For those of you who might be interested, here are the words I wrote for Mr Wilson’s funeral last week.
I wish I could be here today.
That’s not true. I wish there wasn’t the opportunity for me to be here today.
Greg Wilson was the sort of man who wasn’t meant to die. He was, in the truest sense of the word, a legend.
I heard whispers of his name before I even put on my Burnie High uniform. At Cooee Primary, students talked about him in hushed tones, as if they might summon the bogeyman if they spoke more loudly.
“Beware, if you get those letters on your timetable. BEWARE!”
I didn’t get a GW until grade eight. I don’t think I breathed, for that whole English class. But it didn’t take me long to work out that the legend was only a myth.
Mr Wilson had rules. Strict ones. No running in the covered way, tuck your shirt in, “Shut the barn door!” He expected nothing less than one hundred percent effort in his classes.
Effort. Not excellence.
He challenged us. He expected us to put up a fight. If we did, we won his respect and once we had it, it wasn’t easily lost. Once we had it, he had our back.
I won Mr Wilson’s respect by standing up for The Catcher in the Rye. It’s still my favourite book. He thought it was rubbish. I was terrified of arguing but I noted the twinkle in his eye when I did. I’ve never forgotten that twinkle.
Mr Wilson taught me how to write a perfect paragraph, how to edit, how to choose my words carefully, how to create a cover page that was a thing of beauty. He also taught me I was strong. In late high school, I struggled with anxiety and migraines and the combination of the two led to Mr Wilson finding me in a ball in the corridor, in tears, when I should have been in class. I expected a detention.
Instead, he said to me only three words, “You are strong.” Not be strong. “You are strong.”
He believed in me.
Years later, I saw Mr Wilson again, rocking out on stage with a band of Yolla kids, hair long, shirt slightly untucked. The twinkle was now pure starlight.
That moment will always stay with me. He looked so free.
Mr Wilson was a legend. He was challenging, firm, strict even. But he has made more of an impact on me than any other since. There was a teacher of equal brilliance at college. He taught me to challenge opinions. Mr Wilson taught me to have them in the first place. And that I was strong. I never knew it before.
In my imagination, he’s in his own heaven right now, rocking out with his shirt untucked and his hair long and wild and the barn door is flung wide open.
He’s still a legend.