Sample Funeral Service
FOR ANTON BRANDT
Family and friends of Anton Brandt
Anton’s second daughter, Anika told me during the week—I’m sure she won’t mind me repeating it here—that her father had no acquaintances, only conversations, hundreds of them. And once a conversation had been engaged, even on your very first meeting with Anton, a friendship was formed. Often for life.
My name is Roger McDonald. I’m a funeral celebrant. The Brandt family have graced me with the privilege of conducting the funeral service for a man whose spark, verve and joy for life, while gone, are never far away.
I thank you on their behalf for your presence and support today. It is so clear from your numbers and your presence that the man you have come to honour and to grieve touched many, and touched them deeply.
The time the Brandts have given me in this, their hardest of times, has formed a portrait of a man who knew much, loved much, and for whom life always came before lament.
They have left me with a portrait of a boy, a youth, a man, a husband, father, family guide, grandfather and finally a friend to hundreds spread across a world now emptier for his death.
The family has spoken bravely and openly about the kind of man he was. Today is an anthem of sorrow and joy—sorrow at the time ahead without him, but joy to reflect on the memories he left with us. Curiously, this apparent contradiction is mirrored in one of Anton’s many sayings. I refer to it a little later.
But I would remind you, as he would often remind his remarkable circle of family and friends, that wisdom comes about in many ways. In his view, he saw it as a result of age blending what we know with what we don’t, and being grateful that the gap doesn’t get any wider. Unless, of course, we choose to stop learning, something Anton refused to do over a long career and a long life.
For you, his family, relatives and friends, and for some of us who only knew of him, today’s wistfulness and reflection continues that learning.
Anton was more than a philosopher, he was a thinker with a conscience.
The family shared with me one of his favourite sayings. I won’t even try to attempt the original German, although it’s worth remembering that his English was as good or better than most of ours.
He would say that a shared joy is a double joy; while a shared sorrow is only half a sorrow.
Could we reflect on that thought for moment?
Anton was a voracious reader, insisting on tackling contemporary issues in politics, history, literature and society.
As well as a European and an Australian, he was truly a man of the world. He would have known and shared John Donne’s sentiment in his much loved Meditation 17 written in 1624:
‘No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thy friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.’
Though originally a piece of prose, its acceptance into poetry does it no harm. Indeed it elevates it into our imaginations.
What it universally says is precisely what Anton stood for—the common purpose of humanity—to give, to love, to share. But it also reminds us of our common fate: that we too must face our own end at some time, just as the bell rings for Anton today.
All our hearts reach out today to Anton’s immediate family—his wife of nearly 40 years, Charlotte, and children, Linda, Anika and Bergen, and grandchildren, Sophie and Carl. His wider family too is in our thoughts. Anton leaves a brother Rainer and sister-in-law Marianna, and nephews Stefan and Dieter.
Rainer and other members of Anton’s German family were unable to travel in time for this ceremony. But I know that their generous spirit is richly in our presence.
Much will be shared with you about Anton as we move through this celebration. Linda, Anika and Bergen will speak about their memories of a hard-working, and insatiably curious father.
And grand-daughter, Sophie, daughter of Linda, will celebrate his life through a touching and moving verse tribute to her adored Poppa.
A little further on, we’ll we pause for a moment of quiet reflection on the journey of this remarkable man. As we reflect, the family will play for you a video presentation of some of the treasured moments that endeared him to them.
Charlotte and the family have asked that you all share your memories of Anton immediately after this celebration over refreshments at the family home. Details can be found in the order of service.
We use the word celebration in all its richness:
Properly, it signifies a public ritual, the marking of a significant event that is important to individual and community life. And so this day is such an event—the passing of a man who managed to bring out the gifts and qualities of so many individuals through his sheer goodwill.
The Brandt family, through Anton’s career as a diplomat, were very widely travelled. Indeed, a family joke was shared annually as Anton’s birthday approached. ‘Forget the socks and ties—what I really need is a new passport.’
From his birth on December 11 1931 in Munich, to his death in Melbourne on March 18 2011, Anton’s life revolved around observation, learning and connecting with people, and reconnecting them to each other.
Anton was born to professional parents. His father, Reuben, was a surgeon, and his mother, Elsa, a language teacher. By the time he attended school, Anton was already literate and fluent in his native German, and in English, Italian and French.
