A Memorial to a Wonderful Man—Richie Gunston
We say goodbye to the coat Richie Gunston wore for 71 years. Yet, can't ever remember Richie wearing a coat. He hated pomp, haughty, secrets, ties, committees, games, delays and locks, low deals and boredom.
He loved living on the edge. We've lost him, tho, we can't say lost when we know where he is. Richie was a loving family man, became a Christian as a young performer in the circus life and gave himself to telling others of his wonderful Saviour.He'd been a diabetic for years, but did not let this stop his service to others. "The good man's reward lasts forever" (Proverbs 11:18).
Smile Shortest Distance:
Richie only knew how to smile. He said you don't stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stopped laughing. He never frowned. Even in tough times he'd hold on to his faith, and grin. When a situation needed help, he believed in the outcome, and never seemed to doubt. When he'd phone, or answer, he'd always see the happy side and an answer to the issue. If our family is any average among families, he made our boys feel happy. Always had a friendly joke with each of them. Then he sit and talk serious for a few moments and offer principles that make life sizzle. Now as adults, they remember Richie's impact when they were young. They are shattered that he is no longer here .... "If you give little, you will get little. A farmer who plants just a few seeds will get only a small crop, but if he plants much, he will reap much ..." (II Corinthians 9:6). Richie believed that you don't grow old by only accumulating years; you grow old when you abandon your ideals and dreams. Richie was everlastingly young. "God, your God, has given you more gladness than anyone else" (Psalm 45:7).
Didn't Let Them Down:
When two landed a Cessna in the desert in 1965 with a crook compass, and squarely faced the prospects, he never let his faith or his ideals fail. Jack Kempe from Macumber Station found them at dusk, and they rode 40-miles through sand hills in his jeep back to his station, near Oodnadatta. So Richie got on the two-way RFDS radio and invited all the search parties over. They were still turning up at 1am, and he didn't let them down. Years later, the Kempes heard him yodelling in the Methodist Hall in Mildura, came in from the Motel next door and said he was the happiest Christian they ever met. Twenty years after that they told me his presence changed their lives ... "God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all" (I Corinthians 12:4).
Never Thougtht of Himself Too Much:
He built his car sales business from scratch, with eventually five yards in Melbourne suburbs. He captured good deals and passed them on. Many missionary's drove Richie's cars into the ground, then took them back worn out for Richie to fix. Many people are still driving his cars around now. When they messed up one of his cars he'd remind them that stupidity got them into that fix, and it would take stupidity to get them out—but he'd do it. He never thought of himself too much. "A Christian who doesn't amount to much in this world should be glad, for he is great in the Lord's sight" (James 1:9).
Friends for Years:
He fell out of the hotel bed at 2am at Gasgcoigne Junction, in the north of WA in the 70's as dry-rot ruined the floors, and tipped the beds, and shook the old wood building the the piers. Mel was there. When Richie bumped into the Publican's wife in the hall in the dark, that nocturnal collision made them friends for years .... and this vibrant faith affected those people. They'd only been used to stuffy old churchmen till then. "It is possible to give away and become richer ..." (Proverbs 11:25).
Gifted and Talented:
He was Victorian champion western yodeller on radio in 1950s, a talent from the circus days. He won the 3UZ Christie's Radio Artist contest, with the highest award—3 gongs, and earned a short performing contract at a local stage show. He took that talent into his prison meetings at Pentridge with friends. His repertoire changed to Gospel. He ran the music, but he'd surprise a guest in announcing so and so is our special speaker to the astonishment of the guest. But they emulated Richie's confidence, and usually delivered the goods....
He was a confident of John Robinson, Clive Stebbins, Jack Edwards, Brian Willersdorf, Mac Hawkins and Len Wallace, Mel Stevens and Bill Myers. The broad cloth of his many interests covered a nation. Jack Richards said many people walk in and out of our lives, but only some will leave footprints. I have large footrpints in my heart, he said....
Missionaries would phone him from the field. He knew why. On a station near Exmouth, WA, he spent a day under the ute's fixing wheel bearings and universals. Missionaries marvelled how he knew so much about the way their cars were running; he'd only been there 10-minutes. No one will ever know how many tons of car and truck parts he sent to missionaries. And Joan would smile knowingly, and write the cheque. "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all that you do and think" (Romans 12). He shared with Arthur Bartlett on the Dial for New Hope Committee, and gave Mill Valley Ranch a push along, too.
