Ray didn’t want me to come to his hearing. He told me he didn’t want anybody there. He said none of his family or friends would be there, only himself and the legal people. That’s the way he wanted it. I struggled with this for weeks. Ray is a very private man and I wanted to respect his wishes. At the same time, though, I couldn’t stand the thought of him being there alone. I eventually phoned and warned him that if he noticed an organ grinder there with a familiar looking monkey, it might just be me and my young son, Soren.
As it was, I shouldn’t have bothered worrying. When I got there, I found the entire family sitting in the back rows of the courtroom. It was an extraordinary day, unlike anything I had seen in a court before. If you’d wandered in off the street, not knowing the circumstances of the gathering, you would have been forgiven for thinking you were attending a canonisation, adding Ray to that humble pantheon of Australian saints, headed by Mother Mary McKillop.
The prosecution said their bit of course, wrapped in the usual sort of mumbo jumbo tailored to obfuscate and impress. But then it was the turn of the defence. I don’t imagine I’ll ever again see a more impressive array of men come forward to defend a friend as I did that day. Mind you, it wasn’t the number of witnesses, nor all their titles and accomplishments that so moved me. It was the integrity with which they spoke. By the time the last witness left the stand, I was having trouble holding back the tears - not a good look for me.
The first guy to speak was a fellow cleric. Richard was his name. His point of connection was that he was pastor to Ray’s mother and a first-hand witness to Ray’s involvement in the retirement village where she lived. Ray had been out there every week, driving the bus, taking the elderly on various outings. Richard spoke about this and about Ray’s involvement with the church and his overall commitment to the vulnerable in society. It was a solid testimonial.
It was the second man to the stand, though, who stole the show: Professor Martin Silink of the Sydney Children’s Hospital. An old friend of Ray’s and a man who had had a long-term involvement with Ray in establishing and developing a response to juvenile diabetes across Australia and around the world. We heard how Ray’s interest in the work had started when his own son suffered from diabetic problems as a child. After his son’s recovery, Ray was determined to help extend Professor Silink’s healing work across the country. Ray worked closely with Silink over many years to establish an Institute for Juvenile Diabetes. Ray took financial responsibility for setting up and staffing the Institute and remained ever attentive to developments in its work.
You’d think, by the way the Professor spoke, that Ray had taken this on as his primary job. But the truth is that Ray, in addition to managing HIH, had been supporting a vast number of charitable works across the country, our local youth centre being one of them at one stage.
At the time we received our donation from Ray, we had an accountant in the congregation who was quite high up in the hospital system. When I told him a guy called Williams had given us the money we needed, he said, “Ray Williams? He keeps half the hospitals in Sydney going.” He added, “But he never likes to have his name mentioned.”
It was for that sort of work they made Ray a member of the Order of Australia, even if they’re now looking to strip him of that honour.
So far as the professor’s story went, the gut-wrenching part for me came after the collapse of HIH. According to the Professor, Ray rang him that day, clearly distressed. They made an appointment to meet. The Professor stated when Ray arrived it was clear he was holding back the tears. Eventually, he spat it out, “Les … we’re going to have to find another way of funding the Institute”.
This was typical of Ray. I could hear him saying it. There was a man who had just lost everything. His company had collapsed, his fortune was gone. In many ways, his life was over. But what was he worrying about? The future of the Institute! According to Silink, they have subsequently found a way to keep the Institute going, thanks be to God, but Ray no longer has any formal involvement.
Shortly after the collapse of HIH, Ray received a letter from the board of the Children’s Hospital saying, “Thank you but your services are no longer required”. It was the unkindest cut of all.
I won’t go into details of the other two men who spoke. Tony Hartnell was man number three, a long-time friend who had lost his own fortune through the HIH collapse, but who loved Ray regardless.