Why For Pity Sake?

On the face of it my Dad was a numbers man.  He had a Bachelor of Commerce with Honours in Economics.  He started his career in journalism as a finance writer.  He even did a stint with a stockbroking firm before becoming a Finance Editor then a high ranking media executive whose knowledge of the commercial ins and outs of the newspaper business was unsurpassed in his time. He called my sisters and I Things 1, 2, 3 and 4, in a lid-dip to the Cat in the Hat's naughty little cohorts.  Can't say I blame him. Numbers are so much more logical and convenient than names - a way to bring order to the chaos that comes with having a bevy of little girls running amok in the house.

Keith McDonald HouseCome to think of it having four female progeny that quickly grew into teenagers may have been why he spent so much time at Queensland Newspapers' offices in Bowen Hills, Brisbane, poring over circulation figures, advertising revenues and costings for the installation of brand new computerised photo-typesetting systems.  Perhaps that's why they named the remodelled News Queensland building after him in 2012 - Keith McDonald House, no less!

However, my Dad defies definition by numbers alone.  He loved words and the elegant stringing together of same by artful writers - from poetry to intellectual discourse, Shakespeare to Dr Seuss, the Bible to the weekly Economist, both of which he read with intense concentration...often underlining the good bits.

And he didn't stop at words - he loved all the elements of good production, from cover design and mastheads, illustrations and registration of images on newsprint, to typesetting and the paper stock used for printing. He even marvelled at the print and distribution processes themselves, often parking his car at the farthest end of the old Bowen Hills building so he could make his way to his office via the loading docks and the printing presses. He chatted to drivers, print engineers, compositors and various other hands in the production chain, gaining an intimate knowledge of how things came together in newspaper production.

Dad's knowledge and depth of experience were much revered in the world of media. He rose from a humble finance writer to Chairman of Queensland Press, serving on the Boards of the Herald and Weekly Times and News Corporation, to name a few. Long after he had retired and his usual companion to News Corp events of note (my dear mother) had passed away, I accompanied Dad to a very grand farewell function in Melbourne for a Herald and Weekly Times colleague. By this time Dad was showing signs of the Parkinson's affliction he had been diagnosed with a few years earlier - quiet, laboured speech being the most obvious. After all the formalities of the evening were over, I saw my father seated at an empty table in between Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, both of whom were leaning in to catch what he was saying.

I'm pretty sure the sight of these three huddled together caused my mouth to spontaneously fall open. I said proudly to some random who happened to be standing close by, "That's my Dad."

Growing up I wasn't really aware of this business grandeur. Keith McDonald was just my Dad, the one who read C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia to me in their entirety, until I was old enough to read them again for myself. Many's the time we tried to outdo one another at remembering stanzas from T.S. Eliot's The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock - "Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table..."

My Dad was a font of sayings and witticisms, like the time he "smote the serpent" or in layman's terms, he took a stick to a carpet snake that reared up at him from its hidey hole in the garden around our pool. Or when he told my younger sister, who had a tendency to hang out with hooligans while at University, "If you fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows". He even laughed out loud when he heard Barry Humphries describe the meaning of the O.B.E. acronym, not as Order of the British Empire but as Other Buggers' Efforts. Having been bestowed with one of those himself in recent times, this play on words was very much to Dad's taste.

"For pity sake!" was one his perennials, usually said with a great deal of vigour. We heard it often while growing up - when something got broken, or someone crunched the gears during a driving lesson, or one of us was on the phone too long. When I was younger I didn't respond too well to this declaration but I look fondly on it now.

Keith Henry McDonald O.B.E., is the inspiration for this new venture, For Pity Sake Publishing, not just because he was a bloke with a talent for numbers, production efficiencies, revenues and profits, nor because he knew and had the respect of people in very high places. No - it's because under that pragmatic commercial carapace beat the heart of a true poet, a man who by osmosis instilled in my sisters and I a love of words and reading and the knowledge and delight that these things bring.

It's fitting that as my sisters and I gather to remember the November 30 date of our Dad's passing that I should be writing this blogpost and officially launching this venture in his name.  We 'dip our lid' to you, dear boy. What I wouldn't give to hear you say "for pity sake!" in your full voice, even in frustration, just one more time.