GREG RAY: Good karma’s Legacy

ONE of the nicest things that can happen, I think, is when the positive consequence of a past good deed catches up with you.

Perhaps you had forgotten all about some help or advice you dispensed and when – years later – the karma boomerang returns to you with news of how much your effort was valued, the warm feeling is hard to beat.

Imagine how wonderful it felt for 100-year-old Novocastrian Harry Bennett last week when he read a letter from a 71-year-old former Novocastrian who now lives in Canada.

That man, Bob Cotterill, had read an article on the Newcastle Herald website about Harry Bennett turning 100, and instantly recalled an incident from the 1950s.

Harry – who served in the military during World War II – returned like so many determined to make sure the sacrifices of conflict were translated into something good for society. 

In particular, he felt a strong responsibility to do what he could for the widows and children of other servicemen who had not returned from the war.

He joined Legacy, that organisation we sometimes take for granted when we see its representatives selling pins and badges on the streets on Anzac Day, and was paired up with families who needed help and support.

Young Bob Cotterill was a member of one of those families.

When Bob saw the article on the Herald website about Harry Bennett turning 100, he was moved to write to his former Legatee.

Here’s some of what Bob wrote to Harry:

“Way back in the 1950s you became my Legacy guardian (as well as of my two brothers), and it has been a source of considerable regret for me that I never thanked you or the Legacy organisation for what you did for me and us.

“So I am thanking you now, from the depths of my being, for providing such a support and such assistance over those difficult years. 

“You might not recall advising me to ‘get the chip off my shoulder’ (I was 16 or 17 and in full-blown teen revolt), but I do.”

Bob recalled those words being spoken as the pair stood “on that side verandah in Waratah”. 

And while some might have shrugged off the advice instead of the chip, Bob didn’t. Instead, he took the words to heart.

When Harry read Bob’s letter, tears flowed.

‘‘I remember him all right,’’ Harry told me.

‘‘He was of an age where a lot of fellows are easily led and can go in the wrong direction.

‘‘I felt he was going wrong and I had a long talk to him. I told him to get rid of the chip on his shoulder and to think of his mother and his late father.’’

Bob went to teachers’ college, travelled to Canada, ‘‘was waylaid by a charming French-Canadian lass to whom I have been married for 48 years, and achieved some measure of success in the field of education’’. 

‘‘That I have been able to know such a rich and rewarding life is due to the influence of several key people who helped in various ways to make me the man I am ... and you are definitely one of them ... the chip is long gone, so thank you for that, and thank Legacy again as well. 

‘‘You are remembered with the greatest respect and no little affection,’’ Bob wrote.

Harry told me about quite a few of the boys, girls and widows he tried to help during his time with Legacy.

Some of them he helped in quiet ways they probably never knew about, using contacts and a word behind the scenes to fix problems and open doors.

Some he followed through their lives, but he lost touch with others.

No wonder Legacy gave Harry a huge bunch of flowers on his 100th birthday.

‘‘I’ve written back to Bob,’’ Harry told me, ‘‘telling him how proud I am of what he’s done and what he’s achieved’’.

Must be a great gift, to reach the age of 100 and find the fruits of a long life of good deeds awaiting you.   


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