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Polcul Artykuły Australia Tad Boniecki - In memoriam of Jerzy Boniecki

Tad Boniecki - In memoriam of Jerzy Boniecki

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Jerzy Boniecki In Memoriam (29.5.1929 - 8.9.2003)

Jurek was a man of action. His forte was getting things done and, what's more, done immediately. He had major problems with the concept of doing things tomorrow. All action had to happen now, or better, yesterday. For some reason the more trivial the task the more it was urgent for him, or so it seemed to me.

For such a man of deeds it is unusual that he had a remarkable facility for reflection. He would meditate on the qualities of Australians - whom he in many ways admired - or on the world situation, or the Gay Mardi Gras. Many of these ruminations spawned articles and even two books.

A man of many countries, he spent a year in France and had an unusual bond with Italy. His Italian was so fluent that the natives assumed he was an Italian from another region of the country. He had an amazing natural ability for languages, picking them up by osmosis. Italian, German, French, Spanish, Russian and Polish were languages he could use to connect with others. He sort of managed in English too, though he never succeeded in learning how to use the articles "the" and "a".

I think we know a person as much by the friends they make as by the effect they have on those friends. It is safe to assert that Jurek brought laughter and fun to virtually every person present here. He was an enhancer of life, transferring his own enthusiasm to those around him. This New Orleans jazz band was his last spoken wish, on the last day that he was conscious. On one occasion he forgot to pick up a friend to take her to the airport. He arrived at the terminal and walked across to her on his knees by way of apology. Part of his charm is that he didn't take himself seriously. I am sorry that I failed to learn this skill from him. On a dark evening in San Francisco Carla was desperate to go to the toilet but there was none in sight. Jurek improvised a toilet for her in the street out of cardboard and she used it gratefully.

He was not really a gourmet and never a sybarite. He enjoyed good food, but if it was only mediocre that was OK too. He disdained too much comfort or the seeking of pleasure, despite his prodigious enthusiasm for life. This was one of his many contradictions. He was an anti-snob yet he insisted on going to restaurants with white table-cloths. One of his manifold talents was writing, where he had an enviable fluidity. Whether humorous poetry or serious prose, philosophy, social mores or current affairs, he wrote quickly and fluently. I was always envious that his first draft was also his last. Polemics were his strong point. He was an inveterate stirrer, in a nice way, challenging people to think about things they may not have considered before. He would have made a formidable barrister - do you know that he has a degree in law? He could draw, was highly adept at organisation and his methodical efficiency was sometimes carried out to the point of absurdity, or so it seemed to me. This over-efficient and ultra-dependable approach reaped rich rewards. He built up a thriving business from zero in a new country when in his mid thirties.

Jurek was a powerful man. I mean that in the positive sense of having a great capacity to get things done and also to encourage others to achieve worthwhile goals. He was never attracted to power for himself personally, preferring to get things done rather than to lead, or to be seen to be leading. Another contradiction is that he could also be highly unassertive, as when he drove a certain Polish guest all around Sydney. This worthy treated him as a taxi driver.

Many of us spend our lives seeking that elusive quality called "peace of mind". Jurek did not. He valued having a sense of unease, as this was the source of his sensitivity to the suffering of people less fortunate than him. He was a man acutely sensitive to injustice, poverty and the unfair lottery of birth. I believe that the obligation to help others was the motive force of his life. He would want to be remembered today as a person who did all he could to help others. I am sure that not a few of us here have been the recipients of his giving.

A major aspect of his character was self-mastery. He applied a rigid discipline to his own behaviour and was ever concerned with conforming to his principles. A minor example of this was his manner of driving. I was once a passenger with him at the wheel, when another car pulled out quickly on his left. Jurek in mid sentence swerved to avoid the other car without interrupting his train of thought or changing his tone of voice. I wanted to emulate this imperturbable attitude to the annoyances of the road.

