Ben Chifley spent a decade as Treasurer and then Prime Minister of Australia during and after the Second World War. He died in the evening of June 13, 1951. The same night he died the Australian Government, led by Chifley’s chief politic opponent, Robert Menzies, was holding a gala ball to celebrate the golden jubilee of Parliament. Preparations had been made for weeks for what was to be the grandest of occasions. The ballroom was filled and the party was in full swing when Menzies received news that Chifley had died. He climbed the podium to announce the terrible news. To a hushed room Menzies spoke. “It is my sorrowful duty to inform you that tonight, during this celebration, Mr Chifley, former prime minister and leader of the opposition, has died. I do not want to try even to talk about him, because even though were we were political opponents, he was a great friend of mine and yours, and a fine Australian.
It does not matter about party politics in a case like this. Oddly enough, in Parliament we get to know each other very well, and we sometimes find we have a warmest friendship among people whose politics is not our own. Mr Chifley served this country magnificently for many years. Sorrow of his own people is shared equally by myself and members of the Government. I hope this cruel blow for Mrs Chifley will be softened by the knowledge that there is no Australian who hears this sad news tonight who will not have a tear to shed for a man who has served his country. Indeed, he has served his country and undoubtedly he has hastened his own passing by his devotion to his own land, and indeed, to the people of the world.”
Then asked whether the party should continue Menzies replied, “In the circumstances there will be no more music. I do suggest that you have supper and that we then leave quietly.”
Generous words for a political opponent are not what we expect these days. But Menzies speech reminds us that the power of words to bring healing, hope and encouragement is as great as their power to tear down and destroy. What a pity then that we so often leave the healing words to times of crisis and death, instead of making them to mark of our daily conversation.
Source: Information on Menzies words from Good Weekend Magazine June 9, 2001