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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Vale Rod Lee


(noun: a tribute to someone who has just died)

A thing that is so hard to write and deliver. And those not giving the eulogy will provide you with much instruction; keep it short, don’t make it too sad, focus on the good things, remember it’s your perspective but do include the following three hundred points!

And don’t cry. Well having just given the eulogy for my brother-in-law Rodney John Lee, let me tell you I failed that last instruction. For the past 18 years, 8 months and one week Rod has been an essential part of our lives. Greg, my husband and Rod’s brother, has been his guardian and manager. Our lives changed on the day of the accident. At some point I explained to our children that if Rod survived his injuries this would become our journey. One where we would find out how strong, persistent and demanding we could be. That we would have to become a well-oiled machine, taking on roles we didn’t want nor thought we were capable of doing. It would be a journey full of sadness, hard truths and triumphs. One that required grit and sacrifice on our part.

And it was all of those things. There were long nights of staring into the dark wondering if we could actually do the things that had to be done. In the early days there were enormous issues to do with Rod’s business, his case against the insurer, battles with hospitals and government agencies and decisions regarding long term care of a man who appeared to be going to spend his life severely disabled and most likely vegetative.

Persistence paid off. Nearly 19 years of actively seeking a better life for Rod resulted in him improving cognitively and although remaining triplegic (3 paralyzed limbs) he had a life predominantly out of institutions, living in his own home with a tribe of support workers, allied health professionals and medical practitioners. And us. Greg most definitely the CEO of the Company of Rod.

The eulogy below is the one I gave at his funeral. I got all the way through to the end and then the sadness did catch up with me. Mainly because it was about the one unfulfilled promise. The inability to move him to the coast to take in the views of the bay hangs above us still. It is what is left of the weight of duty and of love. We often talk about how we have felt these last few years and now that Rod is gone the onus of responsibility is almost finished and there should be a lightness. In all honesty there is a lightening but something heavy remains. There is a weight that we have yet to define. Exhaustion, grief or fretting about what happens next. Or it might be guilt. Not for the things we didn’t do because there wasn’t much we didn’t take on. Possibly it is for the things we could not do. We could not reverse the outcome of his injury nor could we lessen the impact of his shrinking world and actual loneliness. It hurts me to say it, but Rod was actually quite lonely. Not because he lacked care and being surrounded by people who loved him and who wanted the best for him under the circumstances. It was a loneliness born of his injury and disability. It was something that despite our little family being there on call every day we could not solve. And I can’t even adequately describe it other than to say he needed relationships of his own making with people who were there for this version of himself; not the memory of who he was or there because it was simply the right thing to do.

This we could not fix. And I didn’t talk about it in the eulogy because the sadness of it actually hurts me. Perhaps it always will.

The text of the eulogy follows:

The Eulogy

Part One

To begin I’d just like to acknowledge those who were not able to make it today primarily due to Covid restrictions. Our son, and Rod’s godson, Patrick is in Melbourne; Robyn Sillis Rod’s auntie is in Townsville and his niece Leanne is in England. All sending their love to us here.

Rod’s story is not an easy one to tell. It’s like trying to summarise the plot of a complicated three-part series. Each part with its own distinct themes, characters and highs and lows. There have been a number of low points but today I’m only going to give you the highlights reel.

Part one started right here in Bungendore.

As a little boy one might have described Rod as a vigorous, challenging child. Known for the odd tantrum and always having the knees out of his pants. As Greg is 7 years older than Rod there was only one year that overlapped in their whole school life. When Rod was in Kindergarten and Greg in Year 6 the nuns at St Joseph’s would often send a message to have Greg sent down to the kinder room to ‘deal’ with whatever infraction had occurred. Now I’m not sure how Greg dealt with him. Quiet reasoning or a well-aimed smack but right from the beginning big brother was already working things out.

Perhaps the most revealing example of what characterized Rod’s childhood is the story that occurred right here, in the front row of St. Mary’s. One Sunday morning, running late for Mass, Margaret decided that her new handbag was too flat and to plump it out she grabbed the first thing from the washing basket and stashed it into her bag. Being the last in they had to make their way to the front and in a moment of reverential prayer Rod removed the item of clothing and entertained the congregation by lassoing Margaret’s bra about his head causing a near riot of laughter in the church. I love the story but have never really understood why she chose a bra!

Rod didn’t ever really love school. He was a bit of a school avoider when he got to St. Edmunds. Instead of making his way to school he would often go to his grandmother’s in Queanbeyan and spend the day being spoiled by Mardi. If Bill, his dad, dropped in Rod would hide in a cupboard until he left. No surprises that Rod left school as soon as he could and followed his dad into the sand game. He loved driving trucks and working in the quarries and for Corkhill brothers and eventually in his own business. He was a well-liked hard worker who was never short of an opinion or avoided an opportunity to talk. I think his unofficial nickname was ‘have-a-chat’!

And even though he might have been immersed in a rather masculine world of work he was definitely his mamma’s boy. Rod always dropped into Margaret’s for a chat or food and he was really devoted to her. When she broke her wrist, it was Rod at her side in emergency (well temporarily at her side). At hearing her cry out in pain Rod went down like a proverbial ton of bricks. Margaret was always amused by the fact that when she looked over to bed in the next cubicle there was Rod being brought round by the medical staff who had been attending to her. Don’t think we ever let him forget it.

