Portrait Of A Karma Yogin – John Fitzgerald

Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba

Portrait Of A Karma Yogin – John Fitzgerald

Some men are born with the gift of making money, a pile of money; is this a blessing or a curse? It can be either. If the great wealth is used solely for the gratification of one’s own selfish desires it will prove to be a terrible curse, leading not to joy but to unhappiness, often tragic unhappiness. This was the theme of Charles Dickens’ Novel, “A Christmas Carol”. But if, on the other hand, the wealth is used to bring happiness and a fuller life with spiritual progress to other people, then the wealth becomes a true blessing, bringing joy and contentment to its owner, for then he is a true Karma Yogin and in serving man he is serving God. Some men discover this great truth during their lives, as did Scrooge, the hero of “A Christmas Carol” but some seem to be born with this wisdom.

One of these was John Fitzgerald. John, who now resides in Queensland, Australia, is, he learned with some joy, a descendant of the Fitzgerald who made a translation, the most popular one, of the rubaiyat of the old Persian poet and mystic Omar Khayyam. Perhaps some of his wisdom and his good karma comes down to him from his famous ancestor, but he met with a great tragedy when he was a boy of only eight years. His father whom he loved very much, was killed in a car accident on the roads of Victoria, where John was born and reared. John’s two elder brothers wept copious tears at the news of their loss, but John himself, was I think, feeling something too deep for tears. One can imagine the feelings of the young mother suddenly left with a family of five children, three boys and two girls. She was also left with several Menswear shops in the city of Melbourne to either sell or manage. She decided to manage them but she wanted to keep the family of five round her, at the same time. This she managed for two years but then realising that the task was beyond her, she sent the three boys to a well-known Roman Catholic boarding school in Melbourne and kept the two girls at home. To John, who was now ten years of age, this separation from his mother was a sad trial, yet it was probably a good thing for developing strength of character. In this world of boys and men only, he had to face and deal with many kinds of unexpected situations and he learned some unpleasant facts of life at an early age. He found, for example that one of the masters was seducing some of the other boys. This certainly gave him a great shock, but like most boys when such unpleasant and unexpected findings cross their path, they brush it aside. This John did, and found his outlet and compensation by spending more time in the school sports. His two elder brothers, one two years older and the other four years older than himself, were, he says, a good help and guidance to him in some difficult situations.

When John was sixteen years old he had reached the end of his secondary education at the Roman Catholic College and had qualified for University but felt that tertiary education was not for him. He felt inwardly the call to travel and find his destiny beyond the city of Melbourne. Specifically, Queensland seemed to be the state that was beckoning him but he had no money to get there and did not want to ask his mother for any financial help, so during the long holiday that followed the end of his schooldays he told his mother that he planned to hitch-hike to Queensland. No doubt she felt a great shock at this news as I remember my own mother did when I made such announcements to her. So John’s mother, like my own, bowed her head to the storm and wisely gave her loving consent to the adventure. Just an adventure, she thought it was at the time, having no idea what it would really lead to.

The God of fair beginnings, called Janus, by the ancient Romans and Ganesha by the Indians, was smiling on him. Without difficulty he hitch-hiked all the way from Melbourne in the south, to Coolangatta just over the border from New South Wales into Queensland.

The Sunshine Coast lay before the young adventurer with its shining clean buildings and its beaches of golden sands and lines of curling surf. It seemed to give John a laughing, happy welcome. He felt over-joyed and confident this was his country.

The job in the Real Estate office seemed to have been waiting for him and it was the kind of work for which he had a real talent. Fortune favoured him in another way too. During the next few years he met two different business gurus or mentors who taught him much about the nature of this special world, the Gold Coast Real Estate business. He learned that there were many great opportunities here for one who had the confidence, the right perception and the judgment to sieze and make the most of the opportunities that offered. After a few, a very few years, he was in a position to open his own real estate business and by the time he was twenty five years old he was a millionaire. That is, in less than ten years after he had set out on that penniless hitch-hike from Melbourne he was in the ‘big money’ and there were greater things to come. I think of him, myself, as a second Dick Whittington, an historic achiever in more ways than one.

