Everyday Obituaries: T.E. Harms, my father (1931-2010)





[The funeral of Pastor T.E.Harms was held at St Mark’s Lutheran Church, Mt Barker, South Australia in late September, 2010.]



Last night we four Harms boys, always boys, sat around the kitchen table at Hughes St, here in Mt Barker, and, over a bottle of Rockford’s Basket Press, discussed what might be said in this eulogy to our father.


Mum poured herself a glass and chimed in with some of the vital information, like the date of their wedding, and how much Dad loved Queensland because that’s where he found her.


Dad would have approved of this process completely.


The kitchen table has been at the centre of Harms family life for as long as the Geelong Football Club has been losing preliminary finals, and many a glass of red has accompanied the joys and sadnesses of our family’s lot. It has been a place of wonderful conversation; a place of laughter and of tears.


And so last night we decided that Dad, with his unfailing faith, and his wonderful sense of humour, would want this occasion to be joyful. Because, despite the profound sense of loss we feel, this is a joyful day: Dad has been called Home.


Theodore Elmore Harms was born in Albury on 21 July 1931. He was the third of the four children of Theodore and Dorothea Harms. His brother Lou, and sisters Cora and Marie are here today.


Dad was profoundly Lutheran. His grandfather was a Lutheran pastor who had come to Australia from Hermannsburg in Germany in 1883. His father was the Lutheran pastor at Burrumbuttock, where Dad spent his childhood.


Dad loved Burrum, as he called it. He loved the parish and its people, and their way of life: the rhythm of the farming year, the harvest, church on Sundays.


In 1945 he went to board at Concordia College in Adelaide. He was an honest student and a keen sportsman. He had a lovely bowling action and a classic Ken Rosewall serve, the sort you’d see on many an antbed court in the Australian bush.


He continued in Adelaide at ‘Sem’ graduating as a pastor at the end of 1953.


His first parish was Chinchilla on the Darling Downs in Queensland. Here, while president of the Luther League, he met Fay Logan.


They were courting while the West Indies were touring Australia in the summer of `60-`61. Many, many people claim to have been at the final day of the Tied test at the Gabba. Not Dad. He left at Tea to drive to the Lockyer Valley to take out Fay, our mother.


That’s so Dad.


In the years that followed he served in the parishes of Wangaratta, Shepparton – which he established – Oakey, and Eudunda.


He was a pastor whose entire existence was driven by his sense of calling.


Dad had the deepest love of people, all people.


That love started with family: the family he had grown up in, and the family he nurtured. Mum and us four boys, and then Irene, Janelle, Fiona and Susan, and the grandkids who followed. There can be no doubt he wanted us all happily married and propagating (it was the first question he asked us on the phone for years “G’day, Dad here, when are you getting married?”) – he believed that the gift of life was just that, a wonderful gift.


That love of people extended far beyond family. He had such affection for the members of his congregations, and indeed for people everywhere.


He loved a chat – butchers, check-out chicks, policemen trying to book him, friends of us boys, unsuspecting school students walking past the front yard. He nailed them all.


The cold-hearted and small-minded dismissed him. Those with big hearts embraced him, encouraged him, chatted with him, even adored him.


At Footy Park one day the Crows were playing Geelong when G. Ablett snr was at his peak. At sporting fixtures Dad had this deep need to introduce himself to all those within handshake-distance. And so he did on this night as well. “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” We would sit there and dread the follow-up, “Do you go to church?”


Dad, they’re here to watch footy.


On this night he was very disappointed that the Crows fans weren’t applauding the brilliance of Ablett who kicked ten goals in a losing side. And he pointed it out. “Don’t you appreciate good football?” he asked.


That was Dad. Oblivious to the rising tide around him.


He loved Geelong, but he loved the game just as much. Indeed, in his love of sport, it was the aesthetic that appealed to him, and the idea of fair play.


Sport, though, was sport. Preaching the Word of God was what really mattered.


He was so pastoral, so wanting to help. He was at his very best when comforting troubled souls. He felt the suffering of others, and in knowing his own suffering, he could not do enough to alleviate the pain of others.


He was also a tremendous welcomer. If a stranger appeared at a gathering Dad was compelled to introduce them to someone in the group, to really make them feel at home.