Back in Robbies days, he was always with Campaigners. He sang numerous times at the Melbourne Town Hall YFC rallies. Outback Patrol was another of his favourite missions. Many times he told a bush audience that when the devil reminded him of his past, he reminded him of his future ... Then, he'd chuckle outrageously when he thought how he had the devil on the run. 'What always sticks in my mind', someone told me, 'is his starting to sing in the wrong key, or forgetting his words, and having to start again. (We expected it). He didn't know if it was part of the act. He always got away with it. And we never forgot'. It was Richie.
Anywhere for the Lord:
Richie joined Les Nixon on flying patrols inland between '65 and '86 outback, with his guitar and smile. He occupied the front right seat in the old Dragon plane, surrounded by guitars, accordions, Bibles, books, projector, screen, literature to hand out, fuel drums, oil and parts—on missions around Australia seven times. He dropped medicine to those stranded on the Ghan train in the 70's, with his hanky as a parachute....
They flew a Piper together in pre-Christmas meetings in Dec. '97. Out to Birdsville and back. He was the only companion Nixon took with him on missionaries adventures to India, Korea, Japan, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. He was singer with YFCer Clive Stebbins to Europe and India. Glenys McDonald saw him in the street in London, and they went off to one of her meetings together. He is remembered for his part in Brian Willersdorf's Gospel crusades at Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Launceston, etc. He flew to Cape Barron Island in Bass Strait with Graham Sharman for ministry many times. His yodelling filled town halls all over the nation. He said he never minded going anywhere for the Lord, as long as it was an interesting journey. It was a wonder he ever had time to do any regular work and earn a dollar.
Kalgoorlie Town Hall; a riotous crowd, he settled it down. How'd he do it? Why, he went and lobbed himself in the spacious lap of the biggest black woman near the front row. When he was announced as the next item, he yelled, "How much will you pay me to come up here and sing?" The crowd went berserk. We told him to quit his nonsense and get back up front to sing. Then someone offered him a dollar to sing. He'd yell back, "She's offered me Two-Dollars to stay!"
After he died, his name came up in conversation, still in the present tense, as tho he was still here. Slip of the tongue. Wonder would Richie be home by now? meaning, Donald, or Steve, or Philip! Wooops.A quick correction to say, yes, he is home by now! And nothing you offer would bring him back! The Archangel has offered him nothing as temporal as a dollar—but eternity with Jesus, just to stay....
Gunston was a man upon whom the Spirit of the Lord dwelt. He had no guile. He'd attract attention as was his way, something many could not understand. When he'd gain control in a school class, rustle the fellas hair, tickle the girls, and generally make mayhem, till it was known that it was on his terms. Teens could not figure him out; he believed in the element of surprise. He told someone to cool down; because 'in just two days tomorrow will be yesterday!' Then he'd laugh uproariously, sing a song, pull up his baggy pants, and settle the teens down. They never got the better of him. Why, he'd wrestled with the notorious Chief Little Wolf!
In Dec. '97 with the exhausted rice-chippers at Gundawindi, after they'd worked a 5am till 5pm work day in the paddocks, he yodelled them into blessed quietness, then sang, "Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand ...." ever so sweetly, they could not wait for the invitation to respond to the Saviour. I know of one fellow who volunteered for missionary service after that ... "Always please the Lord and honour Him, so that you will always be doing good kind things for others, while all the time you are learning to know God better and better" (Colossians 1:10).
Shadow of Former Self:
He and Mel Stevens ran every day on one of those patrols in the 70's. Miles. That's unusual. One day they ran from Port Hedland ten miles to the airport and back; in that heat. After a month of that, and a couple of schools and meetings each day, too, Richie was down to a slim 14 stone, and he had to have his pants brought in, or wear Mel's After two months of that, they landed at Essendon in the Dragon and he told Joan not to cook tea; we'd all go to Chinese. He stayed till midnight, and he never saw his feet again....
RG and That Evangelist!
