By Stan Stewart.
I arrived at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport mid-morning. I needed a toilet. I really needed a toilet. I sprinted down the concourse. The large toilet was empty. I was preparing to leave the booth when I heard a women’s voice talking to a child. I froze. “I am in the wrong toilet”. In my rush I must have entered the ‘Ladies’ instead of the Men’s.
In absolute embarrassment, I waited and waited until there was no noise in the facility. Then, I bolted for the exit and made a beeline for the far side of the airport lounge. Once there, I sheepishly looked back. Very strange! I think the facility I exited was the Men’s after all. What had happened?
A small child was playing a few seats away from me. He had climbed onto the seats. The tall man who was supervising him came and lifted him to the ground and gently reprimanded him. The man had a woman’s voice. A light bulb moment. I was in the right toilet after all. I started wondering. Any time that man talked in a men’s toilet, his voice must have caused panic for any males who were occupied as I was in a booth?
In fact, a friend who influenced me more than any other, had a woman’s voice. His name was Richard Butterworth. I met him in a church that, at the time so many years ago, was running a soup kitchen. It took me a long while to befriend him. My fault. I was concentrating on being ‘cool’ and he was the most ‘un-cool’ person I had ever seen. He was very tall and painfully thin. He always accompanied his mother and I assumed she was looking after him. He never spoke unless spoken to and I found his high, feminine voice embarrassing.
Richard and his Mum quietly persevered, offering overtures of friendship to me. Maturing a little, I began to respond to these. It was in his wonderfully restored 19th century two-story villa house that I finally relaxed enough to realize that Mother and son were in fact brilliant.
Richard was an architect. In fact, to me it seemed he knew everything about everything. At the time I was failing all my written assignments at the college. I was about to give up on formal study and take up farm labouring, a job for which my older brother assured me I was well suited. Richard and his Mum were horrified at the thought and assured me that in fact I was intelligent enough to complete my study course. Without their encouragement, I would have certainly turned away from formal study.
Richard was greatly interested in the way text was set out and appeared on a page. He taught me about layout and type faces. He really loved Times New Roman. All of his patient tuition was in spite of the fact that I was a very messy writer (scrawler) and invariably cross-outs and spelling mistakes littered most pages of my written work.
Over the years my appreciation of Richard and his Mum just grew and grew. I took to him my questions and thoughts about theology, politics, science and the cosmos. He listened with patience and without any sign of condescension, he would answer my questions about atoms and the galaxies, from Christianity to communism.
My work took me far away from the inner suburb where he lived. Contact became less frequent until years went by without any contact. He died in June 2000. Twenty-two years later I wondered if there would be some mention of him on the internet. There were pages and pages. It moved me. I share here extracts from some of the eulogies at his funeral at which the leading figures of Australia’s architects were present.
“Richard’s niece whom he cared for after his brother’s death described him as, “old and grey and bent and bony”. Richard delighted in this description”.
“Richard was modest in an age of self-promotion, shy when others were brash, concise when surrounded by loquaciousness, intellectually rigorous and wise in the midst of sweeping statements, socially responsible and kindly when it was fashionable to declare that “greed is good”.
Richard was not quite a saint. For example, the Butterworth rules of minute-taking were threefold. 1. Always accept the role of minute-taker - he who takes the minutes makes the decisions. 2. Don’t let them see what (or if) you are writing - it gives no comfort to the long-winded. 3. The art of good minute-taking is to record what the committee wish they had decided.”
Richard worked on a number of National committees whose work has benefited Australian architecture and the Australian community.”
Why do I share this? I share it because my friendship with Richard opened my eyes and my heart. It assaulted my prejudice and preconceived notions. It taught me to never judge a book by its cover. Some individuals, who seem unattractive because of some mannerism or disability may be the very persons who can help us and our world the most. After all, isn’t that beauty?
Caption: Richard Butterworth, LFRAIA:AI Arb A - Architect, Arbitrator and RAIA Gold Medalist 1986.