Living Life Well – Allan Halladay

When I think of how I can live my life well, I reflect on the life of my good friend, elder and mentor, Allan Halladay.

Allan’s Story

Allan Halladay was born on May 28th 1937 in Nipawin, a small rural town in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. Allan said: ‘Like most small towns there was a co-op grocery, a co-op lumber yard, a co-op service station, a pool elevator where the farmers sold their grain and a credit union. These were formed to gain some control over the their own lives; to get fair prices for their produce; to pay fair prices at the retail end; and to establish services the market didn’t provide. My brother-in-law worked for a provincial government department called the Department of Co-operatives. His job was the development of co-operatives. In particular he worked with First Nation peoples developing fur co-operatives, fish co-operatives, and power co-operatives. Co-ops have always been part of my life.’ [i] And, all through his life, Allan supported co-ops.

Allan became a schoolteacher, teaching in Unity and White Fox from 1956 to 1962. While in White Fox, Allan met Naideen at the school they were teaching at. Naideen and her husband Richard had a son, named Conrad. Tragically Richard died, but fortunately Allan came along, they fell in love and they soon married. Conrad says Allan ‘became an instant father’. After some time Conrad got a little brother, named Peter. Conrad remembers Allan taking them fishing together. Peter remembers Allan as ‘a caring husband’ and ‘a dedicated family man’. [ii]

During this time Allan studied to become a social worker, completing a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Social Work and a Masters of Social Work at the University of British Columbia. From 1964 to 1967 Allan worked as a social worker, then a supervisor of other social workers, in the Welfare Department of Saskatchewan. In 1967 Allan won a scholarship from the Australian National University to undertake a PhD in Canberra. So Allan and Naideen, Conrad and Peter, moved as a family to Australia. Allan’s doctoral thesis focused on his concern for poverty, specifically: ‘The extent of poverty among large families in the heart of Sydney’. The family briefly returned to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where Allan worked as Associate Professor in Social Work at McMaster University from 1971 to 1975, then moved back permanently to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, where Allan worked as a lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the University of Queensland from 1975 to 1995, rising to the position of Head of the Department of Social Work, before retiring in 1995.

One of Allan’s colleagues, Chris Brown, said: ‘Allan was highly respected in this role within the department and the segments of the community with which the department was directly involved’. One of the segments of the community Allan had direct involvement with were the small struggling co-ops in Queensland. Allan said: ‘I continue(d) to support co-operatives because I think they have the potential to create work; create meaningful work; control the nature of work; and control the nature of work processes such as technology and overtime. At the very least co-operatives should encourage more democratic decisions in these important work policy areas.’ [iii]

I met Allan when he visited my wife Ange and I in India. He was in Delhi for a conference, heard about an Aussie couple doing community work in the city, and dropped by to make our acquaintance. In the course of our conversation Allan invited me to do postgraduate community development studies in the Department of Social Work at the University of Queensland. So it was, on our return, I joined the cadre of c.d. dreamers, schemers and scholars in the c.d. unit set up in-situ off-campus at Toowong. While studying in the Department of Social Work, I worked for Allan as a research assistant, doing an evaluation of BREAD (Basic Research Education And Development), a faith-based social change agency Allan was involved with, who had facilitated the formation of one of the first food co-ops in Queensland that was based in West End.

Allan was also involved in another faith-based change agency, called TEAR Australia, a international non-government organization, committed to Transformation, Empowerment, Advocacy and Relief, in which I worked for thirty-five years when I returned to Australia. Paul Mercer said: ‘Allan’s grounding in the theory and practice (of c.d.) was a rich resource for an emerging development agency such as TEAR.’ Allan served on the TEAR National Allocations Committee for more than twenty years ‘charged with the responsibility of examining the project funding requests we received at TEAR and determining which of these we should fund (through a consensus process). Steve Bradbury, TEAR National Director, said: ‘it was a great comfort to me to have Allan serving on that committee. His input was carefully considered and always astute, and his deep concern for those who struggle from poverty … was always apparent.’

Chris Brown said Allan was ‘a believer in consensus decision-making’ and he patiently – slowly but surely – managed to develop a consensus around one of the most controversial and most contested issues ever faced by the Department of Social Work.

