FRED Laurance didn’t just have a family, he had a community one he built almost singlehandedly with his combination of kindness and caring and gratitude.
When Fred’s wife Nancy moved into Amaroo Lodge in 2014, and then Granite Hill when it opened, it suddenly seemed he had joined her, he was spending so much time with his her, the other residents and the staff.
He was one of those charismatic characters; staff at Euroa Health say if you wanted to have a chat with Fred you needed to have a lot of patience because everyone walking past had to stop and say g’day to him.
Fred would also often have Zelma Mimis at his side after her husband Naze arrived at Amaroo within a week of Nancy’s move.
She recalled “Fred would always go above and beyond to contribute to fellow residents and staff”.
Zelma added Fred even turned up at her husband’s 100th birthday “with the biggest cake we had ever seen”.
But Fred’s enduring legacy would not just be what a top bloke he was, it would also be Chinese food and, of course, fish and chips and not just any Chinese food; it was nearly always sweet and sour.
During one of his many visits Fred noticed another resident eating food from a local takeaway and next thing everyone knew Fred had made a fortnightly ‘date’, not just with Nancy but with all the residents and staff on duty to which he would bring a massive serve of sweet and sour or fish and chips.
Date day quickly became a fixture on the Euro Health calendar according to Catie Hill, executive assistant to the organisation’s chief executive.
“Fred was like family to staff and residents here and I was one of the many who found out just how patient you had to be at Granite Hill if you wanted to have a conversation with him,” Catie said.
“When I asked him why Chinese, he fondly recalled ‘sweet and sour was Nancy’s favourite and no matter the choice, anywhere they went, they still ended up with sweet and sour’,” she said.
“Nancy passed away in September 2017 and as Fred was packing her belongings and making the long walk to the car park, a staff member said ‘don’t be a stranger Fred’ – and he wasn’t.
“He asked if he could travel from Seymour to continue to visit and sit with residents and their families, with whom he had established friendships.
“And he continued his tradition of bringing meals for as many as 18 residents and staff – and a meal from Euroa’s Chinese restaurant the Flam Sham, on a monthly rotating roster.”
Fred happily and openly spoke about the love and care the staff showed his Nancy, describing them as “brilliant people, doing a brilliant job”.
And kept saying it until he died in December.
“Our staff were saddened to hear the news of Fred’s passing, and when I met him at the end of November he cheekily said the only addition to this article should be the important words ‘Fred is a champion’,” Catie added.
“He might have laughed, just being Fred, but his actions through the years were the true reflection of the champion he really was.”
One person who was something of an unsung heroine in Fred’s story was Seymour’s Ine Jenkins, who for three years was his ‘chauffeur’ when he was not able to get himself around as well.
Once a month they would make the trip to Euroa, via the takeaway shop, for Fred’s next ‘date’.
It was a friendship that stretched back decades, when she and Nancy were soldier’s wives at the Puckapunyal army base.
“I was a new mum in the camp and Nancy took me on, her shoulders were there for me to lean on despite Fred being in Vietnam,” Ine explained.
“Although he started out as a National Service soldier he ended up spending a long time serving – and even after he was discharged he was doing work in transport with them,” she said.
“Then when Nancy started getting ill, I would also go and see her, but I only started driving Fred after he contracted shingles and needed some help.
“And when Fred was given the OK to continue his meals, mostly Chinese but I do recall one occasion there was a fire at the Chinese takeaway so that month it had to be fish and chips, like it or not.”
Ine said Fred simply “loved” doing the lunches and “the many friendships” he had at Euroa Health. Even on the odd occasion she could not drive him on the day he always managed to get there.
“Fred was a good, old-fashioned kind of guy who was a natural with people.”
Catie Hill was perhaps best able to explain the Euroa Health world without Fred: “He is dearly missed by all his Euroa Health family – and Chinese meals might never seem the same again”.
“We are all the richer for having Fred in our lives.”