sir eric herbert pearce obe
Picture from my own private collection

FAMED AUSTRALIANS #1

Based on research and my personal relationship with Sir Eric.

As a Catering and Hotel Management student at William Angliss College, we were encouraged to gain employment outside of school hours in our chosen industry as a way of gaining some work experience.

My studies commenced in January 1984, and after many waitressing, and restaurant hostessing positions, in 1986 I was offered a position of “Trainee Caterer” at one of Melbourne’s most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs known as the Atheneaum Club, Melbourne.

The club itself was founded in 1868 and some of the members were The Hon. Sir Henry Arthur Winneke, The Hon. Sir Henry (Edward) Bolte, HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, Mr Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer AC (a past employer), Mr Geoffrey Norman Webb (who would come into my life as an employer a few years later) and of course Sir Eric Herbert Pearce.

It was here I was given my first introduction to Sir Eric Pearce and Mr Kerry Packer, who were both attending a function in the Athena Restaurant. Sir Eric was born on the 5th of March 1905, raised in Hampshire, England and completed his studies at London University, after which he worked for an insurance company and was then transferred to Canada.

It was whilst overseas in April 1933, Sir Eric met and married number one wife, Ella Mary who worked as a saleswoman. Together they had a son, Royston Gyles Pearce the following year. The relationship had its problems and Sir Eric returned to England in 1937, where he started a radio career working for the BBC.

Pearce moved to Australia in 1938 where he met number two wife Jean Mary MacCartney in Sydney, they got engaged and as soon as his divorce came through from Ella in 1939, he wasted no time marrying Jean that very same year.

From 1940 onwards Sir Eric had a stellar career as a radio broadcaster, working for 3XY, 3DB, 5KA to name a few.

Eric joins Channel Seven as New Anchorman

By 1942, during World War 2 they had both moved to Melbourne living quite comfortably when Sir Eric decided to enrol in the Royal Australian Air Force as a “flying officer”. He was discharged in December that very same year.

When Television finally landed on Australian soil in 1956, many radio figureheads sought and gained employment in this new medium. Sir Eric was no exception, gaining employment with HSV7 in Melbourne as a newsreader and a game show host. One of his most memorable appearances, was he at the helm of the news desk, for the very first current affairs report to ever be relayed via “the tube” on 4 November 1956.

Sir Eric was to suffer a great blow to his heart when Jean Mary Pearce died aged 47 in 1956. Through my time knowing Sir Eric, he spoke of her sometimes with very fond memories, but it was wife number three Betty whom he spoke of the most.

It was 1963, that Sir Eric was to marry for the last time to Betty Constance. With this marriage Sir Eric also gained a stepdaughter. Sir Eric was renown for his catchphrase sign off of his news reports when he would say “God Bless you and you”. I once asked him why he said this and he told me that the first part “God Bless you’ was for his viewers, and the “and you” was for his lovely wife Betty. I recall him telling me that after his wife died, when he went back to work, he signed off just “God Bless you”. Well the Channel 9 switchboard lit up with callers wanting to know what was wrong with Sir Eric, was he ill, because he didn’t sign off in his usual manner. This was discussed with Sir Eric, and it was agreed, that Sir Eric would from that moment on, continue with his signature sign off ‘God Bless you, and you”.

Eric gets an Knighthood from the Queen and moves the Channel Nine.

Sir Eric’s reign at HSV7 came to an end in 1965 when he was replaced by Roger Climpson. And it was that very same year, voted by the viewers themselves, that Sir Eric received a Logie Award for “Outstanding Services to News Reading”. But it was his new appointment at GTV9, that Sir Eric is most remembered.

I can’t even fathom what it would have been like to be the number one newsreader at the time, reporting on the “Moon Landing” back in July 1969 having all the eyes of Melbourne, focused on you.

In 1970 he was made an “Officer of the Order” of the British Empire with a citation “for services to broadcasting”. And on 16 June 1979 as part of the Her Majesty the Queens honours list, he was knighted for “services to the community”.

