Tiger Tommy Hafey: Cancer's most glorious temple

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Contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence provides Independent Australia's tribute to legendary Richmond AFL coach, player and personality, and lover of life and humanity, Tommy Hafey.

IN TOMMY HAFEY'S BODY, cancer never had a more glorious temple in which to dwell, nor a more gracious host.

It is tragically ironical and an ominous warning to us all, that cancer is insidiously indiscriminate and also preys upon those who don't smoke and don't drink, whose lifelong fitness regime is not only exemplary but legendary and who defy the likes of Shakespeare's eloquent monologue about the Seven Ages of Man.

Hafey's body seemed ageless and, in his eighties, his physical presence and muscular definition was heroic in its statuesque Greco-Roman form and classicism.

If  that iconic photo of the voluptuous Ursula Andress emerging from a jealous sea epitomises a contemporary Venus, then the image of Tommy Hafey's nuggety form emerging from the bayside waters against the backdrop of a proud dawn, makes a worthy coupling.

Hafey's daily swims were as a daily baptism and salute to a new day; with new possibilities and adventures.

There is no doubt that his was an Atlas-like physique, strong and solid, manly and dependable, but sweetly gentle, and whose muscular mind was matched with muscular speech — capable of uplifting not only those in his beloved world of football but also the collective spirit of those souls, both young and old, who had wandered adrift from mainstream society and become strangers in a paradise long lost, misplaced or stolen.

Hafey never lost the child within the man.

And likewise, he always saw the man, or the woman, within the child, or young person and as a paid or volunteer mentor was able to appeal to our better instinct, our better and nobler selves and to inspire us to aspire beyond the mean expectations of those who had damned us to the trashheap.

Such leadership stems from great personal and grounded largesse.

Hafey was a man who aged comfortable and unashamed of his own psychological and physical skins, both sensual and sexual.

He taught us that you could be gentlemanly and kind and caring, whilst always noticing the runt of the litter.

And that emotion was not a dirty word, or its expression a sign of weakness, but rather of strength.

He took great joy in his own energy and we took great joy in the sharing of it.

He taught us that strong individuals are imperative to a stronger team.

It is one of the reasons he was a force majeure in coaching. In football. In Life.

He had a cheeky sense of humour, and just loved mingling with people from all walks of life.

Once, when Mr Hafey was coming into the studio for a radio interview for my current affairs show 'Talk the Talk with Tess Lawrence' on RPH (Radio for the Print Handicapped) as it was then called, I saw firsthand the ability of this man to generate excitement and enthusiasm.

Tommy and his beloved wife Maureen were then involved in a most successful prostate cancer project to encourage more men to get tested. 

Whilst on the telephone, arranging the interview, I was teasing Tommy and said that he could only come into the studio if he wore a sleeveless top, so we could see his bulging muscles.

Well, come the day of the interview (which was well promoted by the station and the show was syndicated to all 8 radio stations around Victoria) it seems the entire of Vision Australia's Kooyong HQ was on standby for Mr Hafey's visit.

When he arrived, it was as if Royalty had arrived. And so it had. Real royalty. Not inherited, but appointed by the people, out of respect and admiration.

Women and men, young and old, appeared from nowhere and thronged to the station's reception desk, loitering about and feigning errands, pen and paper and autograph books in hand, for themselves, their kids and grandkids.

I had arranged to have a heads up from the car park area when Tommy pulled up and sure enough, when he energetically lobbed out of the lift – there he was – in sleeveless shirt, muscles flexing, men and women swooning at his impressive physique ( for any age ) but there was also his magical and mystical aura – and a delightful ambience of love and affection and sheer joy.

I may be the only person in Victoria who has never attended an AFL football match here; although of course, I have interviewed a number of footballers.

Save for Ron Barassi, no-one comes close to Tommy Hafey.

In the interview, Tommy was clearly on a mission to encourage more men to have a prostate cancer test — and with our audience across the state, he succeeded.

He pulled no punches in the words he used, either. He told us that he had a test every six months and that real men, if they cared about their families as well as themselves, would regularly have the finger up the bum test.

So many people contacted us to let us know that despite the fact for years they had implored their partners/fathers, sons, etc, to be tested, their pleas were ignored — and yet when they heard Mr Hafey say he regularly had the test, it inspired them to do so, as well.

Undoubtedly, Mr Hafey saved a few lives that day. As he and Maureen did with their regular prostate cancer awareness gatherings around the State.

Another thing about Mr Hafey, after the interview, as we yarned in the reception area and Tommy prepared to drive to the country to give talks to young people and footy clubs, he calmly pulled his sleeveless shirt over his head before our non-averting eyes and replaced it with another one from his kit.

He then autographed the shirt/jersey his DNA now graced so that we could use it for fundraising.

I came alarmingly close to pilfering it, not to sell on Ebay, but I do confess I thought it would be luvverly to sleep in.

My colleagues restrained me and, to be sure, it was a sort of rotating restraining of one another, someone suggesting we cut the shirt into little snippets, so that more people could share Tommy's DNA, even joking about the sweat and skin cells on the shirt, taking the mickey out of ourselves,

All the while, Tommy is there, enjoying the banter, laughing and joking with us and signing autographs, we not wanting him ever to leave.

But of course, he had to leave to keep the faith with his beloved country kids. And leave he did.

And now he has left forever. 

It will take some time to get used to the absence of his presence.

There will be many bruised hearts and salty tears will flow at his passing.

We at IA extend our thoughts and gratitude to his family and their generous sharing of Tommy with the wider community.

Thank you, dear beloved Mr Hafey. 

You taught us that the greatest teacher is forever a student.

You put the 'man' in 'humanity'.


Here's the heads up about the Tommy Hafey tribute (Saturday) and funeral service (Monday) to take place at — where else but the MCG!

Richmond paid tribute to Club ‘Immortal’ Tommy Hafey in a pre-game tribute before the first bounce of today's match against Melbourne at the MCG — with a minute's applause.

A funeral service to celebrate the life of Tommy Hafey will be held at 2pm on Monday, May 19, at the MCG, in the Members Dining Room.

Hafey’s family, friends and associates are encouraged to enter via Gate 2 in the members’ reserve.

Football fans and the general public are welcome to attend the service, with seating available in the Members Reserve on level 1 (entry via MCG Gate 1 in the Ponsford Stand). The service will be displayed on the MCG’s big screens.

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