He was a patient encourager. “You’ll be right. Things will get better. There’s always next week.”


He was also full of paradoxes. On the one hand he would preach to you; he would wave his finger, and quote the Scriptures, and some theologian known nowhere in the literate world except the state of Missouri, and tell you what to do and what to think. I’m not sure this approach was overly successful.


On the other hand he would go about things quietly. It was in observing him that we learnt so much. He lived his faith, his humanity. This was his strength.


He gave us all a solid foundation.


He was at once magnificently and frustratingly eccentric. His mind did not work on the established and accepted principles of logic. He saw the world so differently. He was not a man who valued station; nor a man who placed his faith in human institutions. He was a Kingdom-of-God man; a Body-of-Christ man. He was not a manipulator or a schemer; he had no sense of politics wherever it might be played out. He spoke his mind.


He worked very hard in the parish, as did Mum. They were an inseparable duo in their work and in their home, with Mum living the full-time role of pastor’s wife. There was no clocking on, and no clocking off.


When they retired Dad and Mum settled in Mt Barker. In many ways they retreated to their beautiful garden, to tend the fruit trees and the vegetable patch, the rose garden and the annuals. Theirs was a mature partnership: three score years and ten on this planet had taught them that if they couldn’t agree when the cherries were ripe, they should divide the tree and have Poppa’s half and Nanna’s half.


The garden still thrives and will continue to thrive under the new regime: my mother now has the numbers.


Dad loved produce. Bounteous produce. From farms, and especially from their own garden. Peaches the size of Reg Hickey’s fist. And nectarines. Apricots. Spuds. Onions and carrots. Beans. Everything. He never left the country; Burrum remained in him to the end. It was one of the key ways he felt The Divine.


He also felt The Divine in choral music, especially Bach. And in watching his grandchildren grow.


In Dad’s understanding Heaven and Earth were connected in the weather. He had a lifelong fascination with it, and he was a fine judge. During his time in the Oakey parish he was so busy he had nightly meetings. I was instructed to watch the ABC weather and draw the synoptic chart which I left for him on the kitchen table. He’d arrive home and, having observed the night sky, he’d study my weather map, and consider his forecast.


I have so many abiding memories of him: the way he said the Lord’s Prayer with such sincerity, every single time; the way he wiped the Communion Cup with a white handkerchief; the way he stood, hands raised to give the Benediction, while we were trying to duck out to get home to the manse to watch World of Sport.


He was a man of ritual. He spent a lot of time in the garden, pottering while half-whistling, apparently thinking about his sermon. Another ritual was just before bed during the Eudunda years when he would place The Bible on the kitchen table and pour himself a glass of port – a Vegemite glass. One of those big Vegemite glasses. Our dog Susie would sit at his feet and he would feed her a biscuit or two while enjoying the port and reading the Scriptures, which sustained him.


He taught us so much. But especially, he taught us about love, and about grace.


He always felt unworthy and undeserving, which is why the grace of God was so important to him. I think this is one of the reasons he was so often moved to tears.


I am so reminded of Dad in the words of the hymn


Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.


That was how Dad lived.


That was Dad.


He is now at peace.






About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. John Gordon says

    John these are beautiful words elegantly and eloquently expressed. What a great tribute to a wonderful human being who was plainly so loved. That we could all be remembered so well.

  2. Simply wonderful of you to share this with all of us JTH, I found so many light pulls at the threads of memory to my late grandfather’s voice, presence and worldview (plus remembering the process of writing a death notice for the local paper on behalf of our family) that I got quite emotional. Your dad sounds like he was a most personable character on life’s stage, thanks for giving the rest of us a glimpse into the man and his legacy.

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Beautiful words JTH, thanks for sharing.

  4. Superb,JTH I admit I’m smiling re the Crows supporters at footy park

  5. Anna Pav says

    Love this JTH, thanks for sharing.

  6. E.regnans says

    Thank you, JTH.
    Your reflections and observations find me in an expanded state of being.

    As you might already know, today’s synoptic chart has a High smack-bang over the Bight. How appropriate to today find conditions favourable for conversation, deep thought and tennis over the whole continent.

  7. You encapsulate a man l would have loved to meet!

  8. Thank you, JTH. You are a worthy son!
    My own father was also born in 1931 and died in Jan 2011. I am currently going through his letters from England 1953 to 1963 and getting to know him in a whole different way. He loved cricket and saw some of the 1953 Ashes. His father was an English migrant, a rugby man, and my dad never took to Aussie Rules (though he did take me to a game and carry me on his shoulders – not sure he ever recovered!) Apparently when he did once get a kick, he kicked it the wrong way! I got my footy passion from my mum!

    Having recently rediscovered my faith, I am struck by Doug Nicholls’ idea that you can preach a sermon playing a game of footy. Did your dad think so?

  9. Superb JTH. I sadly never met your Dad but this is probably how I pictured him to be – as you’ve beautifully drawn here. A man of his generation? Faith is an extraordinary thing. I really admire those who are steadfast in faith.

    By the way, I reckon he did the right thing leaving the cricket to go and take Fay Logan out. Good decision.

  10. Good stuff J T H.

    Burrum, a sleepy little hamlet, heading out beyond Albury.

    Leaving the tied test @ the tea break to meet up with your mother.

    A vegemite glass of Port.

    All those wonderful human traits, the reason why nature has humanity at the top of all species.

    Did he ever get the chance to talk to the great number 5 about , ” Do you go to church?” I’m sure it would have been a way of establishing a rapport both may have enjoyed.


  11. Kevin Densley says

    Lovely, JTH.

  12. This is beautiful John – I can only wish I got to chat to him and enjoy the great conversation. His same personable traits have been passed down to you. What a brave man to go against a Footy Park crowd! Thank you for putting this up.

  13. DBalassone says

    Beautiful JTH.
    ‘He had no sense of politics wherever it might be played out. He spoke his mind.’
    Gosh, I wish more of the world was like that.

  14. Ian Hauser says

    JTH, as you know, pastors of your father’s generation were, in the main, products of that generation. Invariably, they were Pastor first, Pastor second, husband third and parent fourth. TE Harms was clearly unusual, a man ahead of his time. And thank God for that! Perhaps he was a transitional figure as many pastors from half a generation later became more ‘balanced’ in their understanding of their total responsibilities. But let’s not forget that TE had the added blessing of a good Lockyer girl, Fay, as his strong, complementary ‘other half’. What a team! And the joint beneficiaries were, equally, their parishioners and their offspring.

    My mother (1928-2010) died just a few months before your father. She, too, was trans-generational, a strong woman who, together with my steadfast Dad, provided the resources and encouragement to give my siblings and me the opportunities they didn’t have. Always loved, respected and appreciated.

  15. Thank you Secular Pastor Harms for sharing this. The traits are similar even if it’s sometimes a different prayer book. Can see where your generosity of spirit came from.
    So many beautiful words and sentiments. You only used “grace” once and multiple “divine”. Had me pondering the meaning of “grace”. An unearned blessing. An overwhelming peace. A richness beyond temporal.

  16. Superb words John. I’m sure you have read and reread those words a hundred times or more and pondered on TE’s life, smiling sometimes and getting emotional on others. Pure poetry.
    Makes me wonder if you should have an Obituaries heading in the Subject List, to cover both sports people and our personal connections?

  17. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    You chose your parents well JTH. Thanks for letting us all in on this.

  18. A more than vivid picture painted with these words, JTH.

  19. Matt Zurbo says

    Just wonderful!

  20. What a superb celebration JTH. Have enjoyed this several times already.

  21. Shane Reid says

    Lovely tribute JTH

  22. Earl O'Neill says

    That’s great John, thank you for sharing it. I reckon our Dads might have got on well together.
    (“Don’t mention the schism. I did but I think I got away with it.”)

  23. Braham Dabscheck says

    Well done John. You were blessed; you had a loving father who was a wonderful man. Helps explain a lot about you and your church of the Footy Almanac.

  24. Good stuff John – a celebration of a life lived …

  25. Peter Fuller says

    Thank you John for sharing this splendid eulogy with us, offering such an insight into an exceptional man. I’m sure that T.E. would be gratified by the qualities of his offspring. I share the opinion of other commenters that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

  26. Rod Oaten says

    A beautiful read about a beautiful man.
    Thanks Harmsy.