It was a good many years later, in fact not until 1998 that I had the pleasure of meeting John Fitzgerald. I met him through another remarkable man, Dr Ron Farmer, the Clinical Psychologist and a true devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. Soon after our meeting, John invited me to lunch at his house on the Nerang river bank. During my many years of travel, I have seldom met with such a charming, welcoming, house. As we walked through the beautiful, landscaped gardens, the house seemed to have a perfectly proportioned exterior that seemed to lift the spirit. Inside, the colours and proportions gave me a definite feeling of rest. As we sat at the dining table, with outside views of the river and the sunny sky blessing us from above practically the whole of the dining area was covered by a clear skylight I could not help asking, “Who was your heavenly architect, John?” “No architect,” he replied, “I designed the house myself.”
He gave this matter-of-fact, though remarkable answer without the slightest show of pride in his voice. When we had explored the whole of the house after lunch, I could not help remarking to John who I knew was more than interested in Sai Baba, “If Sathya Sai Baba ever comes to Queensland on a visit, I will nominate this house as the right place for him to stay.” John’s face then lit up with a smile of joy. It was during this visit that I had the pleasure of meeting his attractive young wife and his two very young children, a boy and a girl.

A short walk along the bank of the Nerang River from his house are the offices of his business, and under the same roof Dr Ron Farmer’s clinic. It was not from John himself, but from Ron Farmer that I heard all about his heart-warming philanthropic work, but before telling the details of that I would like to say something about John’s first visit to Sathya Sai Baba.

This took place in the following year, that is, October 1999 when I was again staying in Queensland at my summer residence at Oyster Cove, north of the Gold Coast. John called to seem me about a week before he left for India, and I observed that he was really in high spirits at the thought of spending about a week at the ashram of the great Avatar. He must have been giving a good deal of thought to the project, because on the day before he left, he said to Ron Farmer, “I have decided to invite Sathya Sai Baba to come to Australia, telling Him how very much Australia needs Him. I will ask Him to stay at my house when He’s in Queensland, letting Him know that Howard Murpet said it would be a very suitable house for Him, and any close followers He would like to take there. I will, of course, offer to pay His fare and also the fares of up to a hundred of any followers He likes to bring.” He paused and looked at Ron’s face to note any reactions there. In his kindly way, Ron Farmer said, “You must understand, John, that it is very unlikely you will get to talk with Sai Baba on this, your first, and rather short meeting”. “Well,” said John, “I will write it all in a letter, and get that to Him somehow, while I am there.” When Ron told me of this idea, I said, “Of course, Sathya Sai Baba knows Australia needs Him as does every other county in the world. It is a very generous-hearted gesture of John’s and I’m sure Sathya Sai Baba will appreciate it but I doubt if it will make any difference to His world travel plans. He travels the world every day in His subtle body but the only country He has ever gone to in the physical is Uganda and I would say the thing that took Him there was that He knew that four years later, the dictator Edi Ahmin would expel every Indian from his country. It was a very dangerous time for them and one Indian friend of mine living there at the time was very fortunate to escape with his life. The offer of paying the fares of a hundred of His followers will not change any plans that Sathya Sai Baba has for travel. Sathya Sai Baba once, a good many years ago told me that He would not travel abroad until His own house was in order, by that He means India, of course. Well, do you thing that’s in order? It was compassion for the thousands of Indians living in Uganda that took Him there, to give them a warning. Moreover, offering Sathya Sai Baba a free ticket for Himself and a house to stay in, will not count in Sathya Sai Baba’s scale of things. I remember once in the early days, Walter and Elsie Cowan even sent him a ticket, a return ticket to America and expected Him to come, but instead, He used the ticket to send my friend, Dr V K Gokak on a visit to the Sai people in the United States. Even so, I might be wrong in all this, I hope I am and we must not discourage John in his generous, happy but over-optimistic gesture.”

Well, of course, John did not manage to get any conversation with Sathya Sai Baba but he had a very happy visit. Every day he got a good position for Darshan and he told me that Sathya Sai Baba looked into his eyes with such a deep and penetrating look that he must have seen the depth of John’s mind and soul. Whatever may have happened to the letter and the invitation there can be no doubt that Sathya Sai Baba knew everything about it. My own feeling is that Sathya Sai Baba would have heard John giving details of his plan to Ron the day before he left. I know He has heard things I have said to Iris, especially if the matter concerned our relationship with Him. Furthermore, although we like Him to take our letters, He does not have to read them to know what they contain.

