Paul Ramsay: a man guided by better angels

We search for people guided by better angels and Paul Ramsay was such a man. He had style, charm and there is nothing wrong with that when these actions make the world a better place and you can deliver it with some flair.

I continue to return to a constant theme of the complex but brilliant and noble T.E. Lawrence as yet another biography is written with far less grace than the flow and prose of the subject they study. I juxtapose Lawrence against the stuffy deceit of Kim Philby.

Between these poles lie most prominent figures in variant gradations.

Philby, a spy and traitor who condemned, without question, so many of his colleagues to death by his deceit. Lawrence, who refused a knighthood, changed his name and gave away his rank. Philby, who pursued like a leech those who would support his children through the proper schools while he privately, secretly, emphatically and sulkily supported Stalinist communism. Both were from the higher side of the archaic British class system. Philby had a better start; Lawrence was, by the terminology of his day, illegitimate. But Lawrence’s life was noble and Philby was trash because that is how he treated the lives of others he was duty bound to protect.

It is not whether you were given a good start, it is what you do with that start for your country.

Last week I went to the funeral of Paul Ramsay, the grandson of Sir Austin Chapman (1864-1926) who served in the federal Parliament (1901-1926), where he held a number of ministries, including Defence, Trade, and Health.

Paul Ramsay was full of life, but life where he was a participant for your joy. Where the task was for you to enjoy life, his task was to see you happy.


He made his money looking after the sick and he made a tremendous amount of money and then left it all to charity. He was never married, he had no children, he was private but he liked colour and movement and he loved his staff and he loved his friends. He loved you being comfortable, his patients.

There are anecdotes galore for a man who left over three billion dollars behind for others.

One of the best was his own, that he borrowed from Carnegie; that you must reward yourself for success. So early in his career, after initial success he upgraded his VW to an E-Type Jag then looked at his reflection in the shop windows whilst driving, admiring what he saw. He then related the story in the self-deprecating Australian way, making fun of himself and this egotistical flaw.

Philby just wanted. Want, want, want from a system he despised yet he was born to the more privileged sector of. Philby was driven by a chip on his shoulder after his education at Westminster School then university at Cambridge. Philby, in an atmosphere of haute cuisine and grand vin, sold out his country, with a faux zeal that never sustained him from running away from the epiphany of his nation when his crimes were realised. Defection was his easy out.

Great men stand and fight as Nikita Khrushchev showed, denouncing Stalinism in his speech to the 20th Communist Party Congress on February 25, 1956. Stalinism was something Philby apparently never had much of a problem with.

Lawrence used his inner turmoil as piston compression to a noble life. He left us the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, for me one of the greatest works of literature, and some memorable quotes like this one: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.” 

But Philby leaves us with a bad taste in our mouth and a suspicion of all who believe they should be “there”.

Anyway, we search for people guided by better angels and Ramsay was such a man.

He had style and charm, and there is nothing wrong with that when these actions make the world a better place and you can deliver them with some flair.

Now for my anecdote on Ramsay: When the Queen was in Australia and the required function was held in the Great Hall of Parliament, Paul was there with an older, fairer friend and he approached me. "What a wonderful day, what a splendid event, etcetera. Now Barnaby you look like a man, etcetera, that can get things done. I bet you could introduce my friend to the Queen".  (Quite a task actually.)

Now that was Paul. It was always about serving others, him using his joie de vivre to make someone else's day. I did, and they were very happy and so was Paul, because they were.

Barnaby Joyce is the Minister for Agriculture and the deputy leader of the National Party.