to the founding members that Oak Grove Reunions in England were going full steam ahead and drawing in ex Oak Grovians by the dragnet. Oak Grovian met Oak Grovian and spread the word and one day Sheila dreamed of Patrick, next day his letter was in her mailbox. Being swift of pen and not at a loss for words, he had scribbled off a few lines and a trail of correspondence bounced back and forth like tennis balls across the alps and antipodes. Sheila was embarking on a world trip via NZ with fiance Henrik in tow. The Corbetts had an open home. Henrik showed off some circus tricks to Blair, Sheila displayed her shooting skills (inherited from her shikari father) and using Patrick’s .22 she seldom missed the target. While a birth certificate shows that we were born, pictures show we live. Take a look at the photos.
Sheila and Henrik immigrated to Australia and married. Life flowed Downunder.
Vinod, the self-made millionaire was arriving in the antipodes and contacted Patrick, Patrick contacted David and Sheila and a wonderful reunion ensued. The friendship knot was tightening.
Sometimes, things go wrong in life and so it was in 1992 when Patrick’s wife decided to opt out of their marriage. He felt her loss but was further saddened by the loss of his best male friend of 32 years as well. No matter how good friends are, they will hurt you, and you must forgive them for that. Patrick was deeply hurt, he took a break with Vinod in India and visited OG. He had fallen flat on his face, but ever the optimist had picked himself up, dusted himself off and got back in the race. That’s life, he would chant.
Sheila and Henrik’s marriage also hit the rocks, but they remained afloat as good friends to the end. We don’t have to change friends if we understand that friends change.
At this time the idea of having school reunions Downunder was gestating and in 2000 Melbourne was chosen as its firstborn. Sheila was asked to create the school banner. She complied, and Patrick and David did the honours of holding it proudly for its inaugural photo shoot in the driveway of her home. Other reunions followed and Patrick never missed a show. He was completely in his element on stage at these functions and with his confidence in public speaking and spontaneous wit and humour spread joy and laughter around. He always sang the Oak Grove anthem a good few decibels above the others and danced the Haka Haka (Maori welcome dance) with such vim and gusto as only a Kiwi could. He was a born entertainer.
Moving on, tragedy struck in 2002 when Henrik had a fatal motorcycle accident. Patrick wept! Again in August 2004 David, now with a failing heart condition, called for Patrick. Patrick arrived and David passed away in the arms of his loving and loyal school friend. Patrick was shattered and inconsolable, but dear friend Vinod came to his rescue again and invited him to India for an indefinite stay and to become part of the Kapur family. Patrick, by choice, spent Christmas alone that year in Oak Grove gazing out at the hills through misty eyes, talking to the servants and reminiscing on his early days. Although the school was virtually deserted the spirits were everywhere.
Maturity has more to do with what types of experiences we’ve had in life and what we’ve learned from them and less to do with the number of birthdays we’ve celebrated. Patrick had weathered the storm, returned to Melbourne and was now a well seasoned oak.
With his feet back on the ground and free from the shackles of marriage, Patrick could be what he always wanted to be – himself. He had already made the decision to take up residence with Sheila in Melbourne in 1995 and a new life had begun. Each would respect the other’s space – oaks need ample space to flourish – and Patrick was given full rein and a very special and unique relationship evolved.
The Lebanese–American poet/writer Kahlil Gibran wrote:
Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Given the boost he needed, Patrick’s free spirit soared like a colourful Indian kite, to heights unknown, ever soaring, ever dancing, ever singing, ever prancing, ever romancing, ever fluttering, ever doting, ever playful, ever dreaming, ever lingering, ever writing, ever quoting, ever learning, ever reading, ever gleaning, ever joyful, ever charming, ever chattering, ever active, ever darting, ever joking, ever laughing, ever smoking (!) …. everlasting.
