“If you ever had one wish it would be that it never happened anywhere, ever again. To anyone. “
John Pirie’s father, Senior Constable Clarence Roy Pirie, was shot and killed when John was just four years old. Sixty years later, it remains the defining incident in his life. Over the course of our wide-ranging conversation, we cover John’s life, the incredible sacrifices his mother made for him and his siblings after his father was killed, and the determination that John feels to help others in circumstances similar to himself.
John now helps out with our Social Connection Events (previously known as “Local Area Lunches”) that have just restarted thanks to COVID-19 regulations easing. He takes great pleasure in watching people come to life as they sit and talk through their shared experiences. It reminds him of how much his mum loved these occasions, and the camaraderie created.
In December last year, our Chair Det Supt Gary Merryweather presented John with the touchstone commemorating his father’s life. (When the National Police Memorial in Canberra was commemorated in 2006, duplicates were made of the touchstones that were placed there. NSW Police Legacy had them entrusted into our care, and we are now in the process of returning them to their families). John found himself nearly overwhelmed with the emotion of the occasion.
“I have something now,” says John, voice thick with emotion. He had his father’s Swiss Army knife, which was stolen when his car was stolen; he had his gun, which he had to surrender in the buybacks of the 90s. “It doesn’t replace the person, obviously… but it means a lot.”
John Pirie (left) with Det Supt Gary Merryweather
NSW Police Legacy didn’t exist when John lost his father. He’s sure he would have benefitted if it had. His first contact with Legacy was soon after the organisation started. His mum needed to buy a new refrigerator but didn’t have the money. He called up to talk to someone, “and they just bought her one!” He values so much that she was never forgotten. Even when she was in the nursing home, coming in and out of awareness, she would receive birthday flowers. “She might not have realised who they were from, but I did. I appreciated it.”
The kindness of strangers has been something John has valued all through his life, and he knows just how much help his mum received after his father was killed. In fact, he knows exactly how much she received, because as he was clearing out her house after she died, he found an envelope “stuffed full of all the records of all the people who’d helped at the time.” He also found extensive newspaper clippings with the details of every single police officer who’d been killed after his father. The weight of these incidents can never be underestimated.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think how different things would have been. What I would have been doing, how different I would have been, if that hadn’t happened,” says John. “And when you think about the other police widows and children… it’s a wonderful thing that Legacy does. All those people helped.”
Throughout our conversation John mentions time and time again how much he values what’s being done for the children touched by tragedy, how important it is that both their physical and psychological wellbeing is now being attended to. For him it’s so clear that this will lead to better adjusted kids, who will have a much better chance of growing up well.
The last big Police Legacy event that John attended was the 2019 Christmas Luncheon, where he helped bus in a group from the Bathurst/Orange area. His table was full of “very funny ladies”, and as well as all the laughter and the making of merry, John found a moment of quiet profundity watching little Dexter Proctor – then just a few months old – being passed from widow to widow.
“I just watched all the love that little bloke got, and thought isn’t that wonderful?” He felt he was truly seeing the Police Family in action, and it’s something he wants for every child in these circumstances.