This moving open letter to Maurice Blackwood comes via Rob Bryden, who was sadly unable to attend Maurice’s service at the end of 2015. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stories with us Rob.
Maurice, I hope you’ll forgive me for missing the celebration of your life, being overseas at the time. I thought it best if I wrote and made it open, having missed the opportunity to be there and listen and speak in person about you and what you meant to me and everyone there.
But first, the dress code, how appropriate that it be “bright and with toys”! No dark sombre suits for a celebration involving you! Maurice, you’ll not be surprised to hear I would’ve been there in a bright green Exige, wearing red chinos over green boat shoes, with a red and green checked shirt. I know you would’ve loved it knowing your choice in ski gear so well.
There’s so many qualities about you that everyone saw that, when totaled together spelt ‘Gentleman’. You were always a perfect gentleman, in every way possible. You might not remember it but I never forgot the first time we met. It was at the CLA round of the CSCA Super Sprints.
It was my very first timed track event, having only done a few dry Burrows Days at Eastern Creek and I was there only due to the encouragement of Mike B. I was extremely nervous to be out there on a track I’d never been on before, with a timer stuck on, a newby mug amongst a group of very experienced and talented drivers. Plus – it was raining…
You were the Clerk of Course and gave a comprehensive and helpful briefing (haven’t heard one as good since) and as I’d heard of you and Anne I went up to you after the briefing to introduce myself as a CLA newby and nervous first timer on a (wet) track.
With a firm handshake you said “Welcome Rob, Maurice Blackwood. I heard you were coming, you’ll have a great time I’m sure!” How you would remember a newby was coming, with an entry of 100+ is something that really impressed.
We continued our conversation and I explained my concern about getting in the way of proper drivers and constant rain and wet track. You said “You’ll be fine, I think the best way of driving in the wet is to have fun, drive within your comfort zone and keep a light touch. Be gentle with the car in the wet, just try to be smooth and keep off the painted bits – they’ll be like ice.”
What brilliant advice you gave Maurice. As usual you were right and being gentle worked. I was delighted when, after the event, you made the time to find me in the pits, ask how it was, had I enjoyed it and how you hoped I would become a regular.
“Well done Rob. I saw you going round, very smooth like we spoke about and by the way, there were only two CLA entries that didn’t spin or go off – you were one of them.” It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t spin (I was going way too slow for that) it was your making the time to encourage a newby and to make that effort and point, knowing how nervous I’d been about it. A true gentleman.
We got to know each other very well in the ensuing years and did many other car events together and you always were there for advice, encouragement and to help. Indeed, I’ll never forget the time at Wakefield when I was feeling blue, discussing it with you and next thing, you’d arranged for us to pack up early and go to look at an Elan for sale “You need a break and to get away to clear your mind, let’s leave early and I’ll show you an Elan that’s for sale.” You ‘got it’. It was a really cheering thing to do, it worked and something I’ll always be grateful for… although I did get into trouble at home for “being late”…
I remember asking you if you skied… Well that led to another part of the Maurice years! You became a regular at the annual Redbank Lodge Mens Ski Weekend at Thredbo, 30 odd (pun intended) blokes away for 4 days of ski lessons, wine , food and massage and in our case, a little bit of scotch too. The way you fitted in with this brand new group of blokes, your firm handshake, strong eye contact, pitching in to help at every opportunity – your immediate popularity there was obvious.
Your self deprecation was another feature that endeared you to all at the ski weekend… remember the ‘Best Stack Competition’? You had a helmet-mounted Go-Pro camera and our group was going with our instructor through some off piste stuff… you caught an edge, spun around, tumbled and it was all caught on film from the top of your head, for all to see when you volunteered the film be shown on the big screen at the Lodge.
I don’t think you were disappointed to get second place stack, as Perth’s Lotus driver and ski weekend attendee, Richard Coopers stack was also caught on film and involved a barrel roll. I remember the smile on your face when the votes were been taken. Much laughter all round and you were really happy to laugh along. Great times.
And on the skiing front – we would never lose you Maurice in your bright yellow pants and parka! Your putting others ahead of yourself came out clearly in our first trip to Utah.
Remember how the weather fooled you, it was bright and sunny and on your first day you wore your ‘Perisher Rig’, the Bumble Bee parka and pants, sunglasses and an ear warmer, thinking the sun meant it would be about 5-6 degrees, like it is back home. I had on multiple layers under pants ‘n parka, neck warmer, glove liners, goggles, insulated helmet – the works, gees I thought you were TOUGH… it was about 8 below freezing despite the sun!! You soldiered on skiing with the group and we asked you if you were ok as it was pretty cold but being the total gentleman, you didn’t want to hold up the group while you got extra layers on – we conspired to have a break near a shop and you came out a LOT warmer. You always put others ahead of yourself, always.
It may also explain the patented Ebony brand glove and boot warming device you designed and built using only the essential tools – your hands, duct tape and a knife skilfully applied to hairdryers and plastic pipe. The picture explains a thousand words and your nightly ritual became warming up everyone’s gloves and boots. A true gentleman again.
Remember the other mischief you got up to in Utah? Wearing your famous Fred Flintstone hat down the main street, leading to many chats with curious sweet young passers by! Anne (along with the rest of us) was in hysterics as they hit on you.
Then the bob sled experience… Once you found out the Olympic Bob Sled course had passenger rides, we couldn’t keep you two away. Remember the induction room, full of Americans, getting their names read out and they went forward to pick up the stuff.
Only difference was you and Anne wore the Rastafarian Jamacian Bob sled Team hats (with dreadlocks and all), when you were called out front while your support team (us) yelled and cheered as you waltzed down the front. What a laugh you both gave all in that room! And what a laugh we all had later when you told us all about the 28 seconds of terror you paid for… Jumping out of a plane came next I recall.
You also gave us a laugh in that amazing hire car, not for you a boring Reasonably Priced Car – you rented the biggest baddest most powerful Dodge Challenger you could find! Awesome… we loved watching you expertly drift it up the snowy road outside ‘Kangaroo Court’ as it became known by the locals due to the Kangaroo road sign you gave me to hang out front, complete with drawn on skis and poles and goggles. Love ya work!
Maurice, remember when we talked about where we both lived and your eyes lit up when I mentioned “near Goat Island”. That’s where you lived as a boy and we talked many times about your childhood exploits and memories there. This of course led to your joining the sailing crew and what a valuable member you became, always the first to volunteer to fix things, to get into the bilge and even to get out on the trapeze when needed .. we only tea bagged you once and you remembered the cardinal rule – never let go of the boat!
Your great humour, sailing skills and ability to chip in and sort things were particularly missed on board when, after a few years on the crew, the travelling became too much… I’d always hoped you’d be able to re-join but sadly it’s not to be.
You offered to and did mentor me at my first real Car Race. You helped me get interested in Historics and helped me find a car. The support you gave was always amazing. You inspired the best to come out in all around you and you never had a bad word about anyone.
We spoke and messaged regularly and always asked “Is everything Ok ?” It looked like all was improving and we spoke about historic registration rules just before we lost you.
The only area where it didn’t work out Maurice, was in trying to teach me to empty the restroom cassette on a rented Mobile Home… Despite your best efforts I never got the Restroom Badge and I know I let you down there. Apologies.
Dear friend, there’s many reading this who have similar stories of laughter love and respect for you, I miss you heaps Maurice and hope this makes up for not being there when you needed me most.
Missing you mate,
Lead image thanks to Syd Reinhardt, Glove Warmers image thanks to Rob Bryden