Well, now to come to John Fitzgerald’s philanthropic work, his work for God through his work for mankind. “So as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me,” said Jesus. There are, of course, many ways in which man can help his fellow men, but John must have felt the greatest compassion for the suffering children of this age. They seem to have been born into unfortunate circumstances beyond their control. Generally, I would think, it is the parenting that has failed them completely and so they leave home and naturally join their peers on the street. This almost certainly leads to drug addiction, to a life of crime and then the road back to a normal, useful and happy life has become well nigh impossible.

John wanted to find out how he, with his gift of making millions, could best help in this terrible situation, so he sought advice as to who might help him and he was directed to Ron and Swanny Farmer, who were then living in Sydney. Well, surely it must have been God himself who was guiding John because I think he could not have found a better pair of helpers. I will not say very much about them here because I intend to devote a whole chapter to them later in this book. Suffice it say then, that as well as being Sai devotees they were both highly qualified Clinical Psychologists.

It was during a discussion with Ron and Swanny that John said to Swanny, “Will you be my navigator?” He knew that she was working for a salary in a Nursing Home and he was offering her a full-time job to navigate his project by first of all helping him find the right children and also, to find the best way to help them. Spontaneously, he had felt great faith in her judgment and integrity. Husband, Ron, who understood his wife well and loved her deeply, remained silent, leaving the decision to her, entirely. Incidentally, Ron himself was fully occupied with his professional clinic. The sudden question, with all its implications must have been something of a shock to Swanny but she did not have to think about it long. Her heart was in the kind of work that John was suggesting and her intuition told her that she could trust him entirely, so the answer was “Yes.” Ron was quite as pleased as the other two at her decision because he meant to help them also in every way he could and so it became a partnership of three. I understand from Ron that Swanny spent the whole year finding out about the right children to help and the manner in which they could best be helped. She decided that the children should be recruited not from the streets, but after they had been thrown out of foster homes before they had taken the fatal step of going on the street. The task of reforming street kids was almost impossible, “So we will beat the street by getting in before it,” John decided. Then he added, “If you can find any kids who have been thrown out of at least two foster homes, give them priority.” So this was the plan on which they began the work.

Although John really wanted them both to move to Queensland to set up a foster home where he could have more control and play a bigger part in the work, he finally agreed to them setting up a foster home in Sydney, where they were living and where Ron’s professional work was well established. So they began the work in Sydney with a foster home, taking in a number of very difficult boys who had been thrown out of more than one foster home. Swanny found a very good Matron or Mother of the home and with the loving supervision of Ron and Swanny Farmer, along with John himself who flew down frequently from Queensland, their home continued to run successfully for a number of years. When the lease on the building came to an end and they needed to find new premises, John again tried to persuade them to go to Queensland where he said he would be able to spend more time on the work. At first, Ron and Swanny who were well settled in Sydney, thought they could help him to establish a foster home somewhere near the Gold Coast in Queensland by flying up there frequently to help in the work, but John, who very much wanted them to come to Queensland, said something like this, “If you come and live up here, we can do wonderful work together, work you have not yet dreamed of. I see into the future that we will be able to do magnificent work together.” Ron told me that he spoke to them of their future work together in such a visionary, enthusiastic way that they were both quite thrilled with the idea of moving north and helping this enthusiastic young man with his work for God. They felt that they were a part of it and so they decided to move north into the philanthropic dream of John Fitzgerald, the Karma Yogin.

After a search, they found what Ron calls, “A big, old fashioned, rambling Australian home,” with eight rooms, and there they set up their second foster home in a seaside suburb of Brisbane. That foster home is still running, but after it had been going a few years they realised that the children they were getting had not only been expelled from foster homes but also from schools and they realised that there was also a need to provide schools for expelled children before they went on the street. So they set up their first school on a property belonging to John at a place called Ormeau. There was a lot of preparatory work involved, of course, in finding the right, most suitable teachers. Swanny Farmer is the Director of the school and Dr Ron Farmer is the Adviser and also the tutor of any pupil who needs special tutoring, while John foots the bill for this and the foster home. John also plays an important part in the training of the boys (it is a boys’ school). He takes them for walks on the weekends and teaches those who wish, to ride his polo ponies. Furthermore, any boys who want to learn to play polo receive instructions from John himself. All instruction and training are given along the lines of Sathya Sai Baba’s EHV or Education in Human Values and so Ron says, “It is as much educare as education, bringing out and developing good character traits that are already lying deep within the pupils.”

