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See you soon, Arthur: Celebrating the life of a scholar

Dr. Arthur Patrick “lived in constant fear of eulogy” but family and friends ignored this during a celebration of the life of the Avondale alumnus.

Arthur had fought a successful battle against cancer for 12 years, only to be diagnosed just weeks ago with an aggressive abdominal malignancy. He died in Sydney Adventist Hospital on March 8. “He had sat at too many such bedsides not to know what lay ahead,” said Dr. Lynden Rogers in his reading of the life sketch at Avondale Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church on March 12. “Yet his calm acceptance, his Christian faith and his courage inspired us all.”

Arthur’s contribution over more than 17 years at Avondale included serving as the first then curator of the Ellen G White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, as lecturer in what is now the School of Ministry and Theology, as registrar, as the first president of the Avondale Alumni Association and, in retirement, as an honorary senior research fellow. His “keen insight” into the academic issues facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church included developing an understanding of the ministry of Ellen White, contextualising the theological positions of the church’s past and exploring the interface between Christianity and science. “Arthur was unafraid of evidence,” said Lynden, a senior lecturer in physics. “His was the ability to calmly and perceptively analyse the data and to masterfully synthesise a response.”

Lynden also spoke of Arthur’s “legendary” word craft, of his ability to “illuminate precisely the topic at hand” or to “skillfully [hide] behind his utterance.” Of the latter, Lynden noted how former president Dr. Geoff Madigan once observed “that some of Arthur’s letters of censure to recalcitrant students might almost be mistaken for those of commendation.” Arthur illustrated the former in his 100th and last post on his adventiststudies blog. “From the end of January I was aware of a new enemy within, . . . peritoneal carcinoma of vigorous type, untreatable.” Daughter Zanita, on her father learning of the diagnosis: “He simply looked at his watch, noted that it was 7.08 PM on February 22, and calmly announced that he was now palliative.”

Arthur valued connectedness, even while in bed 638—his family ensured Arthur had a scribe for replying to email from 6.00 AM each day. “I look forward to that time that he repeatedly referred to as he dictated,” said Zanita. “‘See you in The Morning.’”

Daughter Adrielle spoke of Arthur’s connection to Henry Lawson’s poetry and short stories—the service featured an excerpt from Lawson’s “Saint Peter,” read by Arthur himself. A common theme: a desire for a fair go for all, “particularly those who find themselves on the wrong side of so-called respectable society.”

Pastor Adrian Flemming recalled Pam Ludowici’s description of Arthur as “Saint Patrick,” “as he is near a saint as I have ever known.” The three served in cancer support and in chaplaincy at the hospital. “Indeed, God’s pastor, Arthur was,” said Adrian, “not just to our church but to all humanity.”

Avondale president Ray Roennfeldt followed Adrian in the professional tribute section of the service. “There’s actually no competition,” he said, “Arthur was an Avondale person.” Ray described Arthur’s scholarly pursuits as bringing “increasing distinction to Avondale. While some people thought that he pushed boundaries that were taboo, Arthur had a strong conviction that truth was worth pursuing.” Arthur’s pastoral skills helped when interacting with those who saw him as their theological enemy—“always genuinely gracious, always reaching out hoping for a meeting of Adventist minds,” said Ray. “As the Avondale community, we grieve [with the family], but we grieve for our loss as well.”

The Charles E. Weniger Society also recognised Arthur’s scholarship, posthumously presenting to him its award for excellence. The society seeks to recognise Seventh-day Adventists who have portrayed character and commitment in their personal lives and professions, traits exemplified by Charles, a former dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Dr. D. Graham Stacey from Loma Linda University represented Weniger Executive Committee chair Dr. Lawrence Geraty. “Thank you, Arthur, for all that you did, and more importantly, thank you, Arthur, for who you were.”

South Pacific Division President Dr. Barry Oliver spoke of the impact his “friend and colleague” had made on the church in the South Pacific. “Arthur wasn’t always easily accepted by his church, because sometimes he was well ahead of the rest of us in his thinking, in his love for his church and in his ability to clearly articulate with integrity those things that we needed to know about who we are and where we are going. . . . We will be better . . . for the legacy that he has left.” Addressing the family, he added: “Thank you for lending Arthur to us.”

Leighton Heise closed the service by reading a reflection piece written by his father, Dr Lyell Heise, whose sickness prevented him from attending. Lyell and Arthur were, among others, trustees of Women in Ministry, an independent association of church members providing support for women in ministry. “A giant has fallen,” wrote Lyell, perhaps referring to Arthur’s time as a timber cutter with brother Joe. “There is a gap in the family home on Martinsville Road, there is a gap against the sky even up there in the Pappinbarra, Arthur’s forest home. We look into the gap and remember the statesman scholar, the philosopher, the friend of the hurting and bruised. We see the unselfish husband and father, the champion of equal opportunity, the man who by his love, his life and his example created for his family a culture of freedom to soar in the canopy. These are the qualities and attitudes you see in the bright, dazzling sky through the hole in the canopy.”

Arthur is survived by wife Joan, children Zanita, Adrielle and Leighton, and brother John.

—Brenton Stacey is the Public Relations officer of Avondale College in Australia.

 

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