When on a holiday (even a short one like the one I've just had) my mind wanders just a little more than it usually does. Without the usual push and pull of work and just doing all the "stuff" that encompasses being part of a family there is time to breathe and slow down, just a little. The best time for this is in-flight. The kids become hypnotized by their ipads. My wife flicks through a trashy magazine. I quickly become bored by the in-flight magazine and off goes my brain thinking...... For some reason on this latest holiday I found myself thinking about people who have inspired me. Not those people who I've read about or seen in movies (there's lots of those) but real life people who I've met along the way. There are the obvious ones like my parents. Without them I would never have got through medical school and beyond. There's been a lot of doctors and nursing staff who have taught me about how to give your very best for your patients sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances. There have also been memorable patients and their families who have taught me how to be thankful for the smallest of mercies. As a parade of past characters filed past my memory I kept returning back to one character....... Mr Kersevani.
Mr Kersevani was my teacher in grade 7. I have no idea what his first name was. I had moved from grade 6 at Wulguru State School in Townsville where my teacher was Mrs Hughes. I recall she was a chain smoker with horn rimmed glasses. The highlight of grade 6 was when she fainted when standing on a chair to erase the top part of the blackboard. Children ran to get teachers from adjoining rooms. Panic ensued.
Mr Kersevani's classroom was polar opposites. On my first day I was taken to the classroom and led to a seat about halfway down the left side of the room. One of the first questions I was asked (can't recall what it was about) led me to respond "I thought...". Mr Kersevani's response was to ask Greg Dunne (scary I remember his name after all these years) to word me up as to what Johnny "thought". Greg moved through the classroom to my side and whispered in my ear "Johnny thought he'd done a fart but he'd done a shit in his pants." I wondered what parallel universe I had fallen into. Next came the roll call. One by one, Mr Kersevani went through the roll until he got to my name. "Warren Kennedy. What's your middle name?"
"I don't have one"
"What do you mean you don't have one. Everyone has a middle name."
"Right then. We'll give you one. How about we give you one starting with J."
"Okay." (Seemed the only acceptable response)
"Right. What will it be then. Any suggestions?"
The aforementioned Greg Dunne piped up "Joey!"
So, for the next year I was Joey. At first I was terrified but soon enough I was proud of that nickname. After that year had passed I was never again referred to as Joey until years later when Mr Kersevani saw me riding my pushbike past the mechanics where he was getting his Torana serviced and he yelled out at me.
I was so impressed by Mr Kersevani that I went waaayyyyyy out of my comfort zone for him. Mr Kersevani was the coach for one of the rugby league teams at the school and it was by coincidence that I felt into the weight range of the team that he coached - the teams were sorted by weight, not age. Our family was brought up on soccer so to be playing rugby league was very odd indeed. As far as my parents were concerned rugby league was too rough and a game for thugs. From a young age my brothers and I played in the Wulguru Stuart Cluden Junior Soccer Club In Townsville. My team won the Under 8B Grand Final in 1972. Arguably this was the highlight of my sporting career. Obviously I peaked a little early (that's me the goal keeper).
Getting back to rugby league. We must have trained sometime during the week, I can’t remember the details. Game day was Friday. A number of the boys, including myself, would get a lift with Mr Kersevani to the grounds in his Torana. Getting transported in a Torana was possibly the highlight of Grade 7. It was very exciting. The games themselves were not so exciting. I tended to play on the wing and not being that fast a runner I didn’t actually get onto the field that often.
I had a dirty little secret with my rugby league days. My parents had no idea that I was playing. The first that they knew of it was when I took home my team photo at the end of the season. I thought my Mum was going to faint. These days you have to have your parents sign off, be registered, they’re actually expected to turn up occasionally at least. I think the only thing that saved me was the fact that the games took place during school hours.
So why or how did Mr Kersevani inspire me?
Part of it was respect - even at the age of 12 he treated you as an equal and he expected you to treat everyone else as equals. There was one kid in our class that most of us didn’t like that much - I’ll call him Ed. He was a bit arrogant and well, he just wasn’t that nice. One lunch hour a number of the rougher kids had Ed on the ground and were passing the time by quietly and yet enthusiastically pummelling him. There wasn’t breaking of bones or letting of blood but it was quite obvious that Ed was not enjoying the time where he might otherwise have been slowly munching on a sandwich in the shade of a tree. Mr Kersevani saw what was going on and quickly brought a halt to proceedings. I can’t remember the exact words that he uttered but he managed to somehow restore Ed’s sense of self-worth (not that he needed much help in that area), dressed down the bullying boys, acknowledge the fact that Ed was indeed an annoying prat and make it abundantly clear that the behaviour should not be repeated - ever. All of this was done without a raised voice and by the end of it everyone was appeased. Looking back on it now it was really a masterpiece of diplomacy and leadership.
Part of it was expectation. He made you believe that you could do better. He made me believe that I could play rugby league when there was absolutely no indication that I could (or should). He made me believe in myself so much that I did a certified course (under his guidance) in snorkelling. To pass we had to do open water snorkelling off the coast of Townsville. I was freezing, sea sick and terrified that I would be swallowed whole by some behemoth of the deep - but, damn it, I was going to do it.
Part of it was that he was just funny.
It doesn’t really matter how people inspire you. What they all have in common is that they somehow allow you to see a better, more complete version of yourself. Sometimes that new version of yourself always existed within you and just needed encouragement to bloom. Sometimes it takes a lot of hard work to produce that new improved version. The all important thing is to never stop improving, never stop striving, never stop being inspired.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams