Ejo #56 – Extraordinary People I Know: Jack O’Loughlin

What is it that makes a person extraordinary? Sometimes it is their extraordinary actions – climbing Mount Everest, feeding starving children in Africa or walking a tightrope strung between two buildings. Sometimes though, what makes someone extraordinary is as simple as their sparkling humanity, their ability to connect. It doesn’t sound like much. But when you meet that special person you realise what an incredible gift they have. And how rare it is.

I vividly remember the day I met Jack O’Loughlin, for it was the day of my father’s funeral. He came along with his girlfriend Dee, both of whom were friends of my sisters. There are two things I remember the most about them being there. First, how nice it was that they had come – during a period of great darkness, it seemed like a very supportive and loving thing to do. The second thing I remember is that afterwards, we laughed. I mean we laughed until we cried. Hysterical guffaws, side-splitting chortles, belly-laughs galore. And who knows, this may have seemed inappropriate to the people around us, but after ten months of depression and anxiety and sad thoughts, after days of grieving, and after almost a year without any joy it was truly cathartic to just laugh. It was a release from the pain and the grief. And it was a hell of an introduction to the life force that was Jack.

And what a life force it was. I’ve never known anyone who was so goddamn alive. So full of vitality, so present in the moment, so full of fucking beans! People search their whole lives for meaning, wondering what their purpose is. Jack knew his purpose. He was here to live. And those of us who knew him, hey, we got taken along for the ride. And it was exhilarating. I only ever spent a handful of occasions in his company, but he left a permanent mark on my spirit. He was not perfect and he sure as hell wasn’t a saint. He was brash, and crude and, sometimes, he could even be a little bit intimidating.

The classic Jack and Dee "stinkeye"  If you didn't know him, or if you met him in a dark alley, you might be scared.  That is, until he gave you a great, big, warm bear hug.

The classic Jack and Dee “stinkeye” If you didn’t know him, or if you met him in a dark alley, you might be scared. That is, until he gave you a great, big, warm bear hug.

But Jack’s gift was that he was able to connect with people from all walks of life, melting down barriers and walls with the ease of a superhero. He was fun to be around because he created adventure in everything. Life was a gift and he was a kid under the Christmas tree. And more than anything else Jack was uncommonly kind and loving. He loved and was loved abundantly, but there was only one person who held a special place in his heart. Just one person that fit him perfectly. Jack proposed to Dee every single year for seven years until she finally said yes and married him on 18th April 2009*. They honeymooned in South America, gallivanting as newlyweds do, savouring their newly forged marital status.

Always up for a laugh.  Perhaps some pre-wedding jitters, too!

Always up for a laugh. Perhaps some pre-wedding jitters, too!

The newlyweds. What a beautiful couple.

The newlyweds. What a beautiful couple.

The look of love.

The look of love.

Just two months after their wedding, whilst walking to work early one morning, Jack was struck and killed by a speeding car. Just like that, he was gone. Words are rendered ineffective and useless when trying to describe this great loss. It was, and still is, an overwhelming devastation. It was hard to make sense of it then. It has remained, frankly, impossible to make sense of it now.

It was Jack’s birthday two days ago and David and I had a toast in his honour. He is still very much alive in so many people’s hearts, including ours. He burns as bright as ever, and his life force endures even though he is no longer around. I became quite emotional that night and, when I went to bed, I’m not ashamed to say that I had a good cry. I was sad for him, for Dee, and for me. I was sad for everyone who’s lost him. But at the same time, as I was weeping, I felt strangely comforted. It was almost as though he was there, in the dark, sitting on the edge of the bed, soothing me. Consoling me. Now, isn’t that extraordinary?

* * *

Some words from Jack’s mates:

He was the water that filled the cracks in the dream I didn’t know I wanted. Dee.

Jack (Johno) was (and still is) an extremely unique guy, a true loving soul. Someone who would always be there for you even before you hinted. Someone who always had my back. Completely selfless (except the times I’d make him take my help). He had this presence that you’d feel as soon as you were in the same room (and yes I still feel him now). Mal.

He was inclusive, protective, loyal, enthusiastic, and generous. He would talk to anyone and everyone regardless of their status, race, religion, etc. His unofficial philosophy of life was that he didn’t know if he liked or didn’t like something until he tried it. So he (quite literally) tried EVERYTHING! Apologies for the brevity of this message and lack of actual story content but I’m hungover to buggery and my brain is broken (I blame Jack, who would have made me go out today and do something active/fun/outrageous to distract me from the pain). Mish.

