A celebration of Gary's life took place in the St Bede's College gymnasium at 1pm on Friday 6 May.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony looks on the body of his slain hero and says:
“His life was gentle, and elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’”
I can think of no epithet or epitaph more fitting for Gary Lennon. “This was a man!” Gary’s son Stephen, and his great friend Kevin Ford have spoken eloquently of Gary’s qualities as a family man and a contributor to the community. I want to provide the context for all of what they said. First and foremost Gary Lennon was a man of faith. His faith was shared and nurtured by you, Claire, and there is real poignancy in your renewal of marriage vows to each other a few weeks ago --- strength and hope in being at Gary’s side to help him finish the race. Gary was unashamedly Catholic, and his faith permeated every moment of his life. The gentle, faithful, loving husband to Claire for fifty-five years, the man of example, common sense, wisdom and support to his four children, his delight in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his active role in what was the St Joseph’s parish St Vincent de Paul, his thirty-one years here at St Bede’s --- all of this was in the context of his faith. His faith was why he was the man that he was. He attended Mass on a daily basis when it was available, and Fr Allan, I know I speak for Claire in thanking you for ministering to him with Holy Communion and Anointing so regularly in his last weeks, right up to mere minutes before he died. He valued deeply your gentle and respectful presence.
Secondly, Gary Lennon was a man of prayer. He prayed often. His every day at Bede’s began with ten to fifteen minutes in the old Chapel. He didn’t make a show of it --- most people would not have known he even did it. You couldn’t ever say that he wore his faith on his sleeve. He wore his faith, rather, deep in his heart. He believed in the instant efficacy of prayer. One one occasion, when, amazingly, he was getting nowhere with a very difficult boy, he put his head inside my office and said: “You’re the professional pray-er. We need prayers for a result --- by lunch time! And I do remember once at St Bede’s Feast Day Mass I happened to notice in the congregation an old boy whom I hadn’t seen in years. I knew Gary would be interested so I said to him afterwards: “Did you notice so-and-so there at Mass today?” He glared at me and said: “I had my head down saying my prayers, and so should’ve you!” Then the wry grin and “Happy days.”
It has been humbling for Gary’s family to read the extraordinary number of tributes that have appeared in the Old Boys Facebook page in the last few days. And today, when I look around, I see so many of you old boys who have come to pay your respects. The word I hear about Gary most often is that he was fair. Yes, we all know the hard persona, but says everyone, he was fair. What that means is that he was honest, he was just, he was consistent. These are the qualities of a man of faith. And I challenge you to ask yourself why you have turned up in such numbers today, when, let’s face it, you might not do that for many others of your past teachers? I think the reason is that each one of us, deep down, aspires to those qualities --- we want to be honest, we want to be just, we want to be fair, but so often we fail. And then, when we see those qualities so clear and present in someone like Gary Lennon, we want so strongly to identify with him. That is how the Holy Spirit moves in us through someone like Gary Lennon.
The man of faith, the man of prayer --- Gary Lennon was also a man who understood that real leadership in the context of faith is about serving others. Gary’s leadership, as teacher, as Senior Dean, then Senior Master, Deputy Rector, Acting-Rector, was all expressed in service. As a young priest and teacher here at St Bede’s, I had Gary as my mentor. I had spent eight years studying for the priesthood and Marist life: I learned more from him about being Marist in six months than I did in the previous eight years. It was good too: He would come into my class to observe my teaching, proclaiming as he did so: “Fr W, I’d like to look at some 4th form books.” Well the classes were a breeze. No one was going to play up like they usually did. And afterwards he would send these glowing reports to our Marist administration about the consummate control I had in the classroom.
Gary was a powerful man by personality, but a servant-leader at heart. He was clearly in charge, and everyone knew that, but I know that there were literally hundreds of young Bedeans over the years who benefitted from his quiet manoeuvring behind the scenes, bailing them out of trouble, being alongside them when things were tough at home, keeping them in his confidence, and all the while maintaining the tough exterior to the rest of the school. There were many young men who could trace the change in direction of their life back to those quiet and hidden moments. Such was the man.
And so we come here to say farewell. It came as no surprise to me that as ill health became Gary’s constant companion in these last months, that he continued his life of service through his suffering. Illness is indeed a form of service, a lonely witness to weakness, to helplessness, to isolation and to pain. There is a great mystery about illness and suffering. Indeed, the public life of Jesus bears ample testimony to that --- from his dealings with the sick, to his sadness over the death of his friend Lazarus, to his own death in suffering and humiliation. And so, indeed, the silent witness to patient suffering is a challenge to us to enter into the deepest meaning of life. Waiting on God can be a wearying process, and at the very depth of the mystery is the fact that God’s timetable completely defies human logic. God has made everything suitable for its time, but for some reason, in his wisdom, he didn’t consult us.
Well, for the Christian the only answer that there is lies in the Resurrection of Christ and the promise of resurrection that lies right at the heart of the Christian mystery. The contradiction between sadness and joy, between disease and well-being, is resolved in the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection. The whole world, and every individual in it, is caught up in a huge evolutionary process, and its final point, its completion, is the transformation of death. It is when death gives way to life, when death is not the end but the new beginning, that we can begin to see the face of God, even behind the disasters which surround us. In this vision of human life, then, death is not the failure of therapy to cure an illness or prolong old age, but rather it is the final healing.
That final healing came last Monday morning, when God invited Gary Lennon into eternal life. For the family there were tears, sadness, loss, a certain emptiness……but also a certain sense of wonder. Because for Gary, this was the logical conclusion of a life lived to the full, using his gifts and talents to the best of his ability, knowing that the love that sustained him would, at a time not of his own choosing, return him to the Love that created him. He had finally completed what God created him to do. It has been our privilege to be part of Gary’s life, each in our own way. We glory in the man of faith, the man of prayer, the man of service that we knew, but we also thank God for the gifts of teaching and administration and wisdom and sheer character that filled his life.
“His life was gentle, and elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world: “This was a man.”
Indeed, this was some man.