Our Kind of PeopleThis edition of "Our Kind of People" is dedicated to the memory of John Maltas. His son's eulogy at his fathers funeral speaks volumes for the man known and respected by so many and from a family synonymous with Rhodesia.
EULOGY FOR JOHN MALTAS DELIVERED BY HIS SON, JOHN, AT HIS FUNERAL ON 12TH JANUARY 1995 IN ST MICHAEL'S ANGLICAN CHURCH, MT PLEASANT, WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
The difficulty in preparing a eulogy for one's father is what to say about a person who has known you for all your life. You know that you can remember the good times and the times you would rather forget. The remarkable thing about this eulogy is that it is so closely intertwined with the history of what was Rhodesia before the transition to Zimbabwe. This makes it a fitting tribute to my Dad who loved his country dearly and always worked for the greater good. It therefore behoves me to present it as a history of his life and achievements over the past 84 years.
Dad was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia on 19th July 1910. His parents, Pantelis and Calliope were Greek Cypriots. Pantelis was a graduate of the American University of Beirut where he trained to be a teacher. His mother, Calliope, was the product of mixed Greek/English parenthood. Dad had two brothers, George and Hercules (Molly) and one sister, Polly, who is his only surviving relative. I am setting the scene, so to speak, because all these seemingly unrelated facts played a unique part in Dad's life and had a habit of cropping up in the most unusual ways throughout his life.
Dad's mother brought her children up as Anglicans but also made sure that they understood the Greek Orthodox faith. My grandfather insisted that the family only speak Greek in the home and English when conversing with their friends. From what I remember of my grandfather he was a well built man with a beard, so I am in good company, and a crewcut hairstyle. In later years I thought, rather unflatteringly though, that he looked like Baron Von Hindenberg, the German First World War Commander-in-chief. Dad was very attached to his mother and because of her hard work for the church, joined the Cathedral choir as a young boy. Some forty years later I too joined the same choir in 1951.
Dad's early life was spent in small bush towns in Rhodesia where he developed a love for the veld. In his early years he hunted game until, under the influence of my mother many years later he became a devoted conservationist. In 1921, or thereabouts, he attended the Salisbury Boys High School to be renamed Prince Edward after a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1923. Up to the time of his death he was the oldest living old boy of the school.
In 1927 Dad left school to join the firm Harry S. Hopkins & Co in Salisbury as a messenger boy cum office clerk. he went to night school to learn shorthand and typing so that he could act as a secretary to the office manager, John Bester. The company handled insurance for the Norwich Union as agents, and also held agencies for Cadbury's chocolates. He worked his way up in the company reaching the position of managing director some thirty years later.
In the early part of 1931 Dad met a particularly lovely girl called Lorna Douglas. She was on holiday from boarding school and from what I have heard fell instantly in love with her. She left Rhodesia with her parents to return to England and they corresponded frequently until 1936 when she returned to Salisbury. They were married in the Cathedral of St Mary's and All Saints on the 20th February 1937. This was a unique marriage service in that the Bishop of Mashonaland and a Greek Orthodox priest officiated together. Tragically my grandmother, Calliope, died in the same year of cancer at the relatively young age of 51.
I arrived on the scene on the 31st March 1938 after a difficult birth. Dad celebrated my birth in style I am told.
In 1939 Southern Rhodesia was the first country in the British Empire after the United Kingdom, to declare war on Germany. Dad had been in the Territorial Army since 1928 and was a sergeant major at the outbreak of war. Over 95% of the white male population volunteered for active service and the government had to bring in conscription to keep men at home!! Dad being married was told that as his two unmarried brothers had volunteered he would have to remain behind with the home defence battalions. He told me many years later that he was bitterly disappointed that he could not go. George (his brother) joined the Kings African Rifles and saw service in North Africa, Europe and Burma where he was badly wounded. Molly (his other brother) joined the Royal Air Force and flew Lancaster bombers over Germany. Polly (his sister) joined the Southern Rhodesian Air Force and trained pilots on instrument flying with Links Trainers. Dad became an army instructor in the Rhodesia Regiment with the rank of lieutenant. My earliest memories of him at this time were of him in his armoured car leaving the drill hall each weekend to train the young troopers going north to do battle with Rommel's Afrika Korps.
In 1941 Dad joined the Salisbury Rotary Club. This was to become a major step in his life and he remained a member for 54 years up to the time of his death. In 1954/55 he was made President of the club and devoted his life to many worthwhile projects related to Rotary. In 1974/75 he was elected District Governor of District 9250 and visited Lake Placid in the USA where he met many Australians who subsequently became his friends here. Before he died he specifically requested me to ask some of them to act as pall bearers at his funeral. During his time in Rotary I remember a dedicated tireless worker with many evening meetings being held at our home in Avondale. I attended many functions as his guest and I know that he truly believed in the movement ably assisted by his Rotary Anne, Lorna, my mother. Rotary afforded him the opportunity to travel internationally which he loved to do as he enjoyed the company of people from a broad base of ethnic backgrounds.