Patrick was back in the race once again, the tennis courts and the local library were right up his street! He became an instant member of each and got the keys to his kingdom. He passionately played tennis every day and mostly with people of a younger genre giving them a run for the ball. He admired the elegant styles of Nick Sampras and Roger Federer and never missed a tennis tournament. He became the cornerstone of the library and would hasten home with a bagful of biographies to eagerly devour until the library had exhausted its supply and called for replenishment from other sources.
Patrick had an insatiable passion for life and for everything he did and was naturally gifted with many talents and attributes that would set him apart. The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything, but just make the most of what they have.
He had a natural bent for comedy and a spontaneous sense of humour. He had an affinity for people who were slightly off-centre and a bit eccentric, like himself. His favourite character was Don Quixote. He had been brought up on Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin and always saw the funny side of life with a ready quip for every situation he encountered, whether in a supermarket queue, a doctor’s surgery or chatting to the local vicar. When the vicar teased, I bet as a young lad you were one of the wild boys. He quipped, I wrote the book! He related jokes with perfect timing and loved the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, the two Ronnies, John Cleese, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Billy Connelly, etc. He found English and Jewish wit and comedy hilarious. After all, he said, my only ambition in life when I was a small boy was to be a clown and make others laugh. Crass or coarse humour repelled him. Everyone was touched in some way by his presence for he was an inherently happy soul with a lively brain that stored a repertoire of anecdotes and jokes. He was a great storyteller and kept his audience spellbound.
Patrick was a people’s person – the king of hearts. Kipling wrote:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch….
So too, Patrick related to people on all social levels and was completely at ease when talking business with his bank manager or discussing biographies with authors and librarians, as with the lonely tramp or the singing busker. He always flicked a ready coin to them. He chatted regularly with the cleaner at the shopping centre calling him buddy. Most women, young or old, near or from a distance, were attracted to his good humour and gentle manner. He was a charismatic personality, never said a nasty word to or about anyone. He had respect for all with malice toward none. He endeared himself to the ladies and they felt special. He was an absolute charmer of the first waters, and it was said he could charm the legs off a table!
A born Piscean, he was an incurable dreamer and very likely in one of his day dreams wandered off and kissed that Blarney Stone for he had the gift of eloquence. He was a clever communicator, articulate with a lovely timbre to his voice and knew the power and nuance of words and used them with incredible impact. He had become an astute wordsmith with a flair for the written and spoken word. He enjoyed writing articles for The Acorn newsletter and speaking at school reunions in Australia and Jharipani and with the gift of public speaking and a diploma in journalism behind him, he was in the perfect position to achieve just that. On one occasion he was invited as a guest speaker by a tertiary college to speak to their adult students on the life of the notorious outlaw, Ned Kelly, and he did so with much aplomb!
Patrick was an emotional human being with a strong compassionate nature. He hated to see boys being bullied at school and never forgot the incident of one boy running the gauntlet or another being showered with a bucket of ‘chunam’ (lime for marking the field tracks) over his head and face. Others thought it funny, Patrick said he wept inside. He was a sensitive soul who respected human and animal life.
He never passed a dog or cat without scratching its back not to mention engaging it’s owner! He’d give his used tennis balls to the neighbour’s German Shepherd but not without first extracting a game from him, then a tug-of-war would ensue and finally Patrick would leave the ball for Rexy to chew on. Whenever Pat visited India he stayed with Vinod and family who grew to love him. Pat would always take Radhika’s dog, Frida, out for a ball game and run in the yard, but when it suddenly died last year, he was saddened beyond words.
He had an affinity for children too. His 2 grandchildren naturally thought he was the best granddad in the whole wide world because he was so cool and so much fun. The neighbour’s 3-yr old would call out across the fence, Pat, Pat. He’d jump up on the cross beam and say, hello sweetie, kiss, kiss, where’s Molly gone? (the Jack Russel). She’d reply, Molly’s dead and gone to gaol! Ever the Peter Pan, Patrick never grew up.
