As his coffin was carried through a guard of honour made up of students from schools where he spent many years teaching, Wangaratta said its final goodbye to Bill O’Callaghan on Thursday.
James William (Bill) O’Callaghan died on August 20 at the age of 89, just a week shy of his 90th birthday, and was remembered with a funeral mass at St Patrick’s church by a large turnout of family, friends and community members.
His son John, one of Bill’s six children, said his father left the way he would have liked - with his mind intact, no suffering, and with his wife and best friend Lesley by his side during the final days.
“He told me, not asked, told me that I was doing this eulogy and he only wanted to mention one thing – his greatest achievement,” John said.
“With the hard work of many, at the age of 76, he raised $500,000 for St Catherine’s (Aged Care Hostel).”
But there were many more achievements to list including the fact Bill was president and vice president of 15 organisations, a Wangaratta councillor for 11 years including two terms as mayor, wrote five books, and received the Order of Australia Medal.
He was also a teacher in Wangaratta for 40 years and was strongly involved in church groups, sporting clubs and the historical society.
“He was an only child, a perfectionist who demanded perfection of others,” John said.
“His community work in Wangaratta is both astounding and outstanding.”
But he said his father never did these things for praise, he just wanted to and knew he had lived a good life.
Family was also very important to Bill and Lesley, who celebrated 60 years of marriage last year, and John said his father was proud of all his children and grandchildren.
The funeral included some lighter moments including John’s recollection of Bill taking up marathon running at the age of 54 in a pair of Dunlop Volleys, putting out a bushfire in his thongs, and his love of taking part in family singalongs despite “very little ability”.
“The overall impression is of a fellow who loved life, beer, music, sport and people in general,” John said.
“He also believed in Wangaratta. He had great faith in people and the work they did, and that’s why in my opinion he was so appreciated as a teacher.”
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