Thursday, January 5, 2012

Vale - Ronald William Woodhead 1927-2011

Ron and his cousin, my mother-in-law 2001
Ron Woodhead was my mother-in-law's first cousin. I had a number of dealings with this gentleman during the past twenty years as he shared my interest in family history and was keen to learn about his Gowans ancestry. One always gets a buzz when one finds someone who is genuinely interested in one's research and Ron was such a person.

I knew about Ron as a family man, a kind man, a soldier and an academic. Yesterday I learnt,  from the eulogy at his funeral held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Springwood, about Ron, the deeply religious man.

Ronald William Woodhead was born on 15th February 1927 at the War Memorial Hospital, Waverley to Eric Laister Woodhead and Florence Joanna Gowans. Ron grew up in a committed Christian family, with his grandfather being Deacon of the Congregational Church at Burwood, for many years. Ron had a happy early family life at Burwood with his two younger brothers before his parents moved to the lower Blue Mountains.
1945 Army Paybook Photo

As a patriotic young Australian Ron joined the military in 1945 as soon as he attained the age of 18. Ron's initial training as a draughtsman was put to use during his time in the forces. He served with the 13th Australian Army Troop Company, Royal Australian Engineers, British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF)Ron was encouraged by an Army Officer to enrol in a University Course once he left the service so he embarked on a Bachelor of Engineering Course at Sydney University.

Ron never left academia. He taught at the University of New South Wales where he eventually became Professor Ronald Woodhead, Head of Engineering. Ron studied in the US in 1959 and lived there with the family in the late 60s and early 70s but returned to live in Australia.  Ron is on the list of Emeriti of The University of New South Wales.

After taking an early retirement due to his poor eyesight ("I'm blind you know") Ron worked on voluntary projects in Peru travelling regularly to mentor members of an engineering faculty there. Ron wrote a number of books during his career including Critical path methods in construction practice / James M. Antill, Ronald W. WoodheadDesign of construction and process operations / Daniel W. Halpin, Ronald W. Woodhead and Behaviour of slabs
Ron Woodhead (right) 1982

While he was in the Army Ron became interested in Catholicism and, as fate would have it, he met up with a young Catholic lady, Kathleen, who would become his wife in 1952. Shortly after this Ron converted to Catholicism. Ron and Kath settled on a large block just down the road from Norman Lindsay in Faulconbridge. It was here that they raised their ten children. On family planning Ron indicated that he had it right - he had five boys and five girls.
While studying in the US in 1959 Ron became a member of the Opus Dei movement. After Opus Dei began its  apostolic activities in Australia in 1963 Ron supported their endeavours. Ron's commitment to  Opus Dei  was a major facet of his life right up until his death. That there were eight priests on the altar celebrating Ron's Requiem Mass is a testament to Ron's commitment to his religion.
His cousins, my mother-in-law and her sister, knew nothing of Ron's deep involvement with Opus Dei. He did not preach his religion he lived it. Although he was blind and no spring chicken Ron travelled by train from the mountains regularly to visit my mother-in-law at Kogarah. When Uncle Merv became ill and was hospitalised while on a trip from the US Ron and Kath invited them into their home and took care of he and Aunty Merle.

On my last visit to Ron just over a year ago his health was failing and his memory wasn't too good but he stiil wanted to share family anecdotes and show family photos to the newly found Gowans cousin from England that I had brought to meet him. He even wanted to engage him in a game of draughts. 

Ron (Back Left) and Gowans cousins c 1984


Sharon said...

Thanks for sharing Ron's story with us. He looks so young in his army photo doesn't he.

A O'Brien said...

Thanks Jill for sharing Ron's story with us, what an inspirational life he lived.


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