In 1982 a teacher at Ipswich Grammar organised a cut-price, month-long tour of Europe, and my parents sent me on it so that I could experience different cultures, real-life history and the starvation that comes with complimentary breakfasts on bus tours.
There were 10 of us from various grades, and we didn’t really know one another. Across the tour we all experienced occasional homesickness and the usual teen angst – but there was one guy who never lost his sense of humour, cheered up the more frail among us, and was a friend to everybody instantly: Richard Gray.
I hadn’t really known him before, and I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had just made a friend for life; because when Richard became your friend, he was a friend for life – and he became everybody’s friend.
Richard was born in Rockhampton in 1966, the youngest of the six children of George, Federal MP for Rockhampton, and Bray. George died when Richard was an infant, but Richard’s mother instilled in him the strong belief in a fair go for all that she had shared with her husband, and that sense of fairness would be fundamental to all that he did through his life and career.
With six children under foot, things were busy but happy in the Gray household. In an effort to help his mother out, Richard and his sister Linda – both much younger than the elder four children – would accompany his older sister Trish during her courtship (what Trish’s intended thought about this arrangement is not recorded). It can’t have hurt as Trish did get married, causing much anguish and tears from Richard and Linda when the youngsters found out they could not go on the honeymoon.
Richard’s advocacy skills not then being what they would become, he was unable to persuade the adults to let them come along – although the newlyweds did confess on their return that they missed the little ones; so he could at least claim a moral victory.
Richard earned a scholarship to Ipswich Grammar School, where he excelled both academically and on the sporting field. He boarded at the school, and when money was short he would send letters home in the name of the ‘Richard Gray Memorial Trust’, seeking donations. His advocacy skills having improved, he was always successful. He was accepted to study law at the Queensland Institute of Technology, where he promptly co-founded the QIT rugby league team, The Gerbils.
He was a popular member of the law school, both with fellow students and lecturers. While most students understandably socialised mostly within their year groups, Richard had friends across the entire law school; it was also around this time that he acquired the nickname ‘Penguin’, by which he would be known by all and sundry for the rest of his days.
He did articles on the Gold Coast before moving to Brisbane to work with Michael Robinson, before purchasing the practice and hanging out his own shingle as Richard Gray & Associates. Richard’s determination to stand up for those who needed it most meant that he did a great deal of legal aid work and focused strongly on crime; he took on many cases that nobody else would, and often achieved justice for those clients (even when all he got out of it was their thanks).
He met and married Kirsty, and they soon welcomed three much-loved children – Andy, Georgie and Sarah. Richard also managed to fit in the occasional ‘golden oldies’ rugby union tour, on which (at least as he told it) his performances were electric.
Richard was never happier than when spending time with his family and friends, and was always up for an afternoon on the hill at Bishop Park watching his beloved Norths, or Manly in the NRL (one of his few faults was poor choices in football teams).
Sadly, Richard passed away of a heart attack on 17 January at 56 years of age. He is survived by his wife and three children, and countless friends he made and kept over the years, leaving a large and unfillable hole in many lives.
He had a wonderful outlook on life, always sure that no matter what the circumstances, things would work out, and he had a way of making everyone else think that too. Richard always had a smile and a quick quip for any situation and was one of those rare people who did not have an enemy in the world; he will be much missed.
Vale, Richard Gray, here’s hoping you are sinking a cold one where the sunshine never ends.
Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.