A tribute to my father, Sam

Sam Chisholm, AO, October 8, 1939 to July 9, 2018.

My father’s funeral was held at St Swithun’s Anglican Church, Pymble, on Friday July 20, 2018.

Here’s what I said that day:

Sam Chisholm Tribute – July 20, 2018 – by his daughter, Caroline Jumpertz

Many of you know Sam Chisholm as the tough, uncompromising media executive who transformed the television business in Australia and overseas. I want to round out this picture by sharing some more personal memories of Sam, my father.

For most of my childhood, Sam, my mother Ronda and I lived in a modest brick bungalow in the leafy suburbs. However, our life was anything but conventional.

My parents had both emigrated from New Zealand, and without much family in Australia, they built a strong network from neighbours, friends and the diverse group of people Sam worked with. We had Christmases with Geoff Harvey playing carols on the piano, Humphrey B. Bear came to my birthday parties, and during the World Series Cricket negotiations, Dennis Lillee was a regular weekend visitor.

One summer, we had tyre tracks on the bottom of our pool from the time Sam was repeatedly jumping the corner of the pool on his dirt bike, and then missed.

As I grew up, many was the the time Sam would oppose me in an argument and win, but then later I’d hear him taking a different position on the same issue, and using my arguments against someone else. I was by turns infuriated and quietly chuffed. I joined the school debating team.

Many of us here would have received a “free character analysis” courtesy of Sam. He had an uncanny ability to read people, to find what made them tick, but he was never one for lingering resentments. He forgave, forgot, moved on.

He also liked to say: “free advice is worth what you pay for it.”

 

Samuel Hewlings Chisholm was born in Auckland on 8 October, 1939, to Robert and Nancye Chisholm. He had an older brother Robert, or Bob, and a younger brother Ian.

Sam attended day school then a boarding school, Southwell, which he called “horrifying”. He then went to Kings in Auckland, where he played golf and boxed. If you ever noticed how fast Sam bolted his food, these boarding schools were to blame.

When Sam was 8 or 9, his father passed away, likely from the inherited Alpha-1 Anti-Trypsin deficiency, although the disease hadn’t been discovered then. Sam left school at 15: he wasn’t academic and he wanted to ease the financial burden on his widowed mother, whom he adored.

Sam worked as a farmhand, customs officer and then, like many New Zealanders at the time, moved to Australia. In Sydney he worked as a storeman, then travelling salesman for Johnson’s Wax. He moved to Melbourne with Johnson’s and then went into media sales. Around this time he met and married my mother.

I was born in Melbourne, but soon after we moved to Sydney as Sam’s career at Channel Nine was taking shape.

While Sam’s determination and psychological strength helped him fight the health battles caused by the Alpha-1, (he was diagnosed in his 40s), there were a number of people who deserve recognition for those years before the transplant.

My mother, Ronda, a trained nurse, worked tirelessly to keep Sam healthy for all the years they were together.

I recall trips to see John Knight, TV’s Doctor James Wright and later Sam was fortunate enough to meet Peter Corte, a great physician who became a friend.

Sam’s live-in housekeeper in London in the 1990s, Eva Mendoza, who has now passed, was also indispensable in keeping him healthy in the — physically and culturally — hostile London environment, as was Professor Duncan Geddes.

Sam returned to Australia due to his indifferent health in 1999. Before his transplant in March of 2003, he had spent nearly two years on the transplant waiting list, and was running out of road.

It’s really only those closest to him, and his doctors, who know the extent of Sam’s health battle. Cathy Bray and Steve Markowskei were instrumental in those dire times.

However, the person who deserves the most credit in all this is the anonymous donor. None of us would be here today if it weren’t for that person.

As well as the lungs that went to Sam, this same donor gave their heart to save the life of a young woman we met that night at St Vincent’s.

Today I want to extend my deep and abiding gratitude to all the families of organ donors, and to anyone who has registered as a potential donor.

Heartfelt thanks are due to transplant surgeon Michael Wilson, Professor Alan Glanville, anaesthetist Greg O’Sullivan, Sister Jacinta and the team at St Vincent’s.

Lastly and very importantly, Sue Chisholm, who’s indefatigable efforts helped Sam exceed expectations and live more than 15 high-quality years post-transplant.

You may wonder why I’m thanking so many people when this is meant to be about Sam — but their efforts gave us the extra years with him, and the value of those years is impossible for me to articulate.

 

In recent days, you may have read some colourful anecdotes about Sam, many of which are actually true.

You can use almost any adjective you like about Sam, too — most of them are accurate.

He loved a good story, but behind the myth-making were the core beliefs that defined his character. He are a few:

He believed in the power of a phone call. To fix something, or know something, pick up the phone.

He knew the power of a joke. A witty line can redirect, break the ice, overcome an impasse.

He enjoyed the power of a well-placed swear word. He had a broad vocabulary, but he swore with unseemly relish.

He valued and rewarded loyalty, and made you earn his respect.

When he didn’t have much, he was generous. When he did make “a few bucks”, he shared it around and the gestures got bigger.

He taught me never to big-note myself, but not to be a “hand-wringing apologist” either. That life is tough, and to fight for what’s important to you.

He believed the greatest secret to management, or anything else, was common sense.

He gave new meaning to the term stoic. No matter how dire his health, he never complained.

“How are you, Sam?”

“Never better, good as gold,” when he clearly was not.

Mind over matter, determination in the face of all odds, grit and sheer force of personality.

This was his superpower.

When Danny, Lewis and I had the opportunity to move to the USA, thanks to the Green Card Lottery, Sam kept saying “This will be the making of you!” He couldn’t have been more encouraging. But when we came home to Australia six-and-a-half years later, I know he was happy. We’ve loved being near to him and Sue for the past year-and-a-half.

This wasn’t always the case. Sam and I certainly had our moments. More than once I have recalled the way my mother framed it: “Sometimes you put up with the worst things in the best people.”

Another of Sam’s great lines: “Show me someone who’s never made a mistake, and I’ll show you someone who’s never made a decision.”

I spoke to him once, concerned about the fraught conversations we’d had in the past, and — ever the ‘closer’ —  he said: “That stuff doesn’t matter, what matters is how you end.”

So farewell to a tenacious, complex, and charismatic man who loved his family, truly appreciated his friends, and who profoundly valued every day of his life, right to the end.

 

_____________________________

5 thoughts on “A tribute to my father, Sam

  1. What a lovely post, Caroline. And no wonder… Your father always spoke of you so lovingly and proudly.
    I laughed when I read this: “He believed in the power of a phone call. To fix something, or know something, pick up the phone.”
    He taught me to do the same – and the exact time to do it… lunchtime Friday, “when no one was in their office!” That was a very good lesson. I did enjoy spending time with him when I worked for the Herald…
    Complicated, yes. Dedicated too. And so interesting! But you know all of that.
    CAH

  2. Hi Caroline, That was a wonderful tribute to Sam, and I remember how well received it was at the funeral. It was also a wonderful wake. Sam would have loved it. Thanks for sharing it on your blog. I will follow you so I can read some of your posts. Tom

  3. Hi Caroline
    You don’t know me and that doesn’t matter.
    Your Father was an honourable man. He defined The Nine Network and made it strong.
    For that I’m very grateful. I enjoyed a fantastic career at Nine, largely because of all of the great things Sam put in place. His ability to get “it right” the first time wasn’t lost on anybody.
    So I wish you well and hope during this time that you are all Ok – Vale Sam
    So many like me are in your debt. Rest Easy
    Best Wishes
    Michael Fleming

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s