Some people enter a room and say 'there-you-are'. Others say, "Here I am!" Richie went with Brian Willersdorf to New Zealand, sometime in the 80's. Brian told Les Nixon recently that the first week they were introduced as Evangelist Brian Willersdorf and his singer. Second week, it was Brian Willersdorf and Richie Gunston his singer. Third week it was Richie Gunston the singer, and Willersdorf. Final week it was Richie Gunston the singer and that evangelist! "And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand as all God's children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is, and to experience his love for yourselves, thought it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be lifted up with God himself" (Ephesians 3:17-19).
Earned a Degree
In Korea he led a Senator to Christ introduced by Billy Kim. In his car, on the side of the road.In Indonesia, he prayed for a thousand farmers who responded road side when the car broke down and they sang and preached to the crowd. In Hong Kong, his music in roof-top schools echoed through the streets and attracted new friends. Koreans actually presented him with a theological degree, but he didn't know what to do with it.In India, he sweated through endless youth rallies only to kneel and pray with the converts.One was an Indian actress ... "Reverence for God gives a man a deep strength; his children have a place of refuge and security" (Proverbs 14:26).
Never Missed an Opportunity:
He lost his passport in Jakarta, his suitcase in Tokyo and his addresses in Delhi, and his pants at Mt. Isa, but he never lost his guitar, or his sense of humour. These zany events added to his wardrobe when he had to outfit himself each time. He missed his plane in Denpassar, missed a meeting in Singapore and missed the boat in Manila. But he never missed a time to witness for his Saviour. Never ... He was transparent ...When a wizened old tiny Indonesian grandmother delivered a heavy Balinese carving to him balanced on her head, before he left to fly home, he was so touched at her frailty, he picked them both up and carried them into the terminal surrounded by gales of laughter all around. He'd made another friend....
He caught a thief stealing from a missionary on the street in Jakarta and gave his money back; he caught a crook with a bad deal in Korea, but he was caught with others by slick business deal in Java, but he never let a bad transaction make him sour. It was always a step up to greater trust and deeper love for the body of Christ. "We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don't know why things happen as they do, but we don't give up and quit. We are hunted down but God never abandons us. We get knocked down but we get up again and keep going" (II Corinthians 10:2).
What Was His Essence?
These few events only tell a little of what Richie did. Nothing tells ho he was! What made him the man he was? What was his essence?
Seeing him as a Christian man, everyone knew that the Spirit of God rested upon him in a perfectly normal and natural manner. He never returned to the old life again. The one thing you can say is that Richie knew what and Who he believed in.
When I was so ill with a virulent stomach bug and roaring temperature in the Timor meetings, back in the '80's, Richie would not hear of canceling the meetings. Don't let the people down, they've been waiting all day; so he held me up to play for his singing, then prop me to the pulpit so I could preach. It went on day and night. Hundreds were saved. The reason I know all this as he told me. I have no memory of it at all.
No, he was not a theologian, but he had his trusty Bible with him everywhere, and when it came to Gospel truth, he knew it inside out, personally. John Robinson taught him well in the early days. Noone Street was a boot camp to prepare the troops.
Nothing anyone could throw at him weakened his basic faith in God, and his love for Jesus Christ and the people. A stranger was a friend he'd not met yet, because that's how Jesus was. That's what shone through. He'd say, "Hey, that fellow knows a lot about the Gospel-but isn't it a pity he's so-dull!"
He wanted to display flags and buntings and banners for the Gospel. Bring on the band. Richie may have been miscast, or even misunderstood, but was never dull. He'd whisper 'the world has many religions, but only one Gospel!' He often quoted what Jesus said: "Let your light so shine before men...." Be a showoff for Jesus.
He was often called God's Clown. He knew that the jester in the King's Court in Medieval times was a man of wisdom. He not only made the King laugh at his dilemmas, but he was the wisest in the kingdom, as the King often confided in him, because counsellors often failed. If Richie was thought to be the clown or a jester, it was for Jesus' sake, alone. He saw the whole picture. He was so humbled by people's response to him, that he'd rather be a fool for Jesus, than a genius for the system of the world. "Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! He is the one who has forgiven us and given us right standing with himself" (Romans 8:33).
