R.I.P Bill Rice

I had my post for today all written out in my head. I had been thinking a lot about the death of shame in our culture, the way that self promotion in the form of notoriety has become standard fare today. People don’t care today how they get known as long as they are known.

A girl is busted in a prostitution ring with a Governor and becomes a myspace celebrity, a well known singer wears her crack cocaine addiction on her sleeve and it boosts her career. Organized crime figures become colour commentators on FM morning radio shows. 

I wanted to write about how shame is dead and superficiality rules.  How our hyper-consumer culture turns everything into a PR stunt.

Then last night my wife rang me from the hospital, her father Bill had died.  

Bill Rice was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He migrated to Australia as a teenager. Bill was the spitting image of Sean Connery, except that Sean Connery aged, whereas Bill for the whole of his life looked like a young version of James Bond.  

Bill’s athletic ability and determination saw him excelled at soccer. As the post war migrant boom in Australia saw soccer grow. Bill was signed by one of the top teams in the country at the time Footscray J.U.S.T. Playing for this team created by Yugoslavian migrants meant that for the rest of his life Bill would be a celebrity amongst Serbian-Australians. Bill would eventually be picked to represent the national team of Australia in their world cup qualifying campaign of 1966. The team devastated by food poisoning would just miss out on the finals losing to the great North Korean team who went onto to beat Italy and shock the world.

Bill’s Christian faith was always evident to whoever he met. This was not because he beat people over the head with a bible, what shone out from Bill was quiet Christian dignity. People who were not beleivers would say that Bill represented what a true Christian was.

Bill’s footballing ability attracted attention from scouts from top English teams, however Bill gave away the game to spend time working as a Salvation Army Youth group leader amongst disadvantaged young people. Bill loved getting alongside young guys and encouraging them in their faith. Author and missional leader Ash Barker wrote a chapter about Bill’s influence on his life in his book Finding Life. Bill inspired Ash and others because he was not about promoting himself, instead he promoted others. He understood the power of encouragement, and the importance of humility.

People wanted what Bill had. Through his integrity and witness at his work, Bill lead a number of people into a life giving relationship with Jesus. After Bill had retired, he decided to enter a new stage of his life as a prison chaplain, a role that he was perfectly suited to. Bill never judged, even in prison amongst those who were locked up, Bill’s dignity spoke loud and clear. The prisoners adored Bill, storing up their biscuits and cakes for Bill’s weekly visit. He would simply listen, he did not just act with dignity, he conferred it on those who he came into contact with. He created space for others instead of pushing his own agenda, thus humanizing the person whom he was with.

Even in his last years, in the midst of disease, pain and suffering, Bill did not think of himself, he acted with the same quiet Christian dignity which had marked his life. Even in his last moments his life spoke, the nurses who cared for him at the end adored him, one nurse told the family that it was a privilege to care for him.

No one who met Bill did not like him. He was a gentleman, his character spoke no matter where he was, be it on the football field, at work, at home or in the prison. His absence will leave a hole in the hearts of many, but the witness of his dignity will minister to us until we meet Billy again in the coming kingdom of God.

How our world needs such dignity now.

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