On first impression he might seem a little scary.  But when you look into his eyes you can see he's all heart. This photo is beautiful to me.

On first impression he might seem a little scary. But when you look into his eyes you can see he’s all heart. This photo is so beautiful to me.

Jack you always had time for me. Whether to laugh at me, or a kind word of advice, even if it was to say HTFU. Rob.

[After a phone prank, during which he pretended to be angry at me] I realised the effect he had on me, the level to which I held his esteem. I realised that besides my partner, and besides my best friend, this man Jack was the most solid male influence in my life after Dad died. I was crushed, thinking, even for those 10 minutes, that he didn’t love me anymore. I think we both realised how much we meant to each other. It was just a dumb incident but it ended up strengthening our relationship because it meant working at it. He was shocked at how a little of his aggression had affected me so greatly, I think he realised then how much he meant to me. Pieta.

We met Dee and Jack in 2007 when we moved next door. Through our renovation, Jack provided a friendly smile, advice and laughter, popping his head over the fence at unexpected times and joining in whatever was going on. He made us feel very welcome in the West, sharing with us the things that made Footscray home to him. His energy and zest for life was infectious. We only knew him for a very short time but his impact on us was great and will never leave us. He smiled with his eyes. P.S. Matthew misses sharing the sneaky cigarettes with Jack in the backyard. Matthew & Naomi.

Jack came over to our house to fix the kitchen sink because the taps were leaking. He was nice, kind, funny and the most beautiful fella I ever met. And I mean this because that’s how he came across – as a nice hearted person. We had some good laughs during his visit. And to make him an even better person, he refused to take money from me, and said laughing, “Maybe you can pay me next time, but not now lady”. In my heart and mind Jack was the most beautiful person, and I say that for the person he was. When I heard he was gone, my heart sank and I cried for him, losing his life so soon and in that way. And I cried for Dee, losing her loving partner. As painful as it is, Jack deserves to be remembered on his birthday and every day forever, for who he was, a gentle giant. Maria.

He had your back – he wouldn’t leave you hanging. He would give you the shirt off his back. He’d make sure everyone else was OK before making sure he was OK. David.

I did not know Jack very long but he impacted my life in a positive way. He showed me how to party properly, how to listen. He was also the inspiration for my first tattoo. He was a very great person who was loved and respected by all. I think about him a lot but it doesn’t make me sad, it makes me feel proud that I knew him. He was a blessing to me. Nick.

Jack to me was more than just a friend. He was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother. He also treated me like I was his brother. He was always there to help me. He always cheered me up. He was the first person in my life to actually take the time to help me build my self-confidence and to help me discover who I am as a person. He made me realise that there are so many people in the world that need help and that you should help them whenever you can. He taught me how to be strong and to stand up for yourself and those around you without resorting to violence. He was my best mate, my brother, my protector and my guide. He will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I have his picture beside my bed. I literally speak to him every day when I wake up and every night before bed. And he is still the most important person in the world to me. I kind of base the way I live my life on the kind person that he was, who always looked out for everyone. Even complete strangers. Justin.

The thing that stood out about Jack was not only that he was next level, take it to the bridge, can’t-feel-my-face fun with a capital F, but that he was so, so very generous a human being. Jack (and Dee) were incredibly kind to my family when we lost my Dad. I’ll never forget that. First time I met Jack was at a party and things were getting too loud and overwhelming for me so I slinked off to get my head together and he sauntered on after me and hung out with me for a while. It sounds like nothing, but it was such a kind thing to do. Jack just made it his business to make sure I, a stranger to him, was okay. We were friends after that and that’s just the way it was because he was inclusive and open-hearted and welcoming. The man had the charisma of 10 people.

I think about that easy human connection he offered so seemingly effortlessly and I’m heartbroken that what remains is an indelible scar where a glorious life should have blossomed and thrived. But I’m really grateful too. I actually do feel lucky to have known Jack. All those times we spent laughing and partying and carrying on, loom large in my mind as a reminder of how well he lived his life. Of how being loving, good-natured and caring can affect so many people in such a good way. I’m so grateful because I understand how truly rare and beautiful Jack was. Mari.

