A couple of weeks ago my friend died — and the world is an emptier place. I know I will grieve for him for the rest of my life. From the first time I met him in the early 1980s, I judged Sol Segal to be that rare phenomenon – a genuinely and completely good man. In the early eighties I was editor of a dance magazine. Sol and his wonderful wife Eva, who worked with him as a team, supported a dance company, and had daughters involved in the art form. We did things for each other. Both of us had three daughters.
How many people can you think of like this? if you were to leave your desk now, go to their home, knock on their door unannounced, have the door opened and receive the warmest welcome imaginable? The Segal home was like that.
And what a gentleman Sol was. In a famous lecture John Henry Newman defined a gentleman as follows:
The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he cast — all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint , or suspicion, or gloom or resentment; his great concern being to make everyone at their ease and at home. He has eyes on all his company; he is tender toward the bashful; gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring.”
There is not a word in this definition which did not apply to Sol Segal. We, his friends, took he and Eva’s hospitality almost for granted. Almost. But in this world of security cameras and video and voice screening – you come to understand what this sort of friendship means.
One of my memories is in the eighties when Sol managed a business known as Van Dyke Fashions in Richmond. He often gave me an open invitation to “drop in”. One day I wanted to ask or tell him something, so I stood outside his warehouse asking myself whether it was fair to interrupt a man in in the middle of his work day. Anyway I gathered up the “courage” to go in. When I entered the door – the warehouse work stopped, I was welcomed like the Grand Rabbi, the Pope, or the Prime Minister. Out came the tea and biscuits etc. He always made me (and any of his friends) feel so very special.
And he became involved in Amway. His very presence gave them a good reputation. I was never comfortable with being a participant, so I decided to support him by buying stuff. When I left my old office, I was severely upbraided for stocking up on 10 years supply of cleaning liquids, toilet and towelling paper.
And he was so generous it chokes me to think about it. You only had to mention that you liked a special film, or audiobook, or piece of music and before long he had made you a copy or copies – nothing like that was any trouble to him.
I have so many wonderful memories. In his time he was a very distinguished violinist – I was told by Alida that he ”came out of retirement” and played the violin (having secretly practised with Tammy) at Alida’s 50th birthday. He then played with Emma at her 70th birthday, then at all the major family functions since September 2010. I was there when he played a special piece for Eva at her 80th birthday. (Dec 2014) It was the piece from the night he & Eva met – 58 years earlier! It was very moving, it was very romantic, it was a stark reminder of the shortness of life. Their last anniversary was on January 23rd 2016. It was their 59th, Eva was 81, Sol was about to turn 84 the following week.
When I was moving office about twenty years ago, some labels fell off the magazine collection so that copies of the original Dance Australias were accidentally thrown out as part of the cleanup of the move. As the foundation editor and publisher this was somewhat of an emotional personal tragedy for me. Sol and Eva were the first to insist that I take their collection of the originals so that I would always have copies. You don’t forget gestures like that.
I remember Sol’s 80th birthday. I remember the Dance Australia times, the Russian/ Bolshoi/Moiseyev connections, the Kolobok Dance company, and the weddings I performed in the family. Wonderful memories.
Dad, I stand here today with your strength and courage…everything I am, and everything I will ever grow up to become is because of what you, together with Mum have done, said or taught me. When I say “I”, it is said in 3-part harmony together with my sisters Tammy & Ilana.
Dad has been our hero in every sense of the word. We remember our childhood wonder at his invented stories; explaining his small scratches and scars as wounds from long past wars & fights with wild animals; gleeful giggles when he announced we could have any chocolates we wanted from the store because secretly, he was actually Mr Darrell Lea; being in awe hearing him speak [what he told us was] Iceland-ish and rolling with laughter at the sound of him speaking Pig-Latin; joyful singing of musical numbers on our week-end family drives…too many fun memories to list. There was also deep admiration while watching & listening to him play the violin during practice sessions, recitals, or on radio & TV. It was indeed a selfless and heroic act to give away his career in music and successfully run a business to support his growing family. All this evolved into an adult respect and appreciation of his depth of character and moral fibre which will always remain a powerful example and inspiration.
