By Leonie Reid
Born in Beaconsfield in 1938, Tom Tranter spent most of his early life in the Wheatbelt towns of Kellerberrin and Tammin.
He attended Kellerberrin Convent and Tammin Primary School before going to board at St Ildephonsus College, New Norcia at the age of 13. There he was educated by the Marist Brothers and credits them with instilling in him the values he lived by in his adult life.
Tom came to Perth in 1955. He first worked with BP, while studying Accountancy at night school. After he qualified as a Chartered Accountant, he went to work for C.P. Bird and Associates (subsequently named Bird Cameron). His first posting was at Moora where he and his new wife Fay met many friends.
Tom loved the land and he loved his farming clients, often speaking of them with a touch of envy. His experience of growing up in the country was embedded in him and was a great asset in his rural work.
In Moora in 1964, Tom and Fay welcomed their daughter Genevieve into the world, followed two years later by a son Matthew.
When Matthew was barely a year old, Genevieve contracted encephalitis which left her with severe brain damage.
From there on, family life became a challenge with regular seizures, tantrums and constant medical treatments. A move back to Perth became a necessity. Through all this, Fay and Tom left no stone unturned in trying to make Genevieve’s life better. In the eyes of the family, Tom was the most devoted and loving father any daughter could have wished for.
In their eulogies, sons Matthew and James both commented on the profound impact Genevieve’s life and disability had upon Tom.
They remembered him telling them that this opened up completely different things in life, a new direction, new people, new challenges and basically a whole new positive meaning. He often said that spending time with people who had an intellectual disability was a good way of staying grounded and getting back to basics.
In the early 1980s, Tom and Fay were part of a small group of parents who really believed that their children with intellectual disabilities had as much right as anyone else to be included in the life of the Catholic Church.
They started to put pressure on Church authorities to open the way for their sons and daughters to receive the sacraments. Eventually, as a result of their efforts, a large group of children and adults (including Genevieve) received Confirmation in 1977 and went on to receive the Eucharist in 1978.
One of their greatest allies on this journey was Sr Maureen McCarthy RSM, the founder of Catholic Care for the Intellectually Handicapped (CCIH).
Sr Maureen arranged a meeting of the small parent group at the Tranter home in Churchlands and introduced them to Sr Eileen Casey, a Sister of Mercy from Melbourne who had done some further study in America and discovered a program called SPRED (Special Religious Development) – a faith program that offered a way for parishes to reach out to people of all ages who had an intellectual disability and include them in the sacramental, liturgical and social life of the parish community. Everyone pledged their support immediately.
After much negotiation, the Archbishop of Perth invited Sister Eileen to come to Perth where she threw herself into the challenge of establishing a ministry, based on her experience in the USA, which would provide ongoing support for those with intellectual disabilities.
Sr Eileen was very definite that this ministry had to be parish-based, providing friendship and support through parish volunteers who were linked one-on-one with the people with disability.
In answer to the prayers of parents, the Personal Advocacy Service was officially established in 1989. Tom Tranter was one of the founding members of the organisation and threw his heart and soul into its development. In fact, he remained a stalwart member and Treasurer of the Board of Management until the day of his passing last December.
Apart from his 30 year involvement with the Personal Advocacy Service, Tom was a foundation member of Catholic Care and walked the journey from its humble beginnings in 1977 to the now thriving organisation of Identitywa which supports in excess of 500 people with disabilities.
Over the years, Tom has also been Treasurer of the Slow Learning Children’s Group; President of the Pyrton Parents’ Association; parent representative on the Government committee set up to bring about the admission of children with disabilities into the school education system; and Board member of the Spine and Limb Foundation (formerly known as Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association).
On another level, Tom was a passionate sportsman and fan, playing tennis, squash and cricket well into his fifties. He was a 28yr member of the Nedlands Golf Club, and always looked forward to playing golf and spending time with the guys he played with. He was a keen West Coast Eagles supporter as well – a trip to the footy rain, hail or shine was his way. He could talk and argue about sport for hours.
Somehow, with all this ongoing community involvement, Tom still found time to be an outstanding ‘Pa’ to his six grandchildren. He was always there to offer advice, tease, babysit or just play with his grandkids. He is well loved and will be missed by each of them.
His family remember him fondly as a man of great faith, love, hard work, integrity and humility. His 55 years of marriage to Fay is a true example of love and companionship. Together they set the foundation for a very warm and stable family environment.
In a recent article that Tom himself wrote for the Abundant Life magazine, he said that the motivation for he and his wife Fay to promote the Personal Advocacy Service (PAS) ministry is to provide help and support for his daughter Genevieve and others to share in the gifts that the Church offers to all people.
Tom suggested that the reason for establishing PAS could be understood more clearly by relating a true story of two women with intellectual disability waiting to cross a road.
They were recognised by a parishioner from a nearby parish. The offer to assist them to cross the road was politely refused but the ongoing exchange revealed that both young women had stopped going to Mass on Sundays. Asked why, the sadly given answer was: “No-one would speak to us.”
Out of this chance meeting, the young women were brought back to experience the joy of inclusion within the pastoral and sacramental life of the Church through the encouragement and support offered by PAS. Both were linked to a volunteer advocate from the local parish community.
This connection meant that they had a welcoming word and smile at Mass, as well as support at other faith-based and social activities within the parish. Inclusion transformed the lives of those two young women with special needs.
At Tom’s invitation, a visiting Marist Brother from Melbourne attended one of the regular Masses in the Morley Parish which is adapted in order to include members of the PAS groups in that area.
In conversation over morning tea, he said: “I have just witnessed Christ at work.” This profound statement summed up in a succinct but beautiful way the impact PAS has on a parish community.
Tom’s wife Fay said that their Personal Advocacy involvement has been a wonderful journey in faith not only for Genevieve but for the whole family who share in its blessings.