It was 2pm when I arrived at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.
I’d been going since 5am, driving in from the farm, then having back-to-back meetings … and back-to-back coffees.
I took a deep breath and strode confidently into a private patient room and greeted my old mate, former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer.
My first thought was that he looked really crook.
My second thought was that I started feeling really hot … was there a heater on in here or something?
And then I fainted. Out cold. On the floor.
Tim was watching all this unfold, and quickly hit the emergency button at his bedside.
The nurses came sprinting into the room and made a beeline for Tim’s bed.
“Not me, I’m fine! It’s my young, fit-looking friend over there who needs help!” he said, pointing at me.
When I came to, Tim was laughing and taking photos of me on his iPhone.
“You’re always trying to show me up!” he said.
That afternoon, as I drove home, Tim called me from his hospital bed:
“How do you feel? Do you need a good doctor? I have a good doctor. I can call him now. It’s no trouble, really …”
I can’t think of a better story to explain my friendship with Tim, who sadly passed away on Thursday.
Today I want to talk about the difference Tim Fischer made in my life.
Our First Meeting
I first met Tim roughly 15 years ago — and it wasn’t by chance.
I actually cold-emailed him (and a bunch of other heavy-hitters) about joining the advisory board of a financial education program I was developing for Aussie kids.
Not only was Tim the only person who bothered to reply — he suggested that we meet up to discuss it.
A few days later he arrived at our meeting clutching his trademark Akubra in one hand, and a dog-eared copy of my first book in the other.
He’d come prepared.
Over the next hour I gave him my pitch: where I was from, what I was about, and the change I wanted to make.
Tim listened intently, sizing me up as I spoke. It’s fair to say that he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
“An ambitious project like this is going to take you many years … but it will be worth it,” he told me.
(He was right: it would take another 15 years to get it off the ground, and it has been worth it.)
What I didn’t know at the time was that Tim would become one of my closest mentors.
Many More Meetings
Over the years we met up at my farm in Romsey, at his joint in Albury, and everywhere in between.
(And I mean everywhere. When he was the Australian ambassador to the Holy See in Rome … he snuck me and my girlfriend in, and even allowed us to stay (in sin) at the Australian embassy. Though I got back in God’s good books by later marrying her.)
At these meetings we’d talk about finance, economics, politics, power, the media … and farming.
Yet for all those high-powered conversations, the thing I remember most is that he would always take the time to ask: “What’s going on with Liz? How are the kids? How’s your dad? How much rain are you getting?”
Above all, he had a confidence about him.
And he had a habit of filling you up with his confidence in you. I would leave each meeting believing that I could pull things off. It made me want to stretch further, try harder and do better.
Over the years he gave me lots of good advice. However, as with the very best mentors, I didn’t just learnt from the advice he gave me — or the many doors he opened for me — but by watching him.
Especially in the last week of his life.
Our Final Meeting
This weekend Tim and I were due to run a town hall charity event in my hometown of Ouyen which was being recorded for ABC Local Radio.
We called it ‘Living the Rich Life in Regional Australia’. (It was Tim’s idea of course.)
Yet a few days ago Tim rang me and told me that he had to pull out — doctor’s orders.
I replied: “Look, I totally understand … and I think we should cancel the event. After all, this is your baby … your brainchild. Without you there, it just won’t be the same.”
His reply was classic, confident Tim:
“You will NOT cancel! You will NOT quit!
“We have the opportunity to tell the story of Ouyen — and how to live the rich life in regional Australia — to thousands of people. And you never know who’ll be listening … it could spark an idea or give inspiration for someone else living in a small town.
“Besides, I’ll twist your arm — I’ve already filmed a video that outlines my thoughts on what towns need to do to thrive.”
I played that video (which he’d shot from the hospital grounds!) at the event.
Before I played it, I pointed out a few things to the audience:
First, Tim’s body was riddled with cancer. He must have been in excruciating pain as he was making the video. Yet he never let on. Not once.
Second, this was the final week of his life. And he devoted part of it to making a video helping people in the bush get a better shake of things.
You can’t fake that.
Look, I’ve been in the media for years, and met some very self-important people — big shots, politicians, media stars — who say one thing in public but are totally different when the cameras turn off.
He was the real deal.
I think Australians worked that out about him.
And they loved him for it.
Rest In Peace, mate.