Gordon Cooper and Richard Collins.
Gordon Cooper and Richard Collins.

My dad died unexpectedly. I’m determined to make him proud

TWO years ago, my father was hit by a car while crossing the road on his way to a board meeting at Variety - the Children's Charity in Sydney.

Four days later he was pronounced dead.

To describe the time since his death as a rollercoaster of emotion is as an understatement as much as it is a cliche.

I had started writing a children's book prior to his accident, but after his death the project took on new meaning. I decided to dedicate the book to my dad, and 50 per cent of the profits to the charity he loved.

Naively, I set up a meeting at the Variety office, not realising I'd be walking the same path as my dad had on his last day. As I safely crossed Herbert Street, the same street where he was hit, and walked into the office, I began to weep.

Richard Collins, Michael Walpole and Meryn’s father, Gordon Cooper, in the Jane McGrath spirit at the SCG in 2017. Picture: Gregg Porteous
Richard Collins, Michael Walpole and Meryn’s father, Gordon Cooper, in the Jane McGrath spirit at the SCG in 2017. Picture: Gregg Porteous

I had been on an aeroplane at the time of his accident. I can still remember the mix of confusion, jet lag, shock and nausea that greeted me when we landed. I turned on my phone and was surprised by the number of missed calls and text messages from people asking me to contact them as soon as possible, and one saying: "We are so sorry to hear about your father, if there's anything we can do, let us know."

At the time, I still had no idea what had happened. As I shuffled off the plane and through customs, I tried to contact my mum, then my brother, then aunts and uncles. No one was answering my calls.

Eventually, I got onto my mum, who told me my dad was in intensive care and on life support.

"He's brain dead. He's gone, sweetheart," she said.

I had so many questions as I stared vacantly into the window of an airport shop. It was impossible to find somewhere quiet to talk, or to fully comprehend what it all meant. Passengers with big bags hurried past. I had lost someone so important, but nothing had changed in the world of these strangers.

Gordon Cooper died four days after being hit by a car in Sydney. Picture: Supplied
Gordon Cooper died four days after being hit by a car in Sydney. Picture: Supplied

As morbid as it may sound, I visited Dad at the morgue. I knew his death would never feel real to me if I didn't see him, and I needed to say goodbye.

It was a hard time for our family, and the people I'd normally go to for comfort and support were also struggling.

People react differently to death of a loved one, but I was wracked with fear. I thought my children or my husband would be next to die. I had nightmares of finding my daughter's lifeless body at the bottom of a pool or watching my eldest daughter's body bounce off the roof of a car. I would regularly wake in a sweat with my heart pounding. I'd creep into their room to check they were OK, then curl up next to them and hold them tight.

Working on the book gave me something to do with my nervous energy. It took me two years to get it out and I nearly quit many times. As I juggled life, my job and two small children, deadlines would come and go. I'd feel disappointed with myself for being unable to meet them, as if I had failed Dad's memory.

Variety were supportive all the way through. Fortunately, they liked the book and its underlying messages about inclusion. A Pony Named Taffy tells the story of Taffy and his quest to fit in. It's not until a girl called Eve comes along that he realises he is special just the way he is.

In A Pony Named Taffy, Eve helps Taffy realise te beauty in being different. Picture: Supplied
In A Pony Named Taffy, Eve helps Taffy realise te beauty in being different. Picture: Supplied

Since Dad's death we've raised more than $24,000 for the Variety, and 50 per cent of profits from the book and the book's launch over the weekend will also be donated to the charity.

Dad taught me so much while he was here. Often he didn't have much to say, but he lead by example. He worked hard, going over and above what "normal" workers did. He wrote books, he lectured, he mentored people, he sat on boards and he had a strong social conscience.

My brother and I were encouraged from an early age to get involved in fundraising activities. He was a "chuggers" dream, signing up for monthly donations, buying raffle tickets or fundraising cakes.

He was one of the first people to get behind McGrath Day at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He had special pink suits made for him and his friends, and spray painted his big white bushy beard pink to match.

He understood the importance of making sure everyone felt included. Visitors were always made to feel welcome and would often end up staying for a beer and a barbecue.

I hope he would like the messages and sense of fun I've tried to inject into the book. Because as someone once said, "Sometimes the greatest gift you can give a person is to just include them."

Find out more at aponynamedtaffy.com.

Meryn Cooper has dedicated A Pony Named Taffy to her father. Picture: Supplied
Meryn Cooper has dedicated A Pony Named Taffy to her father. Picture: Supplied

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