His modesty is legendary. For years he kept it a secret that he was the creator of Polcul and also by far the main contributor to its funds. Yet towards the end of his life he came to realise, as the Romans had before him, that "Contempt for fame is contempt for goodness", so he wished it to be known that Polcul was his life's achievement. We know that a prophet has no honour in his own home. I and other family members have not shown as great a regard for his work with Polcul as Jurek deserves. I know that others better qualified than me will cover this, the most important area of his life's achievements.

Though extremely extroverted - he could and did talk to everyone and anyone - it may surprise you to hear that this did not come naturally to him. It was more like an art that he had cultivated to perfection. So his charm and ready access to other people was an achievement, rather than an unearned personal quality.

One is exposed to surprises with a father like Jurek. On a day, twenty years after the event, I was shown a headline from a tabloid newspaper, shouting "Top Red Defects". My father, a top red?! I was stunned. He had been sent by the communist regime to work in Australia and had decided to stay on in this country. Of course his Polcul activity had something to do with the fall of communism in Poland.

When he was diagnosed with cancer he wanted no pity or comforting, and sadly this caused him to turn away from his friends. This was something I found deeply painful to witness. He stoically accepted his fate and readied himself for the death the doctors promised. It was excruciating for me to watch this powerful and virile man descend into utter feebleness. I console myself that right till the end he felt no pain. I experienced his last hours as if they were happening to someone else - neither to him nor to me as witness. I was not there when he actually died, but I am grateful to Danielle for being there with him all the way, for accompanying him to the end, on behalf of all of us. The sad picture of Jurek lying inert in bed in the last few weeks is hard to reconcile with the vibrant and fit guy you all knew, who rode a bike, swam and looked 20 years less than 74. Carla always called him "indestructible", and so he was until April. Until he got sick, Jurek was ever the restless soul, as the Poles say having "pins in his bottom", continually seeking the next activity or excuse to get out of the house.

He and I were, in most ways opposite characters, yet we found a common ground and held many interesting discussions. Jurek was always ready to listen to a different point of view, though of course it would be far from easy to change his opinion. For me he served as a model of a person who knew how to live. How to make life interesting, active and varied. I know that many others admired his savior vivre. He has taught me how to travel, to attempt to learn languages intuitively, and the importance of thoroughness. When I was about 15 and cracker night was still celebrated by private means, I egged him on to let me explode ever more powerful crackers, finally urging him to put a banger into a bottle with the taunt, "You don't take risks, do you?" This time he did. The bottle exploded and he received a cut to the face. That was a lesson for me. My own claim to fame is that I introduced him to Rummyking, a compulsive board game that he and Zosia played with some passion with friends for the last ten years or so.

He was truly a complex man, with contradictory tendencies, such as pessimism and optimism, or openness and secrecy, holding sway in different layers of his personality. I have tried to act as a mirror to show his various aspects, but it would be more correct to see me as a shard of glass that reflects but a few parts of such a man. This is seen in the multiple names he was known by - Jurek, George and Jerzy, while I called him Piko. Despite my 45 years of knowledge of him, in some ways he remains an enigma to me, because he saw secrecy as being a virtuous quality. If I have shown a few aspects that some of you do not know then I have done my job. Though a number of other people will speak about him, I am confident that there will not be much overlap between our speeches.

Chapel Speech

This Monday all of us have lost someone important; I lost my father. Not only we, but Australia and Poland have been deprived of a remarkable person. Generosity, compassion and altruism are words that come easily off the tongue, especially here. But with my father these were not stock labels. They express what marked him out as exceptional.

Jurek was a man acutely sensitive to injustice, poverty and the unfair lottery of birth. I believe that the obligation to help others was the motive force of his life. This led him to search for what he called "small heroes" through his Polcul Foundation. He was such a one himself, though given the impact he had and is having on Poland, maybe we should omit "small" from "small hero". So it is appropriate that we listen to the Eroica symphony as we think of him.

Tad Boniecki 11.9.2003


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