It was a loving and close family with an international view on the world. Although born into the turbulence of pre-war 1930s Germany, the family avoided as much as it could the politics that saw Hitler’s rise to power early in Anton’s life.
Reuben’s sense of the world as a bigger stage led to post graduate studies in Edinburgh and London in the early and mid 1930s. That world view would have important consequences.
Anton was a prodigious reader, and made it a point to select material above his age. Whenever possible, he read in English and French as well.
And though a capable student in the sciences, he regularly topped the humanities academic lists, revelling in history, literature, languages and economics.
With his mother’s aptitude for languages and his father’s worldliness, he would nonetheless choose his own course. But not before the horror of the Second World War brought terrible loss to the family.
Anton’s talented father built a steady practice in orthopaedic surgery. With it came a growing reputation for his devotion to the preservation of human life, regardless of politics, nationality or belief. Tragically, that reputation would lead to his early death. He was killed while operating on a wounded prisoner of war in the frantic fighting in France in 1944.
Growing up in increasingly desperate conditions as Germany plunged towards catastrophe, a young Anton pursued his studies as best he could. Some of it was self-taught through his parents’ extensive library, and his mother’s grieving determination to honour her husband’s death through her children’s education.
The hardships of the times sparked a fascination for the world away from the war. After high school, and night-time university classes, he seized the chance to work as a translator with the Allied occupation forces. His language skills and grasp of history and economics soon attracted attention.
He used the post war years to study at university part-time, gaining degrees in languages and economics. His continued work as a translator brought him into contact with a wide variety of Allied personnel.
With the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States in 1955, Anton was one of its early employees.
A twinkling personality, and a talent to hear all sides of a story granted him access to wider roles than most of his age. He took up his first foreign posting, ironically in London, where his father had studied in the early 1930s.
It was there that his true value as a diplomat and linguist was recognised. It would lead him to a series of further postings around the world.
It was also in London that two of the great loves of his life were formed.
The first was instant, powerful and enduring. The beautiful Charlotte, who just happened to be an Australian, a nurse by profession, but by now a medical administrator in the British hospital system.
They met, of all places, at a cricket match where Anton had been reluctantly dragged by a colleague. Recalling his own father’s description of his cricket experience—‘I’ve had more enjoyment watching concrete set’—he was determined not to be impressed by anything so dull as a game that could take up to five days and still fail to achieve a result.
All that changed in a moment when the colleague introduced Anton to Charlotte. As Anton would say from then on: ‘she might have been the maiden but I was the one who was bowled over.’
Her passion for cricket quickly became his. He used to claim in jest that only the Germans could have invented so serious an enterprise as cricket. And only the English could have made it such a joke. But only the Australians could have restored the balance. After they finally settled in Australia in the 1970s, Anton rarely missed a day or two at the Boxing Day Test.
He took pleasure in his membership of the Melbourne Cricket Club. Charlotte urged him to apply soon after they met and it was a delighted Anton who took full membership after the customary, lengthy wait.
I’m told lunch in the members’ committee room with Anton was a raconteur’s delight.
Anton’s talent for meeting and befriending people—surely the beating heart of diplomacy, at which he was such an accomplished practitioner—was rewarded (some of the family say punished) with postings to many countries.
Among them, and in no order of merit, were the United States and United Kingdom, Canada, Australia (twice, leading to their eventual retirement here), India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
If you think there seems to be something of a Commonwealth thread running through these postings, you’re right. The family tell me that his refined English skills and his enthusiasm to meet people at all levels was the critical factor.
This was especially so for India and Sri Lanka where his interest in under-developed nations and their people took him to places and situations well beyond the call of duty.
That those places and situations often involved him playing, umpiring or simply attending a cricket match was, he would say, ‘rank coincidence’. His view was that cricket was in itself an elegy in diplomacy. It naturally contained all the elements of the career he so loved: decency to his fellow human, humility in victory, and courage and humour in defeat.
As his career matured, so his family grew. Deeply affected by the turbulence of his own upbringing, he was determined that he would give his family as settled a life as his nomadic job allowed.
While the three children were all still under ten, he was able to relocate with charlotte to Australia, to Canberra, and later, the consular service in Melbourne, where the children were educated successfully.
Only when the youngest had finished senior school did he consent to further postings, with regular return trips to Melbourne and visits from the children to his posts whenever possible.
