Brandon Chaplin SCA Port Adelaide AFL chaplain shares his eulogy from the recent funeral service of Phil Walsh.
I have been the Chaplain of PAFC since it began playing in the AFL in 1997.
In 1999 Phil Walsh came to our club. I remember the first meeting well. Mark Williams introduced us. It was courteous, polite…brief. Phil was a man on a mission and after he walked off from this greeting, Choco said to me, words to the effect, “Good luck with him, he won’t be the easiest bloke you’ll deal with as the Chaplain!?” The suggestion of course that this was one hard nut to crack.
And so he was. For a little while. Sports Chaplains aren’t easily scared.
Soon after another character turned up at our club. Dean Bailey. He was an altogether different kettle of fish. He actually became the catalyst for my friendship with Phil.
Each pre-season meant 2 or 3 time trials over 2.2 or 3.0km at the track near Adelaide Oval. This was a test of fitness. The main event was whether it would be Kane Cornes or Michael Wilson as the victor – or any challenger to Kane. But there was another battle that was every bit as fierce at the back of the pack – Walsh vs the ‘Padre’ – which was what Dean liked to call me.
Sometimes it was Walsh and sometimes it was the ‘Padre’ who won the spoils. It was usually neck and neck – each as determined to beat the other. Nonetheless it sparked something enduring.
Before training I would often pop in and watch video with him. Occasionally I’d join Phil and a group for lunch. In the off season if he was not in some exotic overseas location he would come up to the cafe in my church for lunch. As a footy nerd I could talk footy, but we could talk about most things – except Japanese linguistics.
There was a phrase he used to trot out before I went to do my Chaplain thing, or what I like to call “getting in the way without getting in the way”. And it was this “Spread The Love, spread the love”.
Of course this was a huge endorsement of the Chaplaincy role – As Mark Purser at the Crows and Paul Morrison at the West Coast Eagles can testify, but it felt like so much more.
In 2004 one of my best friends and an Elder in my church in Blackwood had a heart attack and died out walking. His name was Peter Sullivan. He was 46. He had 4 kids under 16. It devastated me and rocked my church.
That week it was Phil who was the Chaplain to me. He discerned my grief, understood the moment, and listened and listened.
He was spreading his love.
Phil moved to the West Coast but we remained in contact. It is well documented that he stared death in the face in Peru at the hands of a bus. The already mellowing Phil Walsh, gained an accelerated perspective on what was truly important. He had a refined sensitivity to tragedy.
Our football club faced a tsunami of grief in September 2012. That’s not long ago.
Just an hour after I performed the Memorial for John McCarthy on Alberton Oval to 2,500 people the phone rang from WA – it was Phil Walsh. “How you going?” He was spreading his love.
Phil called me on his last full day alive – Thursday 2nd July about 11.30am . I was about to hike up some mountain you’ve never heard of in western NSW with my wife Linda. He was unsettled, restless, disturbed. He wanted to catch up with me, face to face. It was to be my last conversation with him. He was gone that night.
As a Chaplain of a footy club and as a Pastor of a church, by definition we are ‘theologians’ – that’s with a small ‘th’. None of this shakes my faith in a loving God who has revealed himself in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. But Let me tell you I am as bewildered, confused, upset, and angry as the next person about people who are gone before their time. I am deeply grieved.
It sounds so football cliche, as if it did come out of the mouth of Mark Williams, or Dean Bailey, or Matthew Primus, or John Worsfold, or Ken Hinkley, or Phil Walsh…but there are only certain things that we can control.
I performed the wedding of Amy Gillett – a delightful, lovely, beautiful person. I’ve mentioned John McCarthy, Dean Bailey, my friend Peter Sullivan. Phillip Hughes was taken before our eyes last summer. And now Phil. All gone before we expected it. All a shock. All dearly, deeply loved.
We never know what is around the corner. But there are things we can control and decisions we can make. We must Forgive those who need forgiving. Embrace those who need embracing. We must Bury any hatchets. We must Put down any weapons. We Must Keep short reconciliation accounts. And Listen to those who are hurting.
And most of all, in the words of Phil Walsh, “Spread the love”. Spread the love.