Sir Eric was a long standing Patron of the Victorian Deaf/Blind Association and also supported the “Richmond Community Health Centre” situated near the old studios of GTV9. In 1994, they re-built the property and named it “Sir Eric Pearce House” in recognition of his many years of support and it is now a residential aged care facility.

sir eric herbert pearce obe
Picture from my own private collection

 

In 1978 Sir Eric retired from television but not from Channel 9. I recall he had a very close relationship with Media Magnate and owner of Channel 9, Mr Kerry Packer (AC) his former boss. Mr Packer held Sir Eric in very high regard and made sure that he still felt needed, still felt like he was a ongoing part of the Channel Nine Family and he made regular visits.

Sir Eric was finally on his own and around the same time, I left the Atheneaum as the hours didn’t fit well with my studies.  On my last day, Mr Packer appeared and asked me what I would be doing now that I have joined the ranks of the unemployed.  At the time, i really didn’t know what i would do and it was right then Mr Packer said I’ll give you a job.  He asked me to keep an eye out on his old friend.  Visit with him, take care of him and if he ever needed anything, just to let him know. So I would, giving Mr Packer regular reports of how he was going.  I quite enjoyed our visits. He would sit in his chair, in his striped pj’s and robe with the newspaper in his lap, scotch in one hand and a cigar/pipe in the other. We would chat for a time, about everything and anything and when I thought he was getting tired, I would leave to return another day and repeat the process.  His beloved Betty was never far from his thoughts and spoke of her often and how lost he felt without her.

sir eric herbert pearce obe
Picture from my own private collection

He lived in a modest flat in Toorak, up until he could no longer care for himself, and was moved into a nursing home. One time I recall him telling me about a cat he found and later named Marmalade. Sir Eric took a very special interest in the ginger moggy, and he felt he belonged to him, but really Marmalade belonged to no-one. Marmalade was put on the pay role so to speak and lived out his life as a much loved property pet at GTV9. He took lifts around the building when he chose to, he’d saunter through the corridors at his own pace and occasionally visit the newsroom. Once, a newsreader on air suddenly looked shocked and uneasy, as Marmalade decided it was time to jump onto her lap, during televising. I even recall Marmalade was a client at the South Yarra Veterinary Clinic where I started my first career as a Veterinary Nurse. It was at the South Yarra Veterinary Clinic, marmalade would be given his annual vaccinations and check up. For a cat, he certainly had a wonderful life and no expense was spared when it came to Sir Eric’s beloved Marmalade.

He also talked of his very special relationship with another channel nine employee Peter Smith, an Australian radio and television voice over artist. He told me he loved Peter like a son and spoke very highly of him.

Sir Eric Pearce House for Aged Care

In 1869 in Church Street, Richmond, the Richmond Dispensary commenced as a “Community Health Service” caring for the health needs of the poor of Richmond. Today it has transformed into an Inner East Community Health Service, one of the oldest surviving community health services in Australia offering residential and non-residential care.

By the end of the 1970’s the Richmond Dispensary had undergone a huge facelift to accommodate updated technology and equipment. Another change was to the name, it became the “Richmond Community Health Centre”. Some of the additional services added to the centre were, Xrays, Casualty treatment, Occupational therapy, Speech therapy, podiatry, psychiatry, audiology and physiotherapy just to name a few.

By the 1990’s Richmond’s land prices increased as did the population, and for those older residents of Richmond, who remained in the area, there was also a great need to accommodate these peoples medical ailments and ongoing conditions.

In 1991, Community Health nurse Noela Fleming voiced her concern for an urgent need to establish an aged care facility in the area of Richmond. In 1992, some adjoining land to the health care centre was the perfect location to commence building such a facility, and the Victorian Government pitched in a $1.03 million grant toward the costs.

sir eric herbert pearce obe sir eric herbert pearce obe

Close by to the centre was GTV 9, where Sir Eric Pearce worked. Knowing Sir Eric like I did, he could sell ice to the eskimos’ and it comes as no surprise to me that he would jump on board this project and bring with him the full backing of GTV 9 too. Together they held a number of significant fundraising events and Gala Balls to raise the necessary money to complete the centre.

Building commenced late January 1994, and some 10 months later, on 21 November 1994, a 30 bed hostel was opened by local Federal MP Lindsay Tanner and Sir Eric Pearce. The centre decided to name the building “Sir Eric Pearce House” in recognition of all the support and effort Sir Eric put into its establishment.

