By Dennis Nutt
William Joseph (‘Bill’) Harrison was born on 23 March 1941 in Ulverston in the Lakes District of Northern England. He was the eldest of three children, having two younger sisters – June and Marilyn.
His early schooling years were memorable for his regular absences from class, with Bill preferring to skylark in the local graveyard with his friends. He was 10 when the family migrated to Australia as ‘10-pound Poms’. Upon arrival in Sydney, the family travelled by steam train to Bathurst, where they lived for two weeks while waiting for their accommodation in Sydney’s East Hills Migrant Camp to be readied.
At the camp, Bill found a few mates and they enjoyed using the streetlights as piñatas. He is also remembered for taking pity on a young boy in the camp who was hiding from his stepfather. Bill hid the boy in his wardrobe in the garage where he slept, while Bill’s father joined the search party and his mother cooked for the search teams.
The Harrison family finally moved into their very own Australian home in Canley Vale – a house built by his father. Bill and his father had collected the materials for construction of the house in the evenings; however, Bill was quite mortified years later to learn that they liberated most of the materials from storage yards.
When he was 12, Bill contracted rheumatic fever. Around this time, his parents joined a local church where Bill went to Christian Endeavour, and then to other youth events with his sisters at the local Church of Christ. This marked the beginning of his faith journey and introduction to leadership roles.
Bill went to Fairfield Boys High School from 1954 to 1956, before leaving to work at Wunderlich’s, a building materials manufacturer, where he completed a Building Construction Certificate.
He wanted to study at Bible college; however, the Leaving Certificate was a prerequisite, so he enrolled at Parramatta Evening College. He entered Woolwich Bible College in 1963 and became the college handyman – there’s even a poem about it. He also had a reputation for practical jokes – such as pretending that dried PVA glue on his hands was a terrible skin condition, and playing car-crash sound effects through the window late at night, prompting worried neighbours to come out of their homes to see what had happened. When he entered Bible college, he had a ‘rent-a-wreck’ of a car, which his fellow students claimed was held together by “faith, rope and charity”.
Bill met Ruth in 1965 and they were engaged six weeks later, but due to college rules were not able to be married until 1967, after graduation. Bill and Ruth had two children – Catherine and Trevor.
Bill had full-time ministries at Wyoming (Central Coast), and in Sydney at Carramar, Hurstville and Seven Hills over a period of 20 years. There’s no way we can do justice here to his time in these churches, suffice to say he has helped countless people in their spiritual and earthly journeys.
In the early 1970s, Bill studied and began working as a part-time relationship counsellor with what is now “Relationships Australia”, in addition to his work with the Church. He transitioned to a full-time counselling role around 1983, and then spent 21 years as manager of The Salvation Army Counselling Service in Penrith. He gave countless people the tools to cope with difficulties in their lives and improve their relationships.
Reflecting on his ministries, he wrote: “The experiences in these roles have been amazing – from working with ordinary everyday people who show courage and commitment that’s anything but ordinary, to others in high-flying positions who at heart are hurting and just as confused in life situations as any of us and have the courage to acknowledge it.” He was a truly humble, gentle man.
In the mid 1980s, he discovered and fostered his artistic talents, beginning with pencil and moving through to pastels and oil painting.
With Ruth, he was involved with Emmaus Australia for more than 25 years, helping people explore and renew their Christian faith, serving on more than 40 teams for the Western Sydney and Central West areas.
Bill ‘allegedly’ retired in 2014. He continued to serve in part-time ministry at Pathways church, supported the work at the local outreach Cafe at Lalor Park, continued with Emmaus, became involved with the Kids and Aboriginal programs, alongside being a devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend to many.
He devoted his life to serving God, others and equipping them for good, and to understand that when all seems dark, sometimes we just need to open our eyes. He modelled what it means to be a loving spouse. He was always supportive of Ruth through health challenges, career changes, financial pressures and all the ups and downs of life. The quote, “To me, the sun rises and sets with her”, authentically describes his love for Ruth.
As a father, he taught by example through his compassion, truthfulness and in many practical ways. He taught respect for others – including those with different views – hard work and fun. He taught how to use tools – and that what is broken can often be fixed or improved. Most importantly, he taught what it is to truly live in a Christlike way. The Christian values he taught were clearly evident in his life. He was a man of God; his faith and encouragement were an inspiration to those he encountered.
He is the first of the 1966 graduating class to fall asleep in Jesus. Ruskin wrote: “Live so as to be missed.” Bill lived that way, and he will be missed. As the ancients used to say “Ave! et Vale!” – “Hail! and Farewell!” to which we add “Well done, good and faithful servant.”