Patrick had a passion for art, music, dancing and theatre – the right side of his brain sometimes went into overdrive. He continued to go to selective movies all his life. He had fallen in love with Hollywood at an early age and still had a penchant for the Old Classics and their great stars. He enjoyed epic stories, some wild west films, drama, comedy and musicals and revered the old greats – Guiness, Olivier, Gable, Cagney, Grant, Mitchell, Bogart, Wayne, Brynner, the two Hepburns, the two Kellys, Rodgers, Astaire, O’Hara, Mason, Burton, Monroe, Taylor, Newman, Brando – the list goes on and on.
When reminiscing, Patrick could not only give you the name of a movie and who the movie stars were, but their life history and real names, when the movie was first made, who directed and produced it, and also the name of the movie theatre, the year and the city in which he saw it and with whom, adding whatever else was taking place in the world at that time. He was fascinated by documentaries on ancient civilisations and ancient to modern history, anything of a geographical nature and every documentary made by the BBC.
Patrick had an uncanny style of drawing and loved doodling with caricatures and cartoon figures, adding his own funny quips. Quite unique! He enjoyed the art of some of the famous painters and frequented Art Galleries. He simply loved black and white photography.
Music was his passion, it filled his soul and transported him to dizzy heights. He enjoyed Rock ‘n Roll, loved Elvis and Chubby Checker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino etc. – too many to mention. He also loved Swing and Jazz and the Big Bands. His all time favourites were Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Eric Clapton, Duke Ellington, Billy Holiday, Tony Bennet, Glen Miller and more recently Harry Connick Jnr. and Michael Buble and a heap of others. Country and Soul music played a large role too – Johnny Cash, Connie Francis, Patti Page, Peggy Lee, et.al. He adored the Beatles for their music and lyrics.
Patrick had a good singing voice and knew all the words to most songs. He could whistle a pretty tune too. He wrote out the lyrics to the Lennon/McCartney song In My Life and asked me to remember it always. He accumulated a CD collection of over 100 albums and spent hours listening to his favourite tunes.
Dancing was another hot favourite and he danced in his own unique style of rock ‘n roll with such vigour and passion that he transcended to another plane, as anyone who frequented the OG reunions Downunder could vouch for. He had beat and rhythm and an endless flow of energy.
And yet he was a gentle soul and remained a gentleman to his fingertips. You could tell by the cut of his jib. He carried himself with dignity, was well mannered and had a certain sophistication. He dressed well, had a slim physique (you can’t fatten a thoroughbred, he’d quip!) and was blessed with devastating good looks, reflecting his Irish ancestry, with a deep, resonant sexy voice to boot!. He believed that men fell in love with their eyes while women fell in love with their ears. He was living proof of this. He was wise beyond words and always maintained, ‘win an argument, lose a friend!’ and practised it. Even though he didn’t ‘always agree with your point of view, he would defend to the death your right to believe in it,’ and lived it.
His one regret in Oak Grove was that he was never given a nickname by his peers. There was Dilly, Gildo, Dingo, Cammie, Chirriya and Archie, etc. Even the Headmaster was Monty, the masters Fuzzy, Fitzy and Horsey. The bearer was Garrmi, and Father Amelius, Horsekicker. The girls named their HMs Polly Wortham and Tootsie Garlah and a teacher Lemon Drops! I immediately dubbed him Corbie – see, easy! But he was unmoved. All he wanted was for his schoolmates to have done that. Rather belatedly, however, classmate Clifton Bastian recently nicknamed him Mister Oak Grove! He would have been proud to hear that.
