Lester was the eldest son of Frederic and Irma Sheather. Fred was born in Deervale and Irma (Biddy) was born in Dorrigo. They met and married in Deervale and Lester, their eldest son, was born in Dorrigo in June 1934. Three more children followed, Barbara (deceased), Judith and John.
Lester’s early childhood was spent on the farm at North Dorrigo and when he was about six or seven the family moved to North Bank Road which was known as McNally Farm. The trip down the mountain was with a horse and sulky on a gravel road. Lester would often recall the beauty of the flowers as he encountered the Bellinger Valley for the first time (only to find out later that they were lantana) and boiling a pannikin under the Thora bridge. Their next move was to Spring Barn on Roses Road for further farming and then to Thora on Somerville’s Road, share farming on the Somerville’s property.
It was here that Lester met one of his many great lifelong friends, John Cleaver. He would often tell of the two of them running off and hiding in the corn patches but his mum, Biddy, used to know they’d come home when they got hungry. They’d also go river fishing and shooting using a flat-bottom boat to cross the river and pinch the neighbour’s watermelons. They’d then go to the back of the farm (called The Ledge) to shoot a few pigeons. He would often sneak off to go swimming rather than milking. On one occasion John recounted they swam in the ‘nuddy’ under the top bridge only to have some young girls run off with their clothes. They waited for hours before someone returned with their clothing.
In 1941 Lester began primary education at Bellingen Central School, which is where the Shire chambers are today. He’d ride a horse to school with his two sisters.
Lester’s long association with one of the loves of his life, football, began after the war at 12 years of age. He would ride his bike from Thora to Bellingen to play in the Lemonade Cup. After the game they’d all line up to drink a cup of lemonade that Jack Bailey had donated.
After finishing school, his first job away from the farm was as a presser at the dry cleaners in Bellingen. He would ride his pushbike all the way from Thora for the princely sum of one pound and sixpence a week.
It was at the dry cleaners in 1951 that Lester met the greatest love of his life, Merle, who was so impressed that they soon started dating.
Lester’s next job was as a salesman at Jack Halpin’s drapery and after a few months he started working in the Halpin’s grocery walking around the town taking orders. After this he went to work as a salesman at Raymond’s.
By 1952 things with Merle were starting to get serious, and they decided to get engaged, with Lester buying the engagement ring on a trip to Grafton. In October 1955, Lester and Merle were married in St Margaret’s Church.
About a year before their wedding, Lester was called up for National Service, spending 14 ½ weeks basic training at Ingleburn and then a further three weeks a year for the next three years at Singleton. He received a number of service medals in his time as a ‘Nasho’.
In his 20s Lester regularly took Merle to the Saturday night dances, mostly at Nambucca. Merle tells us Lester had ‘two left feet’ and would often join his mates down on the beach for a port or two. It didn’t spoil her fun though, and she has many fond memories of those dances.
It wasn’t until March 1956 that Lester and Merle were able to move into the new house in Rawson Street that was to be their home for the next 61 years. They had planned to move in soon after their wedding but extremely wet weather caused a delay in construction. They shared a house with Headley Milne in South Street and the rent was free in return for Merle cooking him a meal each day.
1960 was a big year for the Sheathers with the birth of their first child, Wendy, in January. They had to wait another 12 years before their son, Brett, was born.
In 1964 Lester left Raymond’s and started the next chapter of his working life by opening up a fruit and vegetable shop in the main street of Bellingen. Both he and Merle were to run that shop for the next 15 years up to when they sold it in 1979.
Looking for his next challenge, Lester started working for Hans Bauer who taught him his painting and decorating skills. He enjoyed this work so much that it wasn’t long before he started his own business, which he ran for 34 years until he retired in 2004. He employed many people during that time and he was joined by Brett to work alongside him for a number of years from 1990.
As I mentioned before, football was an important part of Lester’s life but he was also involved in other sports, such as cricket, where he enjoyed the chance to play with his younger brother, John. He also played tennis, bowls (having won the North Coast pairs title one year with Don Crossman) and was a very keen fisherman. His interest in fishing extended to a number of fishing trips to reefs off the Queensland Coast as well as locally in the rivers and offshore.
It was football, and more particularly the Bellingen Magpies, that was a major part of his interest in sport. He played representative football for the Magpies, including scoring three tries on his first grade debut at half back, He moved into a coaching role, coaching the under 18 team from 1963 to 1966 and a highlight being the premiership in 1964 with Tony Martin as captain, the first for the club at that level.
Lester eventually became president of the club and later was awarded the honour of life membership.
In the 1960s Lester first became involved with the Lions Club and remained a member for 51 years. During this time he was president of the club and also honoured with the Keith Small Gold Honour Award and later the prestigious Melvyn Jones Fellow Award. Some of the projects he was most proud of during his time with the Lions included the Bellingen swimming pool and, more recently, the purchase of a new ultrasound machine for the Bellingen Hospital, a project he coordinated. He was subsequently nominated by the Bellingen Hospital for the Mid North Coast Local Health District Volunteer of the Year during 2016 Health Innovation Award.
Lester made a great many friends during his time with the Lions Club and he had fond memories of the social events the club organised.
Amazingly Lester also found time to be a volunteer fireman for the local brigade for 22 years and we know of one person whose life was saved by his intervention during a fire.
In his later years Lester became a keen traveller, with Merle joining him on two trips to Europe in 1988 and 1994 to visit his daughter Wendy’s family. A particular favourite was Ireland where Lester was in his element talking to the locals and sharing a pint of Guinness. He also went to New Zealand twice with Merle and friends and it was very special for our family that Lester and Merle were able to attend his granddaughter, Lydia’s, wedding in Fiji in 2014. He travelled widely around Australia as well which included some great fishing trips to Queensland and the Northern Territory.
In thinking of the things Lester liked or loved it’s a very long list.
He loved his family
He loved his friends – and there are lots and lots of them
He loved his Old beer - Toohey’s share price would have taken a dip last week
He loved his Country and Western music – unfortunately not shared with the same enthusiasm by his family – Brett often recounts the three-hour car drive to Lismore seeming more like ten when listening to some of Lester’s favourite tapes in the car.
Fish and seafood and more fish and seafood
His veggie garden
And, as probably everyone here today knows – helping others.
The things he didn’t like is a much shorter list as Lester was so positive about life and the people and things in his life
Brussel sprouts – if you ever offered Lester any he would give you what for… This stemmed from his time in the Nashos when he tells us he was served sprouts for breakfast, lunch and dinner…
Rugby league referees – absolutely 100 per cent of them were either clueless, blind or both. To watch a match on TV was a unique experience with his opinion of the players, but most particularly the referee, offered constantly to the extent that those of us who started watching with him rarely made it to half time.
If I can sum up Lester it would be to say that he was totally devoted to his family, his much-loved wife and life partner Merle, his children Wendy and Brett, his granddaughters Charlotte, Lydia and Stephanie, and his great-granddaughter Aurora, who he only ever called Blue Eyes.
He loved his brother and sisters, he loved his extended family and he deeply cherished the many friendships he made during his 83 years with us.
He will be known as a man who was passionate about the things he cared about, who was compassionate for those in need of help, always great company who could lighten up a room with his presence.
It is wonderful to see so many here today. We’re here not to mourn him but to celebrate the man we came to know and love. He shall be sorely missed but never forgotten.
10th July 2017