Sometimes, when you must go, you have to go – quickly! I departed my flight with a great sense of urgency. Briskly strode down the departure aisle, through the forecourt and reached the main airport lounge just in time. I burst into the nearest toilet booth.
Much relieved I was about to leave the booth when a shocking sound reached my ears. It was a woman’s voice telling a child to wash his hands. Horror! In my haste, I had entered the wrong toilet. I was in the women’s toilet.
I waited until I was sure there was no one else in the toilet complex. Then I bolted out of the facility to the far side of the lounge. I was now determined to find out how I had made such a terrible mistake. Looking back to my amazement I saw that the toilet was clearly labeled ‘Men” with the appropriate, internationally approved figure. I hadn’t been in the Women’s toilet at all! But, I did hear a woman’s voice.
A small child was dripping a melting ice-cream on a seat near me. His father saw what was happening and came over to reprimand the child. When he spoke, his voice was thin and high pitched, in fact, he sounded just like a woman. This was the voice I heard as I was preparing to leave the booth.
I have often thought of the panic that man must cause every time he talks in a toilet.
I tell this story because I have been thinking of another man with high pitched, feminine voice. He was my mentor, Richard Butterworth. With his mother, Richard attended the very first church I ministered to, the West Melbourne Baptist Church. The huge old bluestone church had a morning congregation of 16 on a good day, and an evening congregation of 80 destitute men, living on the inner-city streets mostly because of alcohol.
Richard was very thin, very tall, very English (a Pom) and only spoke when spoken to. In fact, on our first meeting, I suspected he may have had a disability. As I came to know him, I realised the reverse was true. I don’t know how you would identify a genius, but I am sure of this, Richard was the most intelligent and insightful man I have ever met. I learned he was an architect and was employed by the Victorian Association of Architects.
Richard and his mother took a liking to me and this led to many home visits. They lived close to the church in inner-city Melbourne, in an old two-storey terrace house that they had beautifully refurbished using basic, low-cost materials.
This was my first year in theological college. Leaving school at fourteen and my teenage life in the coal mine had not prepared me for academic study. I had gained the entrance qualification to the theological college by attending night school for four nights a week. Now night -school is solely focused on enabling the students to pass exams. There were no written assignments.
In my first term in Theological College I was asked to write essays. What is an essay? My class of eight was mostly made up of young men who had recently completed years of schooling and some had university experience. Essays were no problem to them.
My first attempts at essays were disasters. My attempts were all handwritten. My untidy writing filled the page edge to edge, with no footnotes and no cross references (what are they?) I naively thought that the role of our Profs was to make us think for ourselves. It took me years to realise that they just wanted us to give them back what they had said, and to quote only those books which they recommended.
But to make matters worse, I could not spell – still can’t.
In the second term, one of the professors called me to his study for a fireside (coke fire) chat. He had just marked my essay using a red pen. Quite apart from correcting the reasoning of what I had written he had marked every spelling mistake. My paper looked like it had a very severe attack of the measles. “Stewart”, he said. “This is rubbish and it is only good for throwing in the fire”. He thrust the paper into my hand and showed me the door. I thought, “I will never make it through this course” and I was sure that is what he was trying to get through to me.
The next Sunday I told Richard that I thought I should leave the College. I explained about my most recent essay and the encounter with the Prof. He asked me to come to his house and bring my essay with me. I was ashamed of it, but he quietly insisted. Taking his time he read through the whole mess. Then he said, “This is quite good. You have some very strong ideas in here’. I was shocked. I asked, “What about the red ink and the spelling mistakes?” “They are not important”, he replied. “Someone else can easily correct the spelling mistakes. It is the ideas that count.”
I decided to stay at the college and I finished the course – not with flying colours, but I did finish and gained the necessary qualifications. The exams got me through – the essays continued to be a problem.
Regular visits to Richard and his mother were a lifeline. Although Richard did not put others down, he encouraged me to think for myself. He quietly asserted that the crowd, be they at rallies or so-called intellectuals were often wrong. People in high office could often make stupid mistakes. “Think for yourself and take seriously your own intuitions (your gut feelings)” was his frequent advice. His thoughts on theology and how the Bible should be understood influenced me then, and influence me now even more as I realise what his concepts implied.
Richard loved simple design. He was always writing and his writing was a joy to look at and to read. He used that wonder of the modern age (at least that age) the IBM golf ball type -writer. He introduced me to the world of different fonts, of serif and sans serif. His favourite was the elegant, ‘Times Roman’ and he used it in most of this work. He explained to me how the way type looked on a page would have a great influence on whether it was read or not.
Over the years, I lost touch with Richard. I heard his wonderful mother died. Later I heard that on the death of his brother, he was given the responsibility of raising his four, now orphaned children. I imagined that having to raise teenage children would be a great challenge to Richard. It seemed to me that life had not equipped him to care for teenagers. But, maybe I was wrong about this. I realise that his gentle, non-judgmental attitude linked with his wry sense of humour could form a bridge across age groups.
A couple of years ago I did a search for him on the internet. To my surprise, I found a lot of material. Obviously, Richard was an important person, not just to me but to many others. On the internet, I read obituaries for Richard from the great and good of Australian architectural profession. Richard had not only shaped me and others like me, he had shaped the world of architecture in Australia, particularly in respect to contract and administration.
For instance from Margaret Lothian Hon RAIA Former RAIA Legal Officer; “He was modest in an age of self-promotion, shy when others were brash, concise when surrounded by loquaciousness, intellectually rigorous and wise in the midst of sweeping statements, socially responsible and kindly when it was fashionable to declare that “greed is good”.
I like what Margaret Lothian writes were the Butterworth rules of minute-taking. “They were threefold. 1. Always accept the role of minute-taker – he who takes the minutes makes the decisions. 2. Don’t let them see what (or if) you are writing – it gives no comfort to the long-winded. 3. The art of good minute-taking is to record what the committee wish they had decided.”
I hope I am like Richard to some others. He gave me gifts that will keep on giving until I die. Maybe I talk too much to be as effective as he was. But I will keep on trying.
However, one thing I have known for a long time. If ever I had to visit the men’s toilet in Richard’s company (I never had to do this) but suppose I did, I would never, ever talk to him in that location.