Dad always said that we need to do what we have to do before we can do what we want to do…
Take responsibility; be disciplined; serve others…these are some of the values by which he lived.
Nothing comes from nothing, so if you want something, you have to earn it!
- If you want to be respected; you must first be respectful and be respectable…
- If you want to be loved; first be loving to others and also be loveable…
He showered all people with love… It’s no wonder that so many hundreds of people all over the world truly adored him. It only took a moment upon meeting him to fall in love – no-one was immune to his warmth & charm. Somehow, he just knew how to make people feel special, that they mattered to him, that he appreciated and respected them. And it never mattered to him who or what you were or where you came from – rich or poor; famous or unknown; educated or not…colour, race, social standing – it made no difference. As wise and pragmatic as he was when he needed to be, everything he did came from his heart. His advice, like his smile, his laughter and his hugs, were all from the very core of his being.
There was a magnetism about him…you didn’t even have to know him to feel that glow of warmth. He would even come across a complete stranger in the street, nod & smile at them or start up a conversation and you could see their face & their mood change. In just that brief moment, they felt better than they had before – he made life better wherever he went.
When you asked him how he was feeling, he’d respond with a “never been better”… or “fan-bloody-tastic”… or “I’m OK – don’t worry about me”. He’d often say something like “she’ll be apples”, even when times were tough and he really didn’t feel good at all. There was rarely ever a complaint from him about anything. For all the years of their marriage, Mum diligently prepared meals and he graciously and gratefully ate whatever she put in front of him with a sincere & genuine “thanks Darl”! It was only a couple of years ago, after nearly 6 decades together, that he quietly admitted he didn’t really like peaches or mushrooms, and even then, it wasn’t really a complaint, he simply said “it’s not my favourite”… To hurt someone’s feelings was something he would NEVER do.
To describe him as ‘one who gave generously of himself’ would be a massive understatement… He gave and gave and gave every day, everything he had, even when there was not much to give. He found a way of giving whatever was needed – whether it be time to talk, play or just hang-out with the grand-kids; funds to charities and to us girls when we were building our own homes; buying and gifting things to a certain person that he knew they’d love; giving a pat on the back; lending a hand, an ear or a shoulder to whomever was in need. Giving thought, giving acknowledgement, giving respect & gratitude to everyone. Knowing that people need to hear their names to feel appreciated, even the last of his nurses on night duty, hours before he passed was greeted with her name (Julie) in his friendly manner, with his cheeky smile!
He would always thank people…we sometimes joke about a young couple who came over for a cuppa… Mum brought tea & biscuits to the table and of course Dad said “thank-you Darl”… the other young lady turned to her partner and said … “oh, isn’t that romantic!” In a way it was funny, but she was obviously not as used to being on the receiving end of good manners as are we…
Speaking of romance, what Mum & Dad have is an all-encompassing, deep, affectionate, timeless & enduring love – it is almost tangible. As he arrived home after first meeting Mum 60 years ago, he announced to his parents that he’d found the girl he was going to marry. They never stopped BEING in love, DOING things & CARING for each other. They never stopped cuddling & kissing, holding hands when walking down the street and laughing together. Dad still referred to Mum as “my little girlfriend” … Their love overflowed into all of us, then cascaded over us and onto our children and grandchildren. To Dad, there was nothing more precious than his kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, each of whom he absolutely adored. May we all grow to be more like him, of people worth & value.
His devotion to his brothers was immeasurable, as was theirs to him. As the oldest of his siblings, he always felt a deep sense of responsibility for “the boys” as he called them, despite their advancing age… Joe was a constant companion through all the years, especially the last 3; Leon was always full of great advice about all manner of things… now I say to you, Uncle Joe & Leon, on behalf of us all, he has trained us well & passed on the baton – we will be there for you always, as would he be if he still could.
I can’t speak highly enough about the entire medical team at Cabrini who did everything humanly possible. The doctors (miracle-workers); the nurses (angels on earth); all the ancillary staff who did whatever was needed… Thank-you!