Dad never forgot his Greek roots and became president of the Hellenic Community in 1944. His father had been its first president at the turn of the century. During this time he and my mother opened their home to the many members of the Royal Hellenic Air Force who were trained in Rhodesia to fight against Nazi Germany. After the war he helped many members of the Greek community in their business affairs and provided valuable advice to them. In recognition for his efforts in this regard he was awarded the order of St Mark by the Greek Orthodox Church.
After the war Southern Rhodesia experienced a terrific boom as settlers from Europe poured into the country. Dad was terribly busy in his job and I didn't see much of him, especially when my mother and I went to England to stay with my grandparents in 1946/7. When we returned he was even more wrapped up in his work and I missed his presence at many of my school and sporting functions. He was, however, a passionate fisherman and I was taken on camping trips into the wildest parts of Rhodesia to fish for bream and tiger fish which gave me an everlasting love of the bush. I longed for him to play cricket with me as other boy's dads did but this was not to be. In 1952 I was sent to an Anglican boarding school in Cape Town, South Africa so again we were not together. To me these were the lost years and whilst he always provided for all my wants, and I never went without, we became virtual strangers during those teenage years.
I returned home in 1956 to join the Federal Government of the Central African Federation. Dad was elected President of the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce for the year 1960/61 and worked hard for the business community representing their interests to the Federal Government.
At the end of 1963 the Central African Federation was disbanded and the Rhodesian Government appointed Dad to be Chairman of the national Export Council. Little did we know how exciting that job would become in the intervening years. At this time the Rhodesian Government was negotiating with the British government for independence and these negotiations broke down in 1965. On the 11th November 1965 Rhodesia unilaterally declared its independence and the United Nations applied sanctions. Dad was tasked with breaching these sanctions and achieved high success on the oil front. I had been transferred from the military to the Prime Minister's Office in an intelligence role and Dad and I had many interesting conversations. He left on numerous clandestine missions to Europe and he worked hard for his country at this time. In 1971 he was awarded the Independence Commemorative Decoration (ICD) for his services rendered to Rhodesia.
He was also appointed to the board of the Rhodesia Television Limited. Operating a national TV network facinated him and he had a major input into the type of programmes that should be transmitted to the viewing public.
In 1967 I married Claire Sommerville and over the next few years Dad experienced the joys of grandparenthood with the birth of my children Camilla (1969), Louise (1971), Joanna (1974 on his birthday) and David (1978). I shall never forget the family Christmas celebrations at my parents home in Avondale. He was tremendously proud that his grandchildren represented the fourth generation of the Maltas family in Rhodesia. He related stories of our pioneering past which were fascinating as it was part of the living history of Britains imperial past in Africa.
In 1979 Dad visited Australia with my Mother on a Rotary tour. He knew that I was unhappy with political events sweeping our country and in 1980 I left for Australia, on his advice, on a exploratory visit. As a result of this my family and I migrated to Australia in 1981. Thereafter, Mum and Dad visited us regularly. These became some of the happiest memories of Dad and we grew closer after each visit. We had time to enjoy each others company and to make up for those lost years. He watched his grandson playing cricket and his granddaughters in their various persuits. He joined us on family holidays and outings and he told me many times about his interesting life. He was at my graduation at Curtain University in 1994 and told me how proud he was of me.
In 1992 he was diagnosed as having cancer and I realised that our time would be limited. He was determined to tough it out and so began the hardest battle of his life. He refused to give in to the excruciating pain of this terrible disease. I pleaded with him to come and settle in Australia with the rest of his family so that he could see out his final years in peace and happiness. After a long hard battle with the Immigration department my parents were granted a visa to live here and he took up residence at Lakeside Villas in October 1994. He wryly commented to me whilst we were doing battle with the bureaucrats that "he would arrive in a dugout canoe next time and claim refugee status". I was so happy that he was able to celebrate Christmas with his family and I will treasure the photographs of the occasion. In early January 1995 he was taken off all medication and his condition slowly deteriorated. Surrounded by all his family he passed to his rest at 1820 hours on the 8th January 1995.
When I started this eulogy I said that I would attempt to give a brief pen picture of his wonderful full life. He loved the country of his birth and served her well. He loved his family and taught them the meaning of integrity, duty and the art of living life to the full. To his friends he was a mentor to whom they could always turn for advice and help. Most of all he was a gentleman who believed passionately in the dictum that if you could not say a kind word about others then it was better to remain silent.
A truly wonderful human being who is now reunited with his beloved mother, father and brothers George and Molly.
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