“Death is a part of all our lives. Whether we like it or not, it is bound to happen. Instead of avoiding thinking about it, it is better to understand its meaning. We all have the same body, the same human flesh, and therefore we will all die. There is a big difference, of course, between natural death and accidental death, but basically death will come sooner or later. If from the beginning your attitude is ‘Yes, death is part of our lives’, then it may be easier to face.” - Dalai Lama
Today I had a meeting in the City and right after it I chanced upon the State Funeral of Jim Stynes. This was happening in St Paul’s Cathedral and the police had cordoned off the intersection, stopping all traffic and putting in barriers to manage the large crowd of mourners who had assembled there. It was a solemn and quiet occasion, with the crowds looking genuinely involved and distressed. It was something difficult to ignore and it was even more difficult not to become involved in it. Even tourists who had no idea who Jim Stynes was, stood and watched with interest. I had three people (two with American accents) ask me whose funeral it was. Fortunately, I had my pocket camera with me and I was able to take some photographs of the event, which you can find posted on my photography blog here.
James "Jim" Stynes (Jimbo) OAM (born 23 April 1966) was an Irish former professional Australian Rules footballer who was more recently a businessman, philanthropist, writer, youth worker, qualified teacher and Chairman of Melbourne Football Club since 2008. Jim Stynes was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2009 and demonstrated great courage by fighting his cancer ever since, and inspired others to do the same.
Born in Dublin, Stynes was brought from Ireland to Australia in the mid 1980s as part of a Ron Barassi inspired program to recruit Irish footballers for the Melbourne Football Club. Described as “Australia’s most successful sporting experiment”, he played his first senior game in 1987 and retired 264 games later in 1998. Jim Stynes devoted his life to helping young Australians. In 1994, he co-founded The Reach Foundation with film director Paul Currie. The Reach Foundation is a non-profit, non-denominational organisation which is committed to supporting young people between 8 -18 years. The aim of Reach is to support young people on their journey to find their own truth, and to follow their dreams.
Reach achieves this by creating a “safe space” for groups of young people to develop trust, openness and the freedom to express their concerns, perceptions, fears and aspirations and to recognise that they are not alone. Reach and Stynes worked together to encourage teenagers to realise their potential and discover their purpose through being made to feel valued and special in a positive and supportive learning environment. Stynes’ professional interest in human behaviour and youth initiative programs over the past 16 years took him all over Australia, America and Ireland.
Jim has received numerous awards for his work with Reach and in the community including Melbournian of the Year (2010), Order of Australia and Churchill Fellowship (2007), and Victorian of the Year (2001 and 2003). On the football field, Stynes entire AFL career was played with the Melbourne Football Club as a ruckman. He is an official legend of the club, being a member of its Team of the Century. His honours include the 1991 Brownlow Medal and four Melbourne Football Club Best & Fairest awards (1991, 1994, 1995, 1997), equalling the club record. His most extraordinary achievement was playing an AFL record-breaking 244 consecutive games between Round 17 1987 and Round 4 1998. Jim was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2003.
In 2004, Stynes’ business life led him with business partner and friend Hugh Ellis to form Pelican and Penguin Childcare. Childcare was a great fit for Jim who saw a unique opportunity when he became concerned over the quality of care provided by some of the larger childcare chains. Beginning with one childcare centre, the pair expanded their business throughout Victoria and Queensland. In September 2010, the inspirational “Every Heart Beats True - The Jim Stynes Story” was released premiering on Channel Nine nationally. The documentary communicated Stynes’ remarkable story.
On 2nd July 2009, Stynes informed the public in a press conference that he had developed cancer. A lump in his back was shown to be melanoma and tests revealed that his cancer had metastasised. He made it clear that he was not stepping down from his role as President of the Melbourne Football Club but instead was taking a break to seek treatment. On 4th April 2010 it was revealed that his condition had worsened and three days later he had surgery for brain metastases. Stynes continued to work during his treatment and participated in the filming of a television documentary about his life and his battle with cancer. Stynes died at his St Kilda home on 20th March 2012, aged 45. He will be cremated, and his ashes scattered at a “treasured spot” he chose before he died. Stynes tackled his cancer in the same courageous manner that he handled all other major challenges in his life. He dealt with the debilitating treatments with fortitude and forbearance and as well as dealing with his own disease, he inspired other sufferers with cancer to fight with all their strength.
Melbourne Football Club players, wearing the club blazers that Stynes had presented to them only days before he died, formed a guard of honour as the hearse drove down Swanston St. In a ceremony that celebrated Stynes’ life, tears mixed with laughter as family and friends remembered the man who came from Ireland as a teenager and left his mark on AFL. The crowd applauded as the hearse was driven to the MCG, where a private wake will be held for family and friends in the Jim Stynes room.
The following poem was read during the funeral service and is fitting for a man who gave so much to so many and inspired even more with his full and fulfilling life. Vale, Jim Stynes…
Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye – 1932