Chris said: ‘Allan’s commitment to indigenous people found expression in opening up places within the university. A senior Aboriginal woman worked as a consultant within the department. Allan valued her presence, her work, and her extensive wisdom. While she did not have a formal academic qualification, Allan valued her indigenous knowledge and (argued) on the basis of her knowledge she should be appointed as a full lecturer.’ A view that I know most academics at the time thought was preposterous, as ‘full lecturer’ positions were reserved for people with the ‘right’ university-accredited postgraduate academic qualifications.

Chris said: ‘The campaign (Allan) led was remarkable. He formed a team that included indigenous people and then began to seek support around the university. He set the pattern of gentle but (forthright) dialogue.’ When it came time to make a decision. whether to ratify the position or not, ‘the University Academic Board (the central decision making body) I believe were 51% in favour (of the motion) with the remaining members abstaining. No one voted against the motion. It was a remarkable event in the life of the university. Allan, in a manner typical of him deflected all praise to the team. It was all teamwork.’

‘Allan’s retiring gift was a dot painting of a Brolga by Lilla Watson, who was the Aboriginal woman involved. It was heartfelt gift and a sign of great respect to a man who was held in high esteem by the Aboriginal and Islander community.’

Over the years Ange and I became good friends with Allan and Naideen, regularly driving up to Wamuran to visit them, where the Halladays shared rural community life with the Cleavers, and Allan kept 25 hives of bees in the beautiful Australian bush that surrounded their property. When Allan and Naideen moved into a retirement village in Currimundi we were able to visit them a number of times, but when they moved into a nursing home in Canberra I was only able to visit them one more time before they died.

Allan’s son, Peter, said that right to the end, even as his Parkinson’s disease became increasingly debilitating, he began to shake and found it difficult to walk, Allan’s ‘main concerns were not for himself, but for Naideen, that they would remain together and she would be looked after’. On January 25th 2017 Allan died as he lived – ‘a caring man’.

Allan’s Spirituality 

Allan was raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Ruth Hutton said the great rallying cry, ‘Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to act kindly, and to walk humbly with your God” was a passage of scripture that resonated with him.’ And Allan truly embodied these spirited concerns. Charles Ringma once said: ‘I have only ever met one evangelical saint in my entire life and that was of course, Allan Halladay.’

Firstly, Allan was passionately committed ‘to do justly’. Friends Graeme and Alison Kelly said Allan ‘was openly concerned about the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”’ and ‘he was a fearless advocate for the poor and marginalised’.

Secondly, Allan was passionately committed ‘to act kindly’. Chris Brown said: ‘ Though he could make tough decisions, (Allan) would be better known for his gentleness. He has always been a gentle man.’ Charles Ringma said: ‘In all the years I’ve known (him) I have never ever heard anything from (Allan) that was not marked by encouragement.’

Thirdly, Allan was passionately committed ‘to walk humbly’. Mark Cleaver said: ‘To me, Allan was always prepared to work out challenges we faced together with a reconciliatory attitude and approach.’ Allan was known amongst his colleagues as ‘a humble person of faith’. ‘In his humble way he sought to be the change he advocated.’

And Allan was committed ‘to do justly, to act kindly, and to walk humbly … with God’. Allan spoke freely but carefully of his ‘belief in something greater than self’ and of ‘a faith that positively affirms life’; a ‘connected-ness with others, nature, the universe and God; and the ‘creative energy that is constant but dynamic’ which that releases. [iv]

As a Christian, the example of Jesus was particularly inspirational for Allan – especially as an archetype for the kind of strategic questioning that Allan became (in)famous for. Jesus, like Socrates before him, typically responded to a question with a question, challenging the multitude to struggle with issues in order to ‘get to the truth of things’. The method of questioning Allan adopted was a deep, disciplined, relentless, logical, ethical, systematic probing of false assumptions faulty presentations were based on.

Chris Brown said: Allan ‘always liked to arrive early and quietly settle before others arrived. One day as we sat quietly waiting for others a senior professor entered the room. He looked at Allan and said, “The conscience of the committee is here”!’

Dave Andrews

[i] A. Halladay 2001 ‘Why I still Support Co-ops’ Praxis Vol 1 Community Praxis Co-op p 4

[ii] All quotes not otherwise attributed are from Allan Halladay – A Book Of Memories 2017

[iii] A. Halladay 2001 p 5

[iv] A. Halladay 2001 p 6

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