* I’d just like to say here that no extraordinary person would choose to marry somebody that was ordinary. Dee, herself, is an amazing person. Never defined by Jack, but definitely complemented by him, I can’t begin to imagine the hole in her life, created by his absence. Dee and Jack got together on 25th December 2000. This was her Facebook status on Xmas Day last year: “This time 13 years ago I fell irrevocably in love with the master of my universe. What a wild ride & stunning revelation it was to find the perfect fit for me. I will miss you forever Jack/John/Johnno.

Live.  Life.  Right.  Now.

Live. Life. Right. Now.

At a football game in Rio de Janeiro, during their honeymoon.

At a football game in Rio de Janeiro, during their honeymoon.

What a guy.  A man about to be married.

What a guy. A man about to be married.

Camp Claude – Trap

7-seconds-of-sound-logo

You know when someone says something and you’re pretty sure they don’t mean it? Like, “No, I’ve already had too much” when you offer them a piece of cake? Or, “It’s really… nice” when you ask a friend what they think of your new haircut? I kind of have the feeling that’s what’s going on in this new song by French band Camp Claude… READ MORE…

Ejo #55 – Dangerous Doug Goes To War

It’s been a while since I’ve brought you a story from the vaults of Dangerous Doug’s life. I like to reward my loyal readers from time to time so I arranged to have a chat to Doug and asked him to tell me about his army days. Oh yes, the Rhodesian Army saw fit to entrust our beloved friend with weaponry!

At the time, all able-bodied young men were required to complete 12 months national service when they turned 18. The nation was at war (Google it: Rhodesian Bush War) and the army needed all the help it could get to fight the black nationalists wreaking havoc and destruction throughout the country. Two weeks after his eighteenth birthday, Doug reported for service with just the clothes on his back and a small suitcase of personal belongings. He weighed 57kgs.

Here's Doug when he first started his army training at the tender age of 18.  Adorable, right?

Here’s Doug when he first started his army training at the tender age of 18. Adorable, right?

As you can imagine, army life was quite different to anything Doug had ever experienced before. The training was gruelling. Counter insurgency training, weapons training, classical warfare training. Late nights, early mornings, surprise midnight drills, ill-fitting equipment, trench digging. All the while, carrying 20kg backpacks. As well as that, life was a lot more regimented, and the smallest infraction could earn a young private a “confined to barracks” charge, known as CB. This entailed countless drills, push-ups, chin-ups and other exhausting physical tasks meted out by the notoriously cruel MPs of the barracks. A CB charge was to be avoided at all costs.

But being in the army wasn’t all drudgery. During his training, Doug got to play with a lot of pretty amazing weapons. Imagine being 18 years old and having the chance to use mortars, hand grenades, rocket propelled grenades, phosphorous grenades (that’s chemical warfare, people!) MAG machine guns, 7.62mm FN rifles, Claymore mines and other assorted armaments in a non-combat environment.

Just three weeks into his training, Doug’s group had a mortar firing exercise in a remote field. Each young man was given the chance to fire a 20mm mortar shell from a hand held mortar. The aim was to hit a tree, about 1km away and whoever got closest would win four beers. Sounds like fun to me. As each of the other 29 privates had their turn, the area around the tree became scorched with all the explosions. It was, according to Doug, pretty damn cool. None of the guys was getting within 100 metres of the tree though. Studying each mortar as it flew up into the sky, topped out and then plummeted towards the ground he says he became fixated with the trajectories of the missiles coming down nose first. He became mesmerised by the image of each of those 29 mortars as they headed back to earth before exploding in a fireball. When, at last it was his turn Doug was certain that he was going to be the guy to obliterate the tree. The beers, and everlasting glory, would be his. He picked up his mortar, the last one, and was just about to release it into the tube, when SLAM!!!!!!! He was rugby tackled to the ground by the Sergeant.

This is what a handheld mortar looks like.

This is what a handheld mortar looks like.

Indignant he got up and dusted himself off, only to be barraged by a string of expletives from his commanding officer, “You BEEP BEEP BEEPING BEEP. You could have BEEP BEEP BEEPING killed us all. You’re a BEEPING BEEP BEEP, whose mother BEEP BEEPS. What the BEEP is wrong with you?” Doug looked at the mortar, still in his hand, and with a sense of slowly dawning dread, realised that he’d been just about to place the mortar into the tube head down. If he hadn’t been tackled, the mortar would have exploded, instantly killing everyone. Sheepishly he apologised. He felt really bad. Bad that he didn’t have a chance to prove how good a shot he was. When he actually asked if he was still allowed to have his turn (oh yes, he asked), you can just imagine the Sergeant’s response. Suffice to say, we’ll never know if Doug’s aim would have won him those beers.

