Radley Claessen: An Appreciation

Justin Labrooy

In January this year, Radley Claessen, a founder member and past President of ASLA, passed away peacefully at home after a full and active 85      dley and Brian years. The first twenty seven years of Radley’s life were spent in Colombo.   He distinguished himself at his Alma Mater, Wesley College, where he was Senior Prefect and Captain of a Wesley cricket team which carried all before it in 1952. Radley’s prominence in sport led onto a career in journalism with The Times of Ceylon where he subsequently became Night Editor.  He married Angela in 1954 and the eldest of their children, Desiree, was born in Colombo.  In 1958 the family migrated to Australia, leaving a country undergoing rapid political change to a new life and the challenges of establishing itself in a new environment.

Wesley College Cricket team in 1952 with Radley as Captain      

After a brief spell at the iconic “Eagle on the Hill” service station owned by another Sri Lankan expatriate, Bruce Collette, Radley moved to the Hospitals Department. In 1963, he was appointed Publicity and Promotions Officer in the Highways Department of South Australia where he was able to utilise his previous experience as a journalist.  He continued in this position till he retired in 1985.  He was highly regarded by his many colleagues and friends in the Highways Department.

His impact and contribution in the wide world outside of work were also significant.  Radley and others of his generation were among the first wave of migrants from Sri Lanka to settle in Adelaide.  The Claessen clan, which was a micro-community in itself, was active in reaching out to others who came later and were trying to find their feet in a new country.  Radley and Angela were founder-members of ASLA which came into being in the mid-1970’s.  ASLA rapidly became a venue for new migrants, others who had an affinity with Sri Lanka, and for their families, to get to know each other at ASLA functions such as the annual Christmas party and New Year’s Eve Dance. Radley was President of this Association for 2 years in the 1980’s.  He was appointed as the first Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in South Australia around this time.  He was also a Justice of the Peace at Campbelltown Council for over 30 years.

My first awareness of Radley dates to 1952 when I read of him and heard of the exploits of the Claessen brothers, Radley and Bryan, on the cricket field.  My first meeting with him and Angela would have been at ASLA in 1976, following which we developed a life-long friendship.  I had the privilege of providing medical care for them through serious health challenges and got to know much about them and their family.  I learnt even more about their lives at the beautiful commemorative service held for Radley after his death in January this year.  At this service, members of his family eloquently described aspects of his early life, how he met and married Angela, their devoted marriage, and the loving nurture and support given to his children, Desiree, Patsy, Debbie and Russell and their families.  This was reciprocated by all of them, particularly in the last years of Radley’s life when he resolutely continued to live on, after Angela’s death, in the house he had built for her many years before. His life as a committed Christian was also highlighted.

I will end with a brief cricketing verse which epitomises this gentleman who greatly enriched the lives of those of us who knew him:

“When the one great scorer comes,

To write against your name,

He writes not if you won or lost

But how you played the game”.

Justin La Brooy, 17.4.2017

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