Stanley Marks: 1949-2021
After Stan Marks moved into St Andrews Nursing Home in Hughes in March, the constant stream of visitors prompted staff to ask whether he was somebody famous - and in Canberra he certainly was.
Having led some 820 walks for the Canberra Bushwalking Club, he touched the lives of thousands of Canberrans, many of whom were new to the experience, and they came back for more.
People loved the form of walks Stan offered. Although he led a good number of multi-day walks, he excelled in leading medium-distance day walks with a light pack, or weekend walks, car camping or staying in a holiday house or youth hostel.
He usually "led from behind", and despite his sometimes gruff exterior he always took great care of walkers he thought could be struggling. He helped a number of people dealing with significant personal issues find the gentle joys of bushwalking.
A citation for his life membership to the club in 2016 recorded that his contribution in terms of days spent leading walks and the total number of people on his walks was well ahead of any other leader in the Club's history of more than half a century. He thoroughly researched and developed many new walks, among others in the Namadgi, Captains Flat, Bundanoon, and NSW South Coast areas.
"He has also been a keen proponent of the popular after-work walks during daylight saving, acquainting members with the delights of local reserves such as Mt Ainslie, Mt Majura, Cooleman Ridge, Goorooyarroo, Red Hill, O'Connor and Bruce Ridges, and Mulligans Flat," the citation continued.
"For those unable or disinclined to carry overnight packs, Stan has organised many weekend trips where people may camp or stay in accommodation and do day walks. His two or three-day day trips to Bundanoon, Durras, Endrick River, Jervis Bay, Snowy Mountains and northern Kosciuszko attracted a keen following."
Stan served professionally and diligently on the CBC Committee in several portfolios for 12 years, including four years as president, from 2003-05 and again from 2007-09.
He died on April 17, only weeks after his 72nd birthday, of a particularly aggressive form of prostate cancer he battled for almost five years.
If his untimely death proved anything, it proved the value of middle- and older-aged men insisting on regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests. In 2014, a doctor advised him that a PSA test wasn't especially useful, or necessary: two years later a new GP recommended a test immediately, but it was too late.
Above all Stan was fun to be with. He relished good conversation, jokes and gossip at the dinner table, but as a near-teetotaler wasn't one for late nights - come 9pm, he trundled off to bed, leaving others to continue chatting, carousing or playing cards. On one memorable occasion he was beguiled into playing cards until the unprecedented hour of 11pm!
Stan was born in Sydney. When he was just 18 months old his mother, while walking to a choir rehearsal near their home in Cooranbong on the NSW central coast, was killed in a car accident. He spent his formative years in Bundaberg, Queensland, where his father, a devout Seventh Day Adventist, was a pineapple grower and citrus orchardist. The loss of his mother had a profound effect on him, as he found it impossible to relate to his father or stepmother. There were dalliances, but he never married.
Throughout his life he maintained close relations with most of his siblings, including those born to his stepmother, and especially to his sister Barbara, and sister Joy with whom he was in almost daily contact and who, with cousin Judy, was by his side through his last days. He was devoted to his nephews and nieces.
The major part of Stan's professional career was spent in the Australian Public Service, where he fulfilled his duties with exceptional competence but lacked the Machiavellian skills needed to climb to the top. In his later years in the public service, he was in charge of the Commonwealth's Roads to Recovery program, which delivered financial assistance to local councils to assist with maintenance and improvement of rural roads outside the highway network. A meticulous record keeper, he established a filing system that stood the program in good stead for his successors. After he left, a skeptical manager asked a young high-flyer to review the program with a view to sweeping changes. The report came back that it couldn't have been done better.
His greatest interest during his APS career, however, was in trains: for several years he assisted in the administration of the National Rail Corporation, and a treasured memory was travelling in the cabin of the French TGV from Paris to Lyon, as an honoured guest of the Société Nationale de Chemins de Fer (SNCF).
Despite his admiration for the TGV, he did not favour a very fast train for Australia: our greater distances and lower populations, in his view, made it an uneconomic proposition. As numerous letters to The Canberra Times attested, he was also unconvinced of the economic justification for Canberra's new tramline.
He was a steam buff, and there was little he didn't know about the development of the UK and Australian rail networks, including such details as the history, design and timetable of the Flying Scotsman. A favourite anecdote was that of the tragic train accident in 1876 at Abbot's Ripton, which occurred during the heaviest snow storm for decades. Stan recounted this in great detail. The explanation for this knowledge could be found on his bookshelf - the story was in one of his earliest books. Now well worn and with broken binding, The World of Trains must have made a great impression on the young boy.
Stan was gifted with a prodigious memory, which made study easy. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science (University of London, 1969), Bachelor of Arts - Theology (Pacific Union College, 1972), and a Diploma in Education (University of Newcastle, 1979). After completing his science and theology degrees, Stan sold books in Western Australia for a year.
Teaching seemed a better option and Stan started his career as a science and maths teacher in Melbourne, but while he was an effective teacher, he decided that career was not for him. He travelled to London and for about a year worked at the New Gallery, a church ministry centre in London. Following his education degree, Stan moved to Canberra where he settled into a career in the public service.
Stan's adherence to Seventh Day Adventism waned during his years in Canberra, but his Christian faith never left him, and was a comfort in his final months. He was a gentle soul, with a keen sense of justice and compassion for others who are hard done by. He had one of the most brusque manners you could imagine when conversing with shopkeepers and restaurant staff, but by some magic rarely failed to win them over and keep them smiling. The owners and staff at his "local" restaurant, Olive at Hawker, and at Saffron, in Kingston, adored him.
This wasn't always the case - his abruptness could and did put some people off - but many of his former work colleagues, tennis playing companions, his tennis coach Helen Gourlay, his acupuncturist, his Pilates group, his massage therapist, all went the extra mile out of love and affection for him.
Thank you Stan, from the many whose lives you have touched in such a wonderful way. You had amazing energy and a unique ability to bring people together. We hoped you would brighten our lives for many years to come. That light has gone out.