Things kind of got back on track for Doug after this incident and he completed some pretty rough training to prepare him for war. One of the exercises the troops had to regularly participate in was night march training. This was basically a 10 mile hike in the wilderness of Zimbabwe in the middle of the night, usually in pitch black darkness. The men would trek, in single file along rough, unchartered terrain with nothing to guide them but their senses.

Now as you know, “Dangerous Doug” earned that moniker for getting into all sorts of dangerous situations (and somehow surviving – thank goodness, right??). But DD is not his only nickname. Over the years he’s been known as many things, including Ugly Dougly (children can be so cruel), Hamburger, Volcano Face and Universal Gigolo (Doug made me say that last one). One of the nicknames he collected during his army days was “Pothole”. Somehow, during every single night time march he was on, even though the men hiked single file and Doug was always in the middle, he managed to fall into potholes that the others had missed. Every. Single. Time. After a while, the commanding officer had the bright idea to put Doug at the head of the line. After all, with the pothole magnet up front, at least the other men had a chance of avoiding them. Doug would stumble or fall, shout out “pothole” and the rest of the men would each, in turn, say “pothole”, “pothole” down the line.

On one fateful night, four months into his army training, the men were called up for a midnight march. Doug led them into the night. Two miles into the hike he fell down a four foot hole. But he was OK. They managed to pull him out, and the march continued. Thirty second later, he fell again. This time over a ten foot rocky precipice. He was not OK. He had hurt his right leg pretty badly and couldn’t walk on it. The march was cancelled and the troop headed back to camp, with Doug carried home between two of his buddies. Back at the barracks he went straight to bed (which wasn’t really a bed but a sleeping bag in the dirt) and dreamt whatever it is that Doug dreams about (I don’t really even want to start imagining – but I have a feeling the words “Universal Gigolo” might provide a hint).

In the morning, it came to the attention of the company’s CO, Major Makovich, that the evening’s march had ended prematurely, and when he’d found out that the reason was Doug’s little accident he wanted to have a chat to him. From the comfort of his deluxe director’s chair by his quarters, Major Makovich shouted out for Doug to get up and present himself. Doug’s leg had swollen up pretty bad but an order was an order and he managed to get up and face the Major, approximately 20 metres away from him. The Major demanded that Doug walk the distance and stand in front of him. I kid you not when I tell you that the 20 metre walk took Doug a full 20 minutes. I asked him to swear that he was telling the truth here because it sounds implausible. But he promises that it’s true. Each step on his hurt leg was excruciating and agonising pain, like a sharp, burning blade. And the major made him walk it, sipping his nice hot coffee the whole time. When Doug got to within 2 metres, Major Makovich finally had enough and told him to stop. He told him to turn around and present himself to hospital. He also told him that if there was nothing wrong with his leg, he was going to lay a big fat CB charge on him.

Doug was taken to hospital where his leg was x-rayed. Lo and behold, his bone had completely snapped in two below the knee. The doctor, who happened to be a colonel, asked Doug, “Did someone make you walk on this broken leg?” Doug didn’t hesitate. He shook his head, no. He was in a cast for six weeks.

During our chat, which lasted several shifts, Doug interspersed these amusing stories with other, more solemn, memories of his time in the army and serving his country in the war. My colleague has a history that has never even been hinted at in the five years I’ve known him. It is only through asking him to talk about the calamities in his life that I discovered this other facet to him. A Doug that, as a young man, patrolled the backwaters and villages of a country torn apart by terrorism trying to restore order against the insurgents. I discovered a Doug that was part of what Time magazine described as, “Man for man, the Rhodesian army ranks among the world’s finest fighting units”. A Doug that has seen the worst of mankind (the stories he told me about the war would make you lose faith in humanity), but also the best. I can’t help but look at him with fresh eyes now. With newfound respect. My friend, Doug.

Here's our man at 21 whilst serving in the war.  Check out the biceps.  And the hair, check out the hair (I can't vouch for the biceps, but the hair is LONG gone!!!).

Here’s our man at 21 whilst serving in the war. Check out the biceps. And the hair, check out the hair (I can’t vouch for the biceps, but the hair is LONG gone!!!).