There was a time when John optimistically felt that he might interest other millionaires in such work. At a business meeting of a group of wealthy men, when John tried to spread an interest in such philanthropic work, the shrewd businessmen questioned him about the cost and the results. Then one of the businessmen, voicing the feelings of all of them, I expect, said to John, “How can you do it, how can you spend all that money for such small results? It’s a drop in the ocean, it’s not commensurate how can you do it?” So John replied, “Well, I can only answer it this way. If you were walking along the street and in front of you a little old lady fell down, how could you help, picking her up and seeing that she was alright to walk on alone. How could you not do it? That’s my only answer. How can I not help these unfortunate kids?” This seemed to be typical of the reactions of the wealthy he tried to interest in the work. He felt that his own school under the direction of the committee of three was doing very well. John had named the school “Toogoolawa”, an Aboriginal word meaning something like “A place in the heart” it certainly has a firm place in the hearts of the trio who guide it.

John Fitzgerald and Ron Farmer have, in a way, become like spiritual brothers and one day some time ago John said to Ron something like this: “I’ve come to the point where I have to make a big decision. You see, Ron, I’ve made enough money for myself and family, plenty for that, and just to go on making money for its own sake is pointless. I have no desire to make more money which becomes superfluous when your own personal and family needs are well covered. Money becomes just figures on paper and I have no interest in pursuing it for its own sake. So I don’t really know what to do with my life at the moment. I must spend some time in thinking about it and making a decision as to what I should do for the rest of my life.” So then John went away to be on his own in the Australian bush. This was his way of contemplating and deciding. Three weeks later he came back and invited Ron and Swanny to his office. He said, in a positive manner, “I have decided what to do. I will not go on making money for myself and I will not run away from the world. Everything I make will be for the Toogoolawa school project and my company will have to make even more money to enlarge and extend the project. As there appears to be little or no help from other businessmen, I realise now that I have to do it myself.” Telling me about it, Ron said, “That was a quickening and a firming of his intention to make money entirely for the school project.” And so the expansion began.

John already had branches of his company in Sydney and in Melbourne and also over in Perth. He decided to begin by establishing a Toogoolawa school in Sydney and another one in Melbourne. His friends, Ron and Swanny agreed happily to fly to these two cities and begin the difficult work of finding the right premises for schools and recruiting the right kinds of teachers. This was a much more difficult matter than it might appear on the surface. Often, when they felt sure they had found the right place, the right location, the right building which was available to be rented as a school, they found an obstacle among the people in the neighbourhood of the proposed Toogoolawa school. These people felt, evidently, that it would be a definite menace to the neighbourhood to have such recalcitrant and potentially criminal children in the vicinity. And so the whole thing would fall through. In fact, it was easier to recruit the teachers than to acquire the building for them to operate in. And so it was that Dr and Mrs
Farmer needed to make repeated air journeys to Sydney and Melbourne; and I began to see why much money was required to launch the extension of this philanthropic work and how much more it would cost to operate it when founded.

This preparatory work was a plus for me personally because each time Ron and Swanny came to Sydney I had the joy of seeing them and talking to them about the progress of the project and many other things. But John and his two helpers will not give up, I know. Eventually success will be achieved and I feel that I am not optimistic in expecting great things, magnificent things as John puts it, to be attained out of this work. John has an inventive mind with a great deal of creative imagination for this practical kind of welfare development. He has already, I know, thought of new ways of making the money required and I predict that all difficulties will be overcome and the Toogoolawa school project will expand in ways to help and redeem the lost children of Australia.

Instead of philosophising about Nishkama karma, that is, doing selfless work without any desire for the fruits of the work in a personal way, he puts it into action. That is why he stirs the love in my heart and I namaste to him as a true Karma Yogin.

Reference:: “The Lights of Home” by Howard Murphet

%d bloggers like this: