I lost a friend on the weekend. It was shattering news that left so many of the media family in shock. I still find it hard to believe that we won’t be catching up for a coffee again soon.
If you heard or read the news you’ll know that my friend Rod Allen was a respected and talented journalist. You will have learned that he was the media manager for the Western Sydney football team The Wanderers, a former sports editor of The Sun-Herald and The Sydney Morning Herald and a star tennis player as a teenager.
What you may not know is what a lovely, caring man he was. I met Rod when we were cub reporters on the Daily Mirror 25 years ago. I was 22 and Rod was 20. Our shifts coincided and at the end of our working day we would head across to New Limited’s then local watering hole, The Evening Star, with a group of journalists that included Channel Nine’s director of news Darren Wick.
The perils of being a young, female News Limited journalist back then are well-documented but I always felt protected. Before I dated my husband who I also met at The Daily Mirror that same year, I was shielded from the nasty stuff by the two men who would come to be like brothers to me: Rod and Darren.
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Daily Mirror journalists seemed to spend a lot of time together in those days. Rod shared my taste in music – a rare thing unfortunately that is yet to be replicated by anyone other than my close girlfriends from school. We would sing along to the songs of John Farnham’s Whispering Jack, an album he loved with the exception of the one he called “the honey and the bee”. That lyric annoyed him, understandably.
We always seemed to be at a restaurant meeting someone’s latest partner. As we were like a band of brothers and sisters, everyone’s opinion seemed to matter. I didn’t always tell Rod the truth as his feelings were important to me and anyway 25 years ago I knew very little about successful relationships.
When I left The Daily Mirror for Dolly, Rod wrote for the magazine providing the boy’s view of relationships. My deputy editor Suellen Topfer corralled a group of News Limited journalists to provide advice for our young readers. Rod approached this with a sense of responsibility. He told me it was important to “avoid breaking their little hearts”. He adopted the same strategy with the women he dated. I admired his kindness.
Years later, I worked with Rod again at Fairfax. He was the first to console me when I learned that Suellen had passed away. He could see I was hurting and reminded me of the good times we had with her. He helped me with stories for her eulogy. He told me that it was important to remember the good times as it’s what she would have wanted.
As I drove home from my family’s Easter Sunday lunch last weekend, a few hours after learning the awful news, I stopped at the traffic lights at Rose Bay pier and a happy image of my friend Rod waving to me on my wedding day 20 years ago flashed in my mind.
Rod was running late for my wedding. As the wedding car I was travelling in stopped at the same traffic lights alongside Rose Bay pier, I looked across to the car on our right and saw Rod’s smiling face looking back at me. He waved as the car he was in sped off ahead in order to get to the church before me.
There has been an outpouring of grief for this man that was my friend and a friend to so many in the media and sports industries. We all have our favourite stories of him. We will laugh as we remember our shared history and shed tears for the pain we are feeling right now, and for his wife Laila and his parents whom he loved dearly.
As we gather for the memorial service next Monday it will be important to remember the good times. It’s what Rod would have wanted.
*This article was originally published at Women’s Agenda