A Special Birthday destroyed by the elements

One time, it was Sir Eric’s birthday at the nursing home and Mr Packer really wanted me to do something very special for Sir Eric to mark the occasion. I knew how much he loved his scotch, so I decided to some how smuggle it into him without anyone knowing. I found a chocolate shop in Hawthorn that made little bottles of chocolate with scotch inside, wrapped up in foil. They suggested a large chocolate champagne bottle be made that we could fill with these individual scotch filled chockies. No one would ever know, well that was at least the plan.

You wouldn’t know the scotch filled chocolates were inside the big bottle until you cracked it open. I thought, this is it, this is how I will smuggle them in. So I arranged to have the champagne bottle made and told them I would pick it up the following week for Sir Eric’s birthday. They even etched his name into the outside bottle with a happy birthday greeting at no extra cost, because they knew who it was for. Well, on the day I picked it up, it was about 30 degrees outside. Even with my air conditioner on full, by the time I drove from Hawthorn to Malvern/Glen Iris, my beautiful present was nothing but a tube of melted chocolate, over foiled melted chocolate.

I went in to see Sir Eric in tears and he asked me “What is wrong dear”. I told him that I bought him a chocolate bottle for his birthday and it had melted in the car. He said, “Oh Dear, it can’t be all that bad, go on now, go and get it and bring it in to me”.   So I returned to my car and extracted the melting, gewie, chocolate thingy and took it back to his room. When he saw it, he said “now bring it over here, yes that’s right” He opened the top and looked down into the cylinder. He then called over one of the nurses to come and try some chocolate. Before I knew it, he had about 5 or 6 of them dipping their hands into the melted chocolate licking their fingers, loving every minute of it. Thinking to myself Oh My God, you can’t do that, we’ll get sprung and these women are on duty. Here he was saying, “come on in, “have some lovely chocolate that Caroline brought me”, “lets all have a good time”, and I leaned over the bed and whispered to Sir Eric, that chocolate is full of alcohol. It has little bottles filled with scotch throughout it. He then replied simply, “Oh well, I guess they will have a Jolly Good Time then”.

Finally towards the end Sir Eric got dementia or it could have been Alzheimer’s, as I recall in my visits, he rarely recognised me and would talk of things that were very strange for his character. Sir Eric was like a grandfather figure to me and I will always remember the man who would correct my pronunciation when the opportunity arose. A true gentleman if ever their was one, Sir Eric will always inspire me to stay true to myself and respect those around us.

The passing of a truly inspiring and caring gentleman

Sir Eric Pearce passed away on the 12th April, 1997. As a devout Anglican, A thanksgiving service for the life of Sir Eric Herbert Pearce was held at the church he regularly attended, St John’s in Toorak, by the vicar Archdeacon Philip Newman, with a selected few to return to channel nine in Richmond his home away from home for the wake. Eulogies were read by Daryl Somers and close friend Peter Smith. Sir Eric’s ashes were interred with those of his wife in the Memorial Garden at St.Johns.

sir eric herbert pearce obe
The Service Booklet

During the service, I was ushered up the very front given a seat in the second row near the isle just behind his stepdaughter and next to his coffin. After the service and once outside, a staff member asked me if I was returning to channel nine for the wake to which I replied yes. It was then that I was introduced to Tiffany Blackman, John Blackman’s daughter who was blind. An absolutely lovely girl, who wished to continue onto the wake, but needed a lift. So together we arrived at nine and mingled, reminisced and shared stories of a great man. A highly respected man who left such a huge crater in the lives of all that knew him.

After my time with Sir Eric, Mr Packer had another job for me.  This time i would be working closely with Cricketing Great Tony Greig, but that’s for another day.

sir eric herbert pearce obe
Invitation to Wake

It is with a heavy heart and some truly wonderful memories, this article must come to an end. Sir Eric always said to me “God Bless” when I left the room or hung up on him, so did my grandmother, and in honour of these two truly amazing and beautiful souls, to this day, it is how I now sign off with people.

With all that said,

God Bless you, and you. (we all know who that’s for)

A special thanks for Jenny Cotterell, General Manager of the Inner East Community Health Center for allowing me access to pictures and historic information to complete my article.