A family studying their genealogy was looking at gravestones in a cemetery. Inscribed on one was , “Here lies Jock McTavish, a soldier and a pious man”.
“That’s just like the Scots, ” the father said, “They’ve put three men in one grave.”
On Wednesday we paid tribute to three great men in the personage of Ian Baxter.
I’m not very good at estimating crowds, but there were at least 100 people outside the chapel on top of at least 100 within. And each of those three great men were being commemorated by family, colleagues from Ian’s careers (teachers, principals, wharfies in high-visibility work-wear), his surfing mates and many schoolchildren in uniform. And I got to speak to Tim Laurie, a great friend of Ian’s and my Year 3 teacher.
Ian was my cousin by marriage to Kathy and father to two boys, Adam and Jon. There’s a running joke in my family about the size disparity between the Baxters (150-160cm) and me (195cm). But Ian was a man that we could all look up to. Adam and Jon both spoke at the service and reminded me of so many things; Adam putting a Vegemite sandwich into Ian’s cassette deck, BBQ in the back yard at New Lambton.
Mr Baxter was a school teacher who started his career with disadvantaged kids and worked his way through to become Principal of Somersby Public School. After a few Googles I found numerous school newsletters in which he was writing as Assistant Principal, Acting Principal and as Principal. I also found a notice from Rathmines Public School on 17 May 2012 announcing the news of a secondary cancer on Ian’s liver and a benefit night to be held in his honour in June. Ian died just one month after the benefit.
I remember the old Nobby’s Beach pavilion spray-painted from one end to the other with,”I want to surf like Jackie Baxter“. At the time  there was a Paul Kelly & the Dots song “[I want to be like] Billy Baxter”. It wasn’t until some weeks later when I mentioned it to Ian that his slightly embarrassed reaction gave away that the graffito was about him. (I just found out who did it, but I’ll never tell.) Jackie Baxter was an American surfer of the 1960’s and 70’s, so Ian was known as “Jackie” by his mates.
I think that I’ve only been in the water once with Jackie; we surfed at different times and places. I remember paddling out at the Cowrie Hole as he was on a wave (backside for a goofy-footer). He spotted a grommet paddling out in the break. Ian pointed to him and said, “stay there!” to keep him at the bottom of the wave as Ian carved across the top and avoid a collision.
Jackie and his friends were some of the first to surf obscure breaks in Indonesia, years before any Red Bull-liveried jet skis and helicopters where even dreamt of.
Many years ago my friend damaged his surfboard – the leg rope socket had pulled clean out of the side of the board – and Jackie offered to fix it. Since the board was made from very light fibreglass (too light, in fact), it was a very difficult repair. Jackie did a brilliant job of fixing the board. But then he told me how hard it had been to match the resins and how many attempts it took to finally get the repair to hold. He finished with, “Next time you need a board fixed, hesitate to ask!”
We will all miss him so much.
I’ll leave the last word to Mr Baxter:
“This brings me to the message that I believe is vital to our school community. We work together for the shared goal of educating our children to reach their individual potentials.
To do this effectively, we need to demonstrate a mutual respect and a recognition that both home and school contribute significantly to the growth of our children.”
Ian Baxter, Principal