A tribute to the late John Keith Rae

This is the eulogy I delivered at the Memorial Service for the late John Keith Rae, held at St Andrew’s Anglican Church South Brisbane on Sunday 15 August, 2021.

When you visited John Keith Rae in his room at TriCare Annerley on Annerley Road, where he lived for the last period of his life, you noticed a few articles on the eastern wall. At the northern end of the wall was a medium sized TV attached to video and an internet connection to Foxtel. Next was a painting of his mother from shoulder up followed by a small-framed photo of his father in WWI military uniform. At the southern end was a picture, showing a country scene with a field, mountains, and a horse in the foreground and in distinctive letters across the bottom a Biblical text “Be still and know that I am God”. A member of St Andrew’s gave him this as a gift on the day he moved to TriCare Annerley. He had near him things which comforted him, things that were dear to his heart and connected him to the outside world.  

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Keith, always well-dressed, at an 8:30 am Sunday Service in 2012.

I met Keith in 2003. He attended the 8:30 am Sunday Service. He was always well-dressed, in a white shirt, tie, black trousers. In winter he wore a suit. Whenever it was his turn to read the scripture, he appeared dignified, serious, well prepared and spoke clearly. I was impressed. I got to know Keith during the times we shared fellowship at morning tea and subsequently through pastoral care visits from 2008 onwards. At that time, he lived at 19 Nathan Terrace, Yeerongpilly, in a boarding house where he had a room, shared amenities of shower and kitchen and an enclosed veranda. He was well liked by the owner and took on the role of caretaker. In the 1990s and early 2000s he lived in boarding houses in East Brisbane and West End and had similar roles. One Sunday he walked past St Andrew’s and decided to attend the next Sunday. In his words, “I was warmly welcomed and I felt comfortable” and those of us who spent time with him soon got to know and appreciate the character he was.

Foxtel helped him follow his beloved AFL “Swans” and all you had to do to get his approval was to wear red! He followed the cricket about which he was well informed for he had a library of books on the game, its players and umpires, some of which he loaned me to read. One day I was excitedly sharing about our recent trip to Mungindi where we saw the “One Ton Post”, the last post of the straight survey line of the border between Queensland and NSW before it follows the Barwon River. He cut in on me and said, “I’ve been there and the first night I was there I was asked to play league for Mungindi against Collarenebri, the next day”.

Keith was well travelled and knew his geography. He had been a truck driver for many years, a tent master with a circus company for 14 years with trips to New Zealand. I asked him one day if he could still do a “truckie’s knot”. He gave me a look of incredulity and then with a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle he said, “You’ll keep, mate!”. Keith had flown over Lake Eyre from Bankstown in Sydney, via Bourke and Birdsville to The Alice and back via Parkes where he took the controls for a while. He served in the Australian Merchant Navy for two years.

Keith spoke slowly, had a considered opinion and was a good listener. He loved a chat and loved company. He had a way of relaxing you and showing his interest in you and your family. Keith had a way of ingratiating himself with the ladies, probably because of the previously said personal characteristics but more so because of his gentlemanly and chivalrous behaviour. He always called the ladies “Love” and he often said to me “Now when you get home give the little lady a kiss for me.” He had a happy disposition and a dry sense of humour. Keith always had a sincere “Thank you” for whatever people did for him …the lift to church, homemade cakes, an invitation to coffee or a concert and visits from parishioners. At TriCare, he got along with most of the staff and appreciated the opportunity to be a helper (for as long as he was able).

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With Keith, on the occasion of his 90th birthday celebration, at the home of Doug and Robyn Callaghan.

Keith was a PK, a Preacher’s Kid. His father was a WWI Army Chaplain and subsequently an Anglican minister. He spoke with pride about both of his parents. Keith kept family ties. In the time I knew him, on a number of occasions he flew down to Melbourne to stay for two weeks or so with his nieces at Frankston and Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula.

The Bible reading from 2 Timothy 3:14-17 that Robyn brought to us reflects Keith’s early family life “because you know those from whom you have learned it, how from infancy you have known the Holy scripture”, and the value he subsequently placed on the scripture. Keith read his Bible and loved to read the Bible in church services.

Keith began reading the scriptures at an early age in church services with his father, although the first time he read, without much notice, he filled in for the warden who couldn’t make the service. In subsequent years Keith purchased and used books on pronunciation of Biblical places and names. He took advice from the book, “How to hold an audience without a rope” by well-known Sydney Christian author, TV and radio presenter and journalist Clifford Warne. We can all attest to Keith’s style of scripture reading. It was practised, well measured, clear and respectful. Keith read the scriptures as a service and encouragement to us till he was well into his nineties. In this regard, John Keith Rae was a hero to me.

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Keith stood at this lectern and read the scriptures on many an occasion.

Keith had a personal faith and was happy for you to pray with him and for him. I perceived over time at TriCare, that the text on his wall “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 40:10) was of great comfort to him for he faced many frustrations at times – waiting for assistance in the shower, noise in the corridors, lack of respect from other clients and routines he had to relearn following his frequent stays in the PA Hospital. He valued the visits of St Andrew’s folk and their interest in his personal and spiritual welfare. He always asked, “How are things at St Andrew’s?”

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Keith loved St Andrew’s but was unable to attend services in his latter years.

The hymns we chose for this Memorial Service reflect Keith’s association with us and with the wider Christian heritage, thought and experience. “For all the saints who from their labours rest” speaks of giving praise and thanks to God, personal confession of faith, help in times of need, the communion of saints and hope of the coming joyful unification of the church when Christ returns. The closing hymn, “In Christ Alone” reflects the trust and hope Keith had in his Lord.  But more importantly it’s a challenge for each of us to put our trust in the Lord Jesus, and to subsequently live holy and worthy lives as the Holy Spirit works in us and walks with us.

Keith was admitted for palliative care at the Princess Alexandra Hospital on July 6 and died on July 9, aged 94. I was advised on July 6 but couldn’t visit due to lockdown restrictions however Ian was able to visit him. When Ian phoned Keith’s niece on July 27, she confirmed that Keith had died and had already been cremated, his ashes scattered near his sister’s site at the Mt Gravatt cemetery.

As a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ, we loved him, for he was one of us.

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