Tribute to Roy Whitehead

In Memory of Roy Whitehead

Read by his Son-in-law Kim Rogerson (a past member of Shelley Sailing Club) at Roy’s funeral service on 23/5/2001.

I would like to talk about the life of Roy Whitehead, he was born on 24 March 1927 in Bruce Rock, a small town in the wheatbelt. His early life was fairly nomadic, growing up during the depression meant his family had to move around quite a bit looking for work, and avoiding the occasional over-zealous rent collector.

Roy recalled he was a reluctant scholar, he didn’t like going to school, being away from his parents. Fortunately his home was near the school, and unless he could see his mum wave a white hanky to him during playtime he was out of there. He ended up attended a total of 9 different schools throughout the state, finally ending up at Kent Street High School and living in Como, right near where the Como Jetty is today, and where he later met someone special. He didn’t particularly like school but he did enjoy spending time with his dad and knew that if he could, he would become an electrician, just like his dad.

Roy Whitehead

Roy Whitehead

Well, eventually he was able to commence his electrical training, initially with an electrician who soon closed down his business and went off to fight in the war. He worked at several other places to complete his electrical training and eventually joined the navy. After the news of his enlistment was received by the enemy they realised the game up and soon surrendered. This allowed Roy to return to civilian life and work as an electrician, with his dad. Later on he moved to Riverton and started his own electrical contracting business that he ran for 40 years.

Whilst living in Como he met a special lady who was working at the Como Tearooms, he later married Edna, and in 1954 they bought a 3/4 acre block of land out in what was then the sticks, in a suburb called Riverton. With the help of his wife, and brother Burt, they made over 4000 cement bricks and along with scrounged pieces of iron and wood were able to construct a small 2 room dwelling that became their home. People had to make their own fun in those days and before long they had 3 children Chris, Alan and Lynne. With parents like Roy and Ed it was inevitable each child would develop their own unique, lively personalities. Roy and Ed quickly developed a good working relationship with many of the police officers in the district during Chris’s adolescence, however life was kind to them and as the Boys and Lynne grew up they were the source of much happiness and pride for Roy and Ed.

The part of Riverton they were living in became Shelley and Roy developed an interest in sailing. It was his drive and ingenuity that started the Shelley Sailing Club. Legend has it that Roy, and some other reprobates, that bore a striking resemblance to his sons, constructed a crude barge out of 44 gallon drums that they floated out onto the river one moon light night and removed some of the historic fence posts in the Canning River. This bit of landscape architecture lead to a significant enlargement in the area of the Canning River available for sailing and the break in the fence line became known as Whitehead’s Gap. Roy’s infectious enthusiasm for sailing was as much a feature of Sunday sails as was the sailing parties Edna used to host at her home after the faces.

Roy started holidaying in a small beachside settlement south of Mandurah in 1957. Initial accommodation was a crude tin shed, however with the work of the three families of Whiteheads and two lots of Elms a weekender was constructed in Nerrima Street. This weekender housed these three close families and their guests over many years and was the base from which numerous fishing and crabbing exploits were planned. The walls used to be covered with the records of huge catches of crabs and fish. Fortunately in those days bag limits were unheard of, however I suspect that wouldn’t have changed things much. It was Roy’s endeavour, door-knocking every house in the district getting them to sign up for electrical power that resulted in power being supplied to the area now know as Falcon. He was a fabulous ambassador for the region. I can recall his frequent claims about the legendary fishing and crabbing in the estuary and the weather was so perfect it never rained during the day, only at night. Well it must have worked because the area is very popular now, and most his family and friends live in the region.

Sometime later Roy bought a small shack in Mistral Street; the place was, in real estate parlance, a renovators delight. With his usual zeal he remodelled, improved and expanded that shack into the home that he and Joy have lived in and welcomed many people to ever since. Joy brought several new people into Roy’s life, two important ones being Dianne and Aaron. Dianne was Joy’s daughter and Aaron her son. When Dianne became ill, Roy went to great lengths to improve the quality of her shortened life and when she passed away he took on much of the responsibility of raising Aaron.

Another of Roy’s interests was his photography. His father introduced him to
photography as a child. Photography was expensive then, and as food was always more important than film, he had few photos from that era, however he did recall some of the steps they took to develop film, using soup plates in a kitchen darkened by nightfall to develop the photographic film and prints. He later started using movie cameras and was able to record the life of a special family. I have been fortunate enough to attend some of Roy’s home movie nights and these are special occasions that allow others to share some of the wonderful moments of his life.

Roy’s interest in still photography was re-ignited when his daughter Lynne did a photographic course. Together they shared many magical moments exploring their mutual interest in photography. When he moved to Mandurah he joined the Mandurah Camera Club and it was there that he developed an interest in preserving old photos of Mandurah, the oldest being taken in 1878. These photos record the development of the region and include some of the people after whom many of the town’s famous landmarks are named – the Halls, the Dawes and Tuckeys.

Roy’s enthusiasm and zest for life was infectious, everything he did he did with passion, when he was working he was always going at a million miles and hour. When he was on holidays in Nerrima Street he was always active, going fishing, netting or crabbing. Tup used to say you needed to take a holiday after holidaying with Roy, just to recover. He was always generous of himself, willing to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with others and was the driving force behind many of the clubs and organisations he joined. Several years ago Roy developed some heart disease that was successfully treated at the time, and after applying himself to his rehabilitation was able to return to his normal active lifestyle. When I visited him in hospital last week he said you know “Life’s not a dress rehearsal, you only get one go at it, so you have to give it your best shot’. After his passing I thought of what he had said to me, and thought that although I have many wonderful memories of Roy, that statement to me, best sums up his attitude to life.

Although many of us are devastated with his sudden passing and are dealing with our loss as best we can. I am comforted by the fact that Roy had a great life, full of many wonderful moments, he was an inspiration to me and many others. That if he was with us now he would want us to carry on as he did, living every day to the fullest, enjoying the gift of life, because you don’t get another chance.

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