During this time Patrick had travelled about 6-8 times to India and Oak Grove, usually in the chauffeured Mercedes limousine belonging to Vinod, where he was always warmly received and where his research began. He’d be given access to the OG Diaries, jotted down valuable notes, took copies, visited the Mussoorie and Landour gravesites for further information. He met with important residents in the area to further his research. He revisited Mr Edwards, ex master and Principal of OG and Allen Memorial schools, chatted and had tea with Ms Garlah (sister of the ex HM Girls School), met and discussed with author Ruskin Bond (got a copy of his book Days of Wine and Roses) and made friends with photographer, Ganesh Saili and recent ex Oak Grovian Rajiv Kapoor, now Dean of a Himalayan school, who said, words cannot describe Patrick adequately, he was the epitome of joy and laughter. Patrick also spent time with actor Victor Banerjee, the Academy Award nominee for his role in Passage to India. He gleaned a lot of local information on the history of The Queen of the Hills and Jharipani, recording all the changes. He met up with ex Oak Grovian, Venkat Gandikota, an influential intermediary between the Alma Mater, Railway Authorities and Government officials, and who organised most of the Jharipani reunions for ex Oak Grovians.
On his last visit to Oak Grove in 2009 for the school’s anniversary celebrations, Patrick was invited to make a speech to the senior boys and girls and, quite simply, enthralled them. The school then rewarded him with a Salver for captivating his audience with such wit and good humour and high standard of public speaking. It is hoped that this Salver would be accepted by the school on Patrick’s behalf as The Patrick Corbett Trophy to be awarded annually to the student who best aspires to these qualities. Hopefully, Patrick will also take his place in the Alumni Museum specifically set up in Oak Grove for outstanding ex students.
Success in life is not measured by material wealth or as Epicurus said, wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. Patrick in his lifetime never amassed wealth, he was not a materialist, silver and gold had he none, nor had he a couple of holiday homes, nor a sailing yacht, nor any large bank balance nor riches, but he sought to enrich the lives of others by spreading wisdom and knowledge, love and compassion and laughter and happiness. He was thus fulfilled.
Patrick’s favourite playwright wrote: All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts………. and Patrick had played his part well, part comedy, part tragedy and now the drama was unfolding.
Poet Longfellow wrote:
Life is real! Life is earnest! and the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul….
Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.
The final blow came when Patrick was struck down with an incurable illness. He bore it well with grace and dignity. In his life, he had played to many encores and curtain calls, now it was time to take the final bow. I held his hand, gently kissed his cheek, we whispered our goodbyes and he asked me to inform his dear friend Vinod that he and his family were in his thoughts to the end, and that he never forgot Oak Grove for it was forever ingrained in his soul. (Where else would an oak feel at home, if not in an oak grove?)
On 4 December 2011 Patrick quietly slipped away but his soul lingered for one last moment.
Peace filled the church, blessings filled the air, tears filled the eyes. Inside the coffin, a freshly picked deep red rose rested gently upon the breast where once a loving heart beat and love flowed. Outside, the school banner lovingly caressed the coffin and Patrick bore it honourably and did it proud.
The dulcet tones of the Lennon/McCartney song wafted through my mind and gently nourished and uplifted my weary soul:
There are places I remember all my life, though some have changed,
some forever, not for better, some have gone and some remain.
All these places had their moments with lovers and friends.
I can still recall, some are dead and some are living.
In my life I’ve loved them all.
But of all these friends and lovers,
there is no one compares with you and these memories
lose their meaning when I think of love as something new.
Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things
that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more!
Patrick’s soul still lingering began soaring, ever upward, ever onward to heights unknown, and somewhere up there in the ether and beyond a little cheeky faced, dimple cheeked cherub would be waiting, wings outstretched, eagerly waiting to embrace his loving and loyal school friend, promising fun.
The final curtain came down, the show was over, the race won, Patrick had left the building ….
Thank you, dear Oak Grovians, for staying with me to the end of my tribute to Patrick – A Mighty Oak.
I love you all dearly – but in my life I loved him more!
– Sheila Cameron (1955 Batch)
An abridged version of this tribute was printed in The Acorn, along with more tributes to Pat Corbett. This tribute was emailed by Sheila Cameron to Pat’s friends on April 14, 2012.