With Charlotte’s medical administration background and Anton’s growing concern for third world development, they became a formidable pair. Anton would, in the course of his diplomatic duties, take an energetic interest in education and healthcare projects.
Charlotte, with a feigned weariness, would be cajoled into medical or administrative advice. Before you could say Anton Brandt, their circle of friends would expand by another dozen.
Always attentive to family needs, though occasionally troubled by prolonged absences abroad, Anton decided to take early retirement and to return to Melbourne in 1985.
Retirement, the family tells me, was something of a joke. It simply gave Anton more time to meet more people, find more friends and adopt more causes. For more than 20 years, he gave large amounts of his spare time to helping those less fortunate than himself.
Among his particular passions was using his language skills to help asylum seekers and refugees integrate into Australian society. It was a labour he would continue right up to his recent death. (Reading time 19:03)
I would now like to call on Linda to share some memories of her father.
(Linda speaks: 5:00)
And Anika, would you like to come forward?
(Anika speaks: 5:00)
Bergen, please share with us your impressions of your father.
(Bergen speaks: 5:00)
And Sophie will recite her own poem for her Poppa
(Sophie reads 1:00)
Thank you, brave members of the Brandt family. How hard it is to deliver words of reflection, comfort and hope when your heart is aching with loss.
We have heard about the life of Anton— husband, father, companion, friend, source of inspiration and hope. But what about the man? What were the qualities that so distinguished him from all others.
For the family, his values were simple: Love, loyalty and compassion.
Love of humanity came first. He learned it from the experience of losing his father in circumstances that showed that even the greatest adversity cannot overrule the sanctity of human life.
Loyalty ran parallel to love, and in many ways overlapped it. He said that loyalty helped define our human boundaries, with their magnificent dimensions of family and friendship. With it came an intellectual component too. And that was the importance of loyalty to self, and to truth. Lose your loyalty to those and you lost your humanity, he believed.
Compassion was a force that grew with him as he matured and aged. He was not a religious man. But his feeling and sorrow for anyone undergoing disadvantage of any sort was in a sense his own religion. And not an intellectual faith but an active living, breathing and especially a doing faith.
To these should be added courage. Dying and death can be a fearful issue for many of us. Anton’s illness was relatively short—six months from the cancer diagnosis until his death last week. But he faced the news, and the reality, with a calmness that his family found comforting.
Not long before he died he quoted Caesar from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar [Act II Scene II] in those immortal words:
‘Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once’.
This line, uttered by a great Englishman who was admired by a great German, tells us all something. It tells us that we who remain can continue to learn from those who have gone ahead. As Anton continued learning and teaching throughout his life, so we can too. We can learn from his life as we can from his death, and pass on the lessons we share today to those who follow behind us.
I would ask you now to pause for a quiet reflection as the Brandt family reveal to us some of their fondest memories of Anton. The music to accompany this presentation is from Beethoven’s Symphony no 9 in D minor, one of Anton’s most beloved pieces by one of his favourite composers. Popularly known as the ‘Ode to Joy’ he wanted it to represent triumph of the human spirit, even over death.
Family and friends of Anton Brandt, please stand as we approach the end of this moving farewell.
You have gathered here today, in mourning, in grief and in loss. We have had the opportunity to share moments of Anton’s life, the gifts he brought to his family and extraordinary circle of friends, the richness of his talents for people, connections and language, his love of learning and sharing.
Now the time has come to farewell his earthly body, and to commit it to nature in all its cycles. Let us remember Anton’s own words again: that a shared joy is a double joy; while a shared sorrow is only half a sorrow.
As we farewell this man of the world from the world—this scholar, diplomat, humanist—let us recall his gifts, his joy, his sparkling personality, his enthusiasm.
Let us also take with us his championing of the underprivileged. We should take comfort in knowing that thousands today, mostly unaware of his life and death, live better lives because he cared.
If we were to use a cricket analogy, Anton was the consummate team player. He may not have opened the batting, taken the hat-trick, or scored the big century. But he could be relied on to read the play, to hold up an end, to stem the runs, to patrol the boundary all day with energy and determination.
Your captain has declared and called you in from the field, your labour over. Those who knew and loved you are the better for having seen you play.
Further excerpt from Beethoven’s Symphony no 9.
To contact Roger McDonald, funeral celebrant Melbourne email him at email@example.com or call 0438 935 905