A Remarkable Life

Fri, 10 Jul 2015

My grandfather, Rex Lipman, sadly passed away on July 4, at the age of 93.  I have often considered writing a blog post about him, as so much of my thinking was inspired and encouraged by him.

His life story is quite remarkable: childhood in a fairly prominent Adelaide family, commando in WWII, school teacher, dentist, merchant banker, travel agent and tour operator, honorary consul, racehorse owner, hotel management school founder, vineyard operator, author and no doubt a couple of things I’ve forgotten.  Alongside those achievements he enjoyed a long, happy marriage, and helped raise 5 successful children, doted on his 15 grandchildren, and lived to see 16 great grandchildren.

So many people he met over his life found him remarkable - he managed to blend incredible curiosity, insight, generosity and desire to make the world a better place in every way he could.  He showed genuine affection and interest in anyone, whether they were rich and famous, or just one of the many people who happened to cross his path.

Rex was fascinated by people - how they think and act.  When he was young he read anything he could learn from, particularly biographies and histories.  And with each experience and encounter, he asked questions, hypothesised, observed and noted his findings.  Much of what is now written in leadership studies and self-help books he had identified half a century ago, and applied to his own life.

He clearly recognised that happiness wasn’t to be achieved by chasing after money or status, but by dedicating your life to improving your abilities and using your gifts to improve the world.  Noblesse Oblige (the gifted must give - the family motto of the Quetteville family in Rex’s series of historical novels) was something that he believed everyone was capable of doing and encouraged to do.

Alongside this, he came up with lots of rules for living (he called them his ten commandments, until there became way too many to pass off for ten!) - and I would say every one of them is as good advice now as it was when he sat me down at age 14 along with my cousins and taught them to us.  These include: Punitive expeditions seldom succeed, The worst four letter words have five letters - fault and blame, If you can’t think of anything nice to say, say something nice.  I honestly don’t think I’m exaggerating too much to describe him as a Benjamin Franklin for our time.

Rex never stopped learning, and his last book, “Don’t Miss the Bus” recounted the neuroscience of ageing - bringing together the latest research and ideas that he had observed in himself and many around him.  Much of his final two years was spent promoting the responsibility we each have to ensure our minds stay as nimble as possible in our later years.

I realise all this could make Rex come across as a strict man who spent his life following rules - but that would be completely wrong.  He was a born entertainer, with an amusing story for every occasion.  He loved parties, and music - particularly the jazz greats.  I have many memories of us going to musicals on his frequent trips to London, most recently to Gypsy only 5 weeks before his death - and he knew the lyrics to everything.   He loved practical jokes (occasionally even to the point of annoying those of us who were trying to organise things around him).  In other words, yes, life might be for optimising, but never at the expense of living.

My grandfather’s death will leave a huge hole in my life, as well as those of his many families and friends.  That said, I feel immensely privileged to have known him and spent so much time with him in my life.  I know I will think of him and his ideas often, and would love to feel I was doing what I could to continue his work.