Since I awoke the other day to the sad news of the passing of Dr Bernie Curran I have been trying to think about what to say to mark such a life as his. Bernie was not just well known to the University of Newcastle community, he touched many of us here at HMRI and across the Hunter. I had personally known Bernie for 21 years. As well as enjoying his company, I quickly learned to respect his approach and judgement. Many of the scholarships and significant donations which support health and medical teaching and research at the University today came from Bernie's tireless work leading the University Foundation.
Shortly after Bernie's death, I received a letter from Jennie Thomas AM. Jennie is another great member of our community, HMRI’s Life Governor and a generous supporter of HMRI. I was moved by her letter, and with her permission, we have republished it below.
Professor Mike Calford,
It's with a heavy heart that I write today as I come to terms with the death last week of my dear friend Dr Bernie Curran, one of the finest people I have ever known.
I first met Bernie at the UoN not long after my husband Em tragically died in 2001. Bernie had just become the leader of the UoN Foundation, and I had come to see whether, as an educator all my life, I could be of any help. Our conversation soon established that we had both been brought up in small country villages; both came from large families; both had, by the example of our parents, been imbued with the importance of working within a community for the greater good of all. We had both followed in our parent's footsteps and had become educators with a lifelong love of learning. And the sealing of the bonds of friendship came when we realised that we had both 'made our toast on a toasting fork in a wood-fired stove'… we had been brought up with very few of this world's goods but had indeed been given those things that really mattered in life.
From that moment on, Bernie became not just a special friend but an important mentor to me. We shared the same values of commitment to community and to the real meaning of Philanthropy… and he taught me that Philanthropy means so much more than the current concept of just donating money to a cause, however worthy that cause may be.
Being a classics scholar, Bernie explained that, from both the Greek and Latin roots, Philanthropy really means 'love of humankind', especially as shown in practical deeds and work for the good of others. It involves kindliness, benevolence, love, and usefulness to others. And Bernie was the greatest example of that concept that I have ever known. He lived his life for the good of others… and he did so with joy and love and caring and selflessness.
Bernie knew that the real meaning of giving involved the giving of Time, Talent and Treasure… and that everyone could be a 'philanthropist' by giving of those three Ts in whatever way they can, whenever they can.
With Bernie's help, I established not only my JT Scholarships and Grants program at UoN, but he encouraged me to do the same at HMRI. He, along with my friend, Dr Bob Sillar, encouraged me to become personally involved in those programs, especially in the selection of students so that I would come to know each one personally and be able to walk with them as they followed their dreams. Those two friends gave me a new focus in my life, one that would become rewarding to both the students and to me. Bernie went on through the years to guide my scholarship program at the University of Newcastle, both at graduate and undergraduate levels. Without him, it may never have begun, and certainly, it wouldn't have taken the form it did or been the success that it has been over so many years. So, there are a great many of us in the 'JT Family' who owe Bernie our heartfelt thanks.
Many, many people in Newcastle and beyond are very grateful that Bernie became part of their lives… I am but one of that great number. I do know that Newcastle, the Hunter Region and indeed Australia has lost one of its finest citizens.
My heart goes out to Mary and all of the family whom Bernie loved so much. And to all of Bernie's friends far and wide, I share the hurt of such a great loss… but I also know that Bernie would want his legacy to continue. He would want us all to practice in our daily lives the meaning of 'community' and 'philanthropy' in the true sense of those words… and these days we do need, more than ever, that focus on coming together as a strong community for the good of all.
Perhaps the accolade that Bernie would most enjoy hearing is simply, in the words of his great friend and mentor, Professor Godfrey Tanner:
' Well done, my dear boy'!
And so, with great sorrow, I farewell my friend Bernie...with much love and many, many thanks, Jennie.