His Australian-ness shone brightly. Optimistic for his beloved Carlton Football Club, even when low on the ladder. Patriotism drew tears to his eyes. He loved the outback, the people, swaggies, OP shops, hoarding, "Waltzing Matilda," Southern-Cross in the outback night, jokes, biros, Melbourne, gadgets-the more useless the better; any bed for a nights sleep, and Holdens, Meat Pies and Kangaroos. And more than anything, people. He never visited Canada or the USA, and didn't consider they would need him. Yet he studied Charlie Chaplin, Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy and Barnum & Bailey Circus. His favourite western song was "Australia, Land of my Dreams." Next were the Gospel Songs: "Just As I Am," "The Old Rugged Cross," and "Face to Face With Christ My Saviour," which were sung at his memorial, November 17, 1999.
The astonishing thing about all this is that Richie's birth mother was Margaret Everingham, who in 1928 was a single mum and unable to support him. He became a Ward of the State and before two was fostered by Doris and Henry Gunston. They subsequently adopted him.
In the same house lived one the Gunston's daughters, Dorrie who was married to Stan Briggs, a showman from a circus dynasty who operated carnivals at many of the agricultural shows around the country. So Richie gravitated into the travelling show business to which he was suited given his characteristics and temperament. It gave him a natural outlet for his humour, which he carried with him for the rest of his days.
Elva McLean at the Noone Street Mission in Clifton Hill in Melbourne attracted him into her Youth Group, and that's where he was converted at age sixteen. Through the friendship of the McLean family and under the preaching of the Rev. Gilbert McLaren, Richie committed his life to Jesus Christ. Hearing of Jesus' love for him was so radical, he was never the same person again.
Much of the mission activity involved music, and after a few basic lessons on the guitar, he used his God given talent to develop it further and from then on he was self taught. His special gift was Swiss yodeling. Jack Wilson clearly recalls the Saturday night around 1951 when they went together to the 3UZ radio studio on Bourke Street Melbourne, near the Salvation Army Temple, where he participated in Christie's Radio Auditions for amateur artists, compared by John McMahon. The judged rated the talent one two or three gongs. Of course you guessed it-Richie-three gongs! He earned a short stint on the stage.
It was at the Noone Street Mission he not only met his Saviour, but he met and courted and married Joan Hall, who became his lifelong companion and encourager, and thus begins the story of an unforgettable man. Joan was his inspiration, and of course, the mother of his three wonderful children, David, Debbie and Ros. If ever a marriage was made in heaven, Jack Wilson said, this was it. "I cannot imagine that anyone could have been more suited than Joan as Richie's wife. And believe me, he knew what a treasure he had!"
Quietly, he'd say he had three families. His biological mother, whom tracked down in later years and the Gunstons; his spiritual family, everyone who served His Saviour too; and his own family, Joan and his three wonderful children. His six grandchildren delivered precious insights to Grandpa during the memorial without the slightest dismay or regret. What they said was wholly family and loving, and without any sense of despair. They worshiped Richie so much they were well prepared for his passing....
His unsure beginnings may have been why he knew how to leave unsaid the wrong things at the tempting moment. He joked, but he never lampooned. He was funny, but never a wit to embarrass others at their expense. You never felt uncomfortable in Richie Gunston's presence. Even his critics were disarmed by his openness. He was the happiest Christian around. "So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free and don't get tied up again in the chains of slavery" (Galatians 5:1).
Back to You:
One of Richie's life's verses was Luke 6:38 which he half quoted in his testimony many times, but never really got the text exactly right. "If you give, you will get. Good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give, large or small, will be used to measure what is given back to you." He meant is as a testimony of the blessings of God's Grace in Jesus; 'pressed down, shaken together and running over;' but he conveniently overlooked how actually he met the requirements to avail himself of those blessings ... 'if you give you will get!'
If you had to decide what was Richie's motto, what would you say? Through all the zany days and all the hype, all the adventures, all the serious and solid stuff, what was Richie's motto? We think it could have been something like this:
"If you haven't failed lately, you haven't lived risky enough!"
"Last of all I want to remind you that your strength must come from the Lord's mighty power within you" (Ephesians 6:10).
"No one can predict to what heights you can soar. Even you will not know until you spread your wings."
Richie lived on the cutting edge. If you didn't understand that, you'd never grasp the essence of the real man.
Outback Patrol friends send their affectionate love to Joan, David, Debbie and Ros, their spouses and his six grandchildren. He is not here, but he is larger than life itself. The instrument is silent, but the melody lingers on....
G'bye, mate. Won't be the same around here without you ... and it's likely, heaven'll never be quite the same with you there, either....