  27. john lawrence murphy says

    Thanks, John. Such a beautiful tribute, with a very clear picture shown to us of what empathy is – not just sympathy. Great for you all to be conscious of having been so blessed. Keep up the good work.
    John Murphy

  28. Terrific Harmsey, those Hermannsburger’s from Germany were something again. Those of them who founded Hermannsburg out past Alice in the Centre were brave. Travelling Overland from down south in Adelaide to this Red Earth country and the “natives” who lived there. Went by dray. They had so much faith in their Faith.
    Your made of good stock my friend. Anyone from Hermannsburg in Germany.

  29. Peter Schumacher says

    Hi John,
    As you know, my dad was a Lutheran pastor too, and my mother filled the same sort of support role to him in the same way the way that your mother did for your dad.

    Dad died in 1981 before the AFL got going and so in his footy world, the SANFL, he was a fierce Norwood man, as of course by default was I. We were both very anti Victorian footy because normally in interstate matches you Vics were too good. He would have loved the Crows.

    Even though he died nearly 40 years ago, it is amazing how often my thoughts return to him, either whilst watching the footy (Brisbane is my team these days, it became so when I moved to Queensland thirty years ago) or listening to, or viewing fine music, especially as in your dad’s case, Bach.

    He too was a straight forward man of conservative Lutheran faith, (loved your reference to the Missouri Synod)! He was described to me once as the “finest country pastor” that this particular commentator had met. Like those of that time, he cared deeply about people (preferably those who were Lutheran).

    He was not perfect of course, we were told that sky would fall in if Sir Thomas Playford ever lost the premiership. He did of course, to Don Dunstan, which dad and all of his conservative adherents found particularly galling.

    Thank you for sharing the obituary, it certainly rekindled some thoughts for me. Oh, and my dad was a very keen gardener, as well.

  30. Trevor Blainey says

    great words John. no surprise there. as others have noted you also hold forth in a church. it’s easy to see where this inclination might have been fostered. you’ve turned an otherwise melancholy duty into a hymn worthy of a life well lived.

  31. David Buckland says

    Thanks John, what a wonderful tribute. Our family loved the time we were in Oakey. I can still remember our first Church Service which was on Christmas Day 1979. It was a sticken hot day. Your dad was at the pulpit and had just started the sermon where he swallowed a fly – and without a blink, just moved on and said something along the lines of, “added protein for Christmas dinner”. He didn’t even cough or tried to spit it out. He truly was an amazing man along with your mum Faye and your siblings. Our family can still recall the great cricket games we had in your backyard with fondness.

  32. Colin Ritchie says

    Having delivered the eulogy for both my mum and dad I know and appreciate what a difficult task it is to perform while in a bereaved state. I was really glad I was able sit down with my siblings, as you did with yours, to reminisce about lives well lived. It’s a time when families come together to celebrate treasured memories together. Your father received the eulogy he deserved, and I know my parents both received the farewells they deserved. I was proud as a son I was up to the task to deliver my eulogies, and undoubtably you were as well., Wonderful JTH.

  33. John Green says

    Wow. A beautiful eulogy for a man who lived his life so faithfully in the presence and blessing of God. I can see how much your family loved him, John.

  34. Beautiful words John. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Jane Greenwood says

    I am so glad I got to meet your dad, John, and your mum, and have warm memories of them both. What a wonderful eulogy for such a lovely man.

  36. Daryl Schramm says

    All of the above JTH. So much here for me. Late September 2010 and two GFs not involving GFC. Timing seems appropriate in some way. St Mark’s at Mt Barker. Attended there a few times in a previous life. My two boys were baptised there in ’85 and ’87. A Norwood man, when most I knew in the Lutheran set-up were Sturt. Faith, foundation and friendliness to the fore throughout here. A timely reminder for these times. BTW, I deliberately saved reading this for a quiet time and only now just got to it. I wasn’t disappointed. Thanks for posting.

  37. Frank Taylor says

    A wonderful man, a wonderful life and a wonderful family. A man, a person, who lived life true to himself, and, more importantly, to others.
    Generosity and love, true love, for his fellow man regardless, is the real measure of a person’s character. This is hard to beat. No, sorry, it can’t be beaten.
    You are blessed John, and it shows. Like you, I was blessed to with the demonstrable, tireless, unwavering and unconditional love of my mother, and I am blessed to.
    Beautifully written,
    Thank you

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