Today the Australian Clown Doctor community say farewell to our beloved leader, ever-smiling, humble, generous, warm hearted Peter Spitzer, the son of Czech Holocaust survivors who became a doctor then started The Humour Foundation charity in Australia. In 1996 I remember sitting in the gym of a sweaty police boys club in Erskineville with a handful of other fools while Peter explained what a Clown Doctor program could look like. Peter’s vision made our work a reality. Over the years I had the privilege of working with Peter at Sydney Children’s Hospital, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Royal North Shore Hospital, as well as sharing meals at our conferences and hours doing workshops and training where he taught us more ways to help those suffering. We were always inspired by his love for all the fabulous families we are lucky enough to meet in our hospital Clown rounds. Peter Spitzer approached all human life forms with an open heart, eager to learn their stories, connecting with everyone, young and old, whether the head of the hospital or a small kid in need of some distraction. He had the sharp mind of an eager scientist, always enthusiastically sharing his findings with us, always looking for ways to better our work.
My years as a Clown Doctor were punctuated by visits to Peter’s house after the Bowral Ball, where he worked his magic and made people laugh, while the lovely locals raised money to continue our programs. I treasure the memories of staying over at Peter’s house afterwards, and grand breakfasts with Peter and his darling wife Judy as we discussed our work and new ways to fundraise with his beautiful band of supporters. Later I was lucky enough to work with Peter on the pilot Elder Clown program, where Peter shared his passion for making life better for adults living with dementia.
Dear Doctor Fruit-Loop (see I didn’t forget the hyphen) you gave us a purpose for our work. You never grew tired of seeing the joy on a sick child’s face. You gave our performing lives so much meaning, we weren’t there to show off, we were there to empower sick children and frail elderly people. It is always about them, not us. Clown Doctoring is not a job, it is a calling, and you showed us the way. We are so sad you have left us but we vow to continue your work, we want you to be proud of us. Adios Doctor Fruit-Loop, I will think of you and the twinkle in your eyes when I carry far too many props in my coat, whenever I see a rubber chicken, or see a child’s face change from fear to laughter. I’m so glad I told you how much we all loved you the last time i saw you. I have a job and a life of meaning thanks to you. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us, you have left a magnificent legacy.
When I was 21 years old my darling big brother was shot at point blank range in the head and lived to tell more tall tales. A pair of beautiful strangers helped him survive the attack and paid for his medicine and his travel. Not long after that my mother’s car was stolen after I’d borrowed it. The police found it later that night and when I went to the police station to collect it the young female cop said to me, “You don’t seem that stressed that the car is damaged.” I said to her, “It’s just a car, it can be fixed, my family and I don’t worry about inanimate objects any more.” I’m really lucky that I received a life lesson when I was young about what is important. A car is replaceable, people aren’t. Too often we worry about our stuff or how much we should spend to insure that stuff and it ain’t worth replacing. When I talk to the parents of kids who have survived terrible accidents or multiple operations or horrible illnesses they all tell me that they tend not to worry about the trivial stuff like the latest electricity bill any more. No one is going to read a list of the emails you replied to quickly at your funeral. If your child can’t go to preschool take the day off work, your report can wait. You may never have a day with just you and your four year old again, enjoy the precious moments reading a book in bed or doing a finger painting or talking about snot. Kiss people, hug them, tell them you love them, visit them with a bunch of motley flowers from your garden, don’t wait, just go, even if you can’t afford a present or don’t think you have time.
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough” – Meister Eckhart
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today the Aussie comedy fraternity is saying goodbye to a top bloke, an Aussie comedy legend. Thanks for the laughs mate, you brightened my life at a time when I needed a friend.
If your kids are healthy, hug them and hold them tight. You have won the lottery as a parent.