Gillian O’Shaughnessy: ‘Plenty of —- but Wally wasn’t one of them’

720 ABC Perth Afternoon’s presenter, Gillian O’Shaughnessy. Credit: ABC Perth.

The following is a guest post by friend of Wally Foreman’s and 720 ABC Perth Afternoon’s presenter Gillian O’Shaughnessy.

I ONCE stormed into the booth at the ABC and stuck a sign on the door leading in to the radio studio where Wally Foreman was broadcasting the Saturday Sports Talk show. I wrote in big letters to make sure he could see it: “Wally Foreman, WANKER.”

He laughed and read it out on air. Well, almost.

He said I was in a fury and had written something abusive that rhymed with ‘banker’.

Earlier, he’d had a go at me – also on air, when I couldn’t respond – for not attending a footy game which Freo had lost badly and accused me of being a fly-by-nighter. A fair-weather supporter.

I had, as I tend to do, not taken it on the chin. Later he (slightly nervously) told me how great it was we could all have so much fun at work. I felt a bit bad about it, even though it was (kind of) a joke.

There are plenty of wankers in broadcasting – I’m sure I’ve had my moments myself – but Wally wasn’t one of them.

The plaque that sits on the wall permanently since his death in 2006, in the studio bearing his name, is a much more appropriate indication of how we all feel about Wally Foreman.

There isn’t a day when I walk in to do a show, that I don’t see it and remember him.

Sometimes, especially on anniversaries, but occasionally out of the blue, it’s still hard to fight waves of sadness.

There are many others more qualified to talk about his career, his knowledge, what he did for sport in Western Australia. He deserves to be remembered for all of it and he will continue to be.

But I mostly remember Wally for different reasons.

I remember him because he was kind.

It was not a quality sought after or rewarded, especially back then, in an industry that prided itself on being tough; in weeding out the weak seals, where spirits existed to be drunk or crushed if you weren’t up to it.

Journalism was seen as a craft you either knew or you didn’t – it couldn’t be taught. When people spoke of editors, journos or broadcasters as hard, it was a compliment.

So Wally was a bit of a rarity in my early days.

He was kind to me when I was a very green reporter who was in no danger of being described as hard. He was kind when he had no reason to be, when others were not. When some didn’t mind talking about you in front of you, not to you, pointing out your flaws and the lack of standards these days in hiring young journos, Wally was kind.

We didn’t even work on the same floor then and, despite having no reason to, he always went out of his way to say hello. And not just in passing. He’d stop and chat, he’d ask how it was all going and share stories of his own early days and inexperience, he offered advice should it be needed, and he offered welcome.

He’d look to all intents as though bumping into you was a nice spot in his day.

He’d ask after my mum, Pieta, and tell me he loved her country music breakfast show and discuss the relative merits of 50s music as compared to the music of today. We’d talk Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Peggy Lee.

He’d rib me about footy (always) and ask after my daughter. Which was, of course, a thinly veiled excuse to talk about his boys, Glen and Mark and his wife Lyn. He adored his family; he took every opportunity to bring them up in conversation and he never forgot to ask you about yours.

It was lovely the way he spoke of them, his pride so unselfconsciously on show.

You couldn’t help liking him for it. You couldn’t help liking Wally.

It sticks, the way people treat you, and he would not have remembered, I’m sure, but his kindness stuck with me. I adored him.

He was easy to look up to, yet completely unaware, I think, that anyone would.

He had no professional veneer that made him protective of a manufactured image. He was who he was. Genuine.

His smile was wonderful, and his laugh was better. The infamous snorkel incident during a cricket commentary is even now, one of the most requested pieces of audio we have in the ABC archives.

I thought I would wet myself the first time I heard it, and I’m still in danger now, although it makes me cry, too. It’s beautiful and hilarious and unbearable at the same time.

He sounded like Muttley from Wacky Races, or like a schoolboy giggling uncontrollably when someone inadvertently farted at assembly – long pauses and the struggle to regain control, followed by a random snort and then the giggling all over again.

You could hear the tears. He had a rascal streak, a wicked sense of humour. He always seemed so much more tickled when the joke was on him.

Wally was one of those people who made you want to be better. What Wally thought of me, after those early days when his kindness made such a difference, mattered.

You always felt Wally was the sort to do the right thing and that it would weigh heavily on him if he felt he hadn’t. You felt like he’d make excuses for you if you weren’t at your best… if you were a friend.

I don’t imagine he would have had many enemies, he seemed like the kind of man you would have to work pretty hard to incite a grudge in, but hard to win back once you’d lost him.

Rightly revered for being one of the best in his field, both as a broadcaster and as a champion and a warrior for WA sport. Wally was as talented as any of them, but he had more than that.

Wally was loved. He was one of the finest people I ever knew.

And I miss him – greatly.

The Legend from Bruce Rock: The Wally Foreman Story is on-sale 29 July 2017 via FFPress and all good bookstores. Please see Get the Book for more information.

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