We can’t think of Dad as separate entity from Mum. If he was our shining light, Mum is his ‘shamash’ candle, his pilot light, always holding steady, supportive, loving, gentle, patient, and a tower of strength. Each light so beautiful in their own right, illuminated & magnified by the presence of the other.
He was somehow always a step ahead of us with a boy-ish hop, skip and a jump, wit, pranks & practical jokes as well as his talent & intelligence. Now he is once again that step ahead of us in life’s journey. The painful void that is left with his passing can only be filled with his reflection behind the smile and love in Mum’s eyes, and we can only be grateful for being his (and Mums) daughters.
Mum, without a doubt, you picked the best man on earth! We can only try to be a strong branches of his & your family tree. There is really nothing any of us could say or do to fill his place – but we can and will continue to bring forth memories of wonderful moments and reminders of him & his awesome life that filled us all with love, inspiration, joy, music and laughter.
A grandson’s tribute
If you didn’t know Sol Segal, you would never imagine that so large a shadow could be cast by someone barely five-foot-tall. He was a true titan, looming large (or small) over the family. I said to Mum the other day that he was idolised by everyone related to him. Probably everyone who knew him.
It is hard to describe the experience of being related to him without using the word “lucky”.
We are lucky to have had the time with him that we did. In 2013 we were told that our remaining time together would be measured in months, not years; and in the three years since, he got to see his youngest grandchild graduate high school, attend two grandchildren’s weddings – even serving as a groomsman in one – and fall in love with three beautiful great-grandchildren.
We were lucky to have someone with his combination of wisdom and gentleness, who thought and felt strongly but never held grudges and chose not to pick an argument. He and I disagreed on many things – but Opa believed that contentious opinions, much like gas, were best kept quiet and private. I failed to live up to that particular standard with my own opinions (much like he did when it came to gas). But the things we AGREED on were so much more important: The value of simple politeness. Time spent with family, which brightened his days til the last. Good humour. And that everyone is entitled to kindness, compassion and respect; be they relatives or strangers, serving staff in restaurants. He would treat everyone the same, even if they’re from another species: I’m told that, just last week, when I was tragically not in the room, he had a delightful conversation with my dog, which was highly amusing to mum and Oma, even if it was apparently a little one-sided.
We are lucky to have had someone with his sense of humour, from his wonky improvised rhyming slang, to his half-remembered jokes, and his amazing and terrible puns, which usually went over Oma’s head, even after over six decades of marriage.
And just by the way, how lucky are we to have heard him pick up his violin after all those decades, and sound as if he had never put it down. Many of us had never heard him play before, and all of a sudden it was commonplace to turn up at Eastaway St to a house filled with the music of Beethoven or Brahms or Bach.
But maybe most of all, we are lucky to have had his example. Which a privilege and a responsibility; we all have a lot to live up to. But we have a lifetime’s worth of guidance: I can’t think of a situation in which asking “What would Opa do” would lead us astray. Because he wasn’t just willing to give so much of himself for you, he was happy to. Years ago, to make that very point to someone else, I turned to him out of the blue and said “Opa, would you be able to drive me to Sydney and back?” And he said, without thinking, “Sure, when?”
It would have been enough to have all those things, but he gave so much more than there is time to describe. It would have been enough even if he had only been half as affectionate, half as kind, half as generous with his time and attention and energy. Dayenu.
And yet, it could never be enough for any of us. For my brothers, there could never be enough afternoons watching his footy team beat ours. For me, there could never be enough trips to the movies elbowing him every few minutes because the explosions and superheroics have put him to sleep. There was never a risk that he was going to fail to live up to the old showman’s adage “always leave them wanting more”. He gave us so much, but we’ll always want more.
His love for us radiated off him, as it does Oma, whom I am not up here to praise but has always been every bit his equal. Two people who barely come up to our chins, but we will spend our whole lifetimes living up to. How everlastingly, devastatingly lucky we are to have had him, and his bottomless supply of warmth, support, decency, and love, to fill our hearts for the rest of our lives.