Further to the adventure Rod decided to volunteer to drive trucks for Care Australia during the Bosnian War in 1993. It was a profound experience for Rod and though I’m sure had some extraordinary times he was deeply shaped by the tragedy that unfolded while he was there. He met his friend Kym Ryan during this time and he and his wife Rosemarye remained close to Rod until Kym’s recent death. Rosemarye who is here today remained a great support to Rod throughout the years.

He wasn’t particularly lucky in his relationships but he always counted himself lucky to have five daughters.

Part two started with a tragedy.

Rod’s accident in 2001 was pivotal for all of us. I’m not going to focus on the difficulties for they were many but more on the positives that emerged as Rod improved over the years.

This chapter includes mobile phones, watches, caps, laptops and razors. At the end there were many of each. Greg’s eternal search for the right mobile phone probably has him on some red flag list as a habitual importer of phones. We could never seem to get a phone that suited Rod entirely. Buttons and flip hinges, sizes and aps were subjected to rigorous treatment. They were dropped, splashed and abandoned with regularity. But the phone was Rod’s lifeline. It was one thing he felt truly in charge of and every conversation started with ‘guess what I was thinking’ or ‘I have a question.’ Rod would call Greg 10 times a day (rough underestimate). It was a part of Greg’s day to take Rod’s calls whenever and wherever we were. We’ve even sent him on his way with a mobile phone today.

Laptops didn’t survive spilled coffee. He loved watches and we updated them too. Caps; too many to count. And razors as he like to look his best and shave himself. In fact on the last morning Rod was in bed shaving himself with the razor he recently bought. Greg told him to just go and buy a razor a month or so ago encouraging him to choose for himself. $800 later we were wondering if the new razor could actually do the washing and fold it afterwards, contact the internet or perhaps run the international space station!

Rod became a regular at the Canberra Raiders home games. And while he started as a St. George fan we gradually turned him to the green side hence the two jerseys on his coffin. He was a bit of a fickle fan when the two sides played each other. Supporting the team who won on the day.

Each year we would take Rod to Sydney for a long weekend. A show, dinner out, nice hotel and something special like a harbour cruise or whale watching. We didn’t realise that Rod would become Sydney’s harshest theatre critic. Every show he fell asleep. Usually at the most climactic moment in the show. How he slept through Les Misérables was never understood. The trips were like a military incursion; lots of equipment, two carers and planning down to the last minute. However, there was one spectacular hiccough a few years ago. The company we hired equipment from sent the wrong lifter. Even when Greg tried it out he couldn’t be lifted off the floor. So, we had to go to plan B for getting Rod out of his chair and into bed. We enlisted the help of two burley hotel security guards who were very keen to give us a lot of advice about what we should and shouldn’t be doing. We didn’t have the heart to tell them we only needed their brawn not their wisdom. But like all the problems over the years, solutions were found, Rod would laugh at us worrying about such things. He knew Greg would work it out.

It was a similar process when we would take Rod for a swim at the south coast. But this time we had the support of the Broulee Surfers Surf Club patrol who loved to see Rod get in the water. It was quite an experience. It was truly freeing for Rod to take on the waves with the support of the lifesavers who gave up their time to make it happen. His last swim in February was probably his best. Maybe because his carer Jerome braved the cold water to swim along side Rod. The only small problem was that the lifesavers had to rescue Jerome from being swamped from a particularly big wave. Rod loved it.

Perhaps the most significant part of Rod’s life in this phase was his book. Over the last few years Rod would spend his time writing a book about his life. It commenced with his life in Bungendore, his company and time in Bosnia and then migrated into an encyclopedic description of every sort of truck ever invented. He insisted that he was not plagiarizing but writing everything in his own words. It is a considerable thing. I teased him constantly about finalizing the book. I said to him that it would be so big that readers would need a forklift to be able to turn the pages. Put a full stop I’d say. Finish this one and start a second book. When I saw him on the Saturday before he died I went through the same discussion after I read his latest pages. Some how he had migrated to paleolithic man and we had a bit of a laugh about how the book was now covering every subject imaginable. Put a full stop Rod! Let’s get this one printed and bound and start book two.

But we ran out of time and the full stop came but not quite in the way we had talked about. We always kept our promises to Rod so in the next few months we will take the writings of Rod Lee to a printer and he will have his book and so will we.

Part Three

Not the chapter we were actually expecting. Over the last year or so we were planning for Rod to come and live near us at the coast. He wanted a sea view and he often spoke of this move being the new chapter in his life. His house was underway. We imagined that we would all grow old or older together having a wine watching the waves roll in.

But this time Rod went his own way. On his terms.


So that was the end of my tribute. So much more could have been said. One day perhaps it will be a book of its own.

Special thanks to:

All our friends who walked this way with us. You have been absolutely rock solid in your support. To the carers from the agencies over the years but particularly The Disability Trust who we trusted most unreservedly with Rod’s care. He loved all of you. To the doctors, physios, OTs and psychologist who help Rod over the years we give our gratitude. He might have complained about therapy, but he did like to be the star of the show.

Also, to the Broulee Surf Club for your support of Rod and we hope that many people with disability get to have the time of their lives taking on the waves with your help. He will most definitely miss his post-swim fish and chips!

Most importantly to Greg Lee. Brother, guardian, manager, worrier and warrior. He didn’t often say thank you for all you did but he knew his life was richer for your love and care. You can finally turn your phone off!

Vale Rod.

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