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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Example (07/25/13)

TITLE: We Called Him "The Chief."
By Noel Mitaxa


For almost thirty years, E. Lyall Williams was the much-loved principal of our theological college at Glen Iris, one of Melbourne’s leafy south-eastern suburbs.

But I wasn’t impressed with his approach to our first-year class; when seventeen of us sat in a semi-circle, taking turns to share our experience. This was so he might assess our suitability for student pastoral appointments. As a trained interviewer and employment counsellor, I was appalled at the lack of privacy, and that he never bothered to make any notes.

I was too professional to raise my dismay at the time, but I did complain to my room-mate Peter, a third year student.

Peter just smiled and said, “Just wait until you get to know him."

It was only a short wait before I discovered that our principal, whom we called “the Chief,” had a phenomenal memory.

His hair had years earlier abandoned its follicular foundation, and he was an inconspicuous, rotund figure. Yet from behind those thick, horn-rimmed glasses, his eyes sparkled with youthful alertness.

His pastoral warmth endeared him to us, for he desired for us to grow in searching out the truth. He also welcomed interruptions, as in one theology class when a student queried his approach, “Isn’t there a verse that says something like…?”

The Chief grinned in his reply, “Do you mean …?” quoting the particular verse within the context of the four or five verses on both sides of it, with a warmth that invited his questioner to respond with a wry, “Oh, so you know that one, do you?”

He could lecture for weeks without using notes, but we felt that his age might have given him an advantage with details of early church history, since he’d been born so close to those times…

He regularly preached without notes for, as he explained, how could he expect a congregation to remember a sermon afterwards if he could not remember it beforehand?

We once asked him about this skill over lunch in the college dining room. He responded with a story of a curate who learned that the bishop was coming to hear his first sermon and would be staying for lunch. Eager to impress, the curate’s sermon was totally-scripted. But the bishop only offered his verdict when pressed: “I saw only three faults: firstly, you read it; secondly, you didn’t read it well; and thirdly, it wasn’t really worth reading!”

He also exemplified the maxim “healthy body, healthy mind,” by embracing and encouraging all students to participate in weekly sports. Having succeeded in Aussie Rules football, a high-contact sport, he never held back.

At one inter-college game of football, with the opposing college faculty members watching, their principal asked them, “Who is that bald, elderly fellow with the bandy legs? He’s running rings round all the younger men!”

When they replied, “That’s their principal,” he was amazed that his friend and colleague could still be actively playing at fifty-three years of age…

Yet the Chief’s greatest attribute was how he lived out Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger,” he never opted for checking the overreaction box when tensions rose.

One student, who seemed to embody a personal odyssey to annoy and sundry, was again getting under everyone’s skin. During an early church history class, when questioning the rise of the clergy in the early church, he kept using a hard “g”—as in “gate”—instead of the normal soft “g”—as in “general.” Quickly sensing everyone’s irritation, the Chief inquired about his reason for this innovation, to be told that it did not really matter. He gently pressed him. “Well then, since c-l-e-r-g-y may now to be pronounced that way, do you propose we call this institution a theological colligg?”

As students, we were blessed to know him, but his stance on church co-operation and working towards peace antagonised those with more dogmatic or sectarian views. One of them once wrote him a letter, typing the envelope in red ribbon, “To Judas Iscariot, Glen Iris!”

Providing yet another example of Proverbs 15:1, the Chief told us, “The most embarrassing thing about that letter was that it found me…”

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This article has been read 559 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Linda Goergen08/01/13
What an interesting and well done tribute to E. Lyall Williams! I enjoying reading about the man. How wonderful that a man of such high and wise character was in a position to be a great example for so many!
Ellen Carr 08/02/13
What an engrossing character portrayal! You've written it with humour and kept my interest right through. Well done!
lynn gipson 08/05/13
Beautifully written, described and expressed. Another fine story in which I found myself engrossed until the very end. Your characterization of this man allowed me to fully come to know him. Excellent!
Danielle King 08/05/13
I feel I'm on first name terms with E Lyall Williams, such is your skilled and humorously written tribute to him. The chief certainly set a fine example for you students to follow. It shows how mistaken we can be in judging a person by outward appearance before we really get to know them.
Virgil Youngblood 08/05/13
A worthy and delightful tribute to an outstanding man. Well done, my friend.
C D Swanson 08/05/13
Clearly quite a character that I embraced by the end of this endearing story.

This entry gave tribute to an interesting man that left quite a legacy behind.

God bless~
C D Swanson 08/08/13
Congrats my friend for your EC!! God bless~
Bea Edwards 08/08/13
You penned a loving yet humorous tribute to this man's obvious influence in your life.
I'm sure he is smiling at you from heaven.
Ellen Carr 08/08/13
Congrats Noel on your EC. Well-deserved!
Kon Michailidis08/12/13
What a great story about an exemplary man! Congrats. By coincidence, the story about the bishop and the curate was repeated in part today in the Australian news after the debate between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. After the PM was found to have read from notes against the rules, the opposition leader said that it was not that the PM read from the notes that bothered him, but that they were not worth reading. Have you been coaching Mr Abbott?
Beth LaBuff 08/14/13
What an amazing man (and example). You introduced him to us in a captivating way. I loved the Judas Iscariot paragraph. :) Super congrats on your EC!