Where are they now - Brian Dillon (SPC 1954-57)
author: Lorrie Liston
The College reconnect with Brian Dillon (SPC 1954-57) who remembers being led by a magnificent group of Brothers who upheld their vows and gave exemplary leadership and example in every way.
Where has life taken you since leaving SPC?
After leaving St Patrick’s with the Leaving certificate, I began a pharmacy apprenticeship which I did not complete and then moved into sales with a Swiss pharmaceutical company for three years and then moved across to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) in sales for the next 15 years where working for an Australian company resonated strongly with me. I was so fortunate to have received great mentoring there. I’d gone back as a mature age part-time student to do Matriculation and then to Monash University to do Economics; all of which took up ten years. Marilla and I had married, the three boys Matthew, Timothy and Luke were arriving in short order and we had the home mortgage so, as Zorba the Greek would say, “We had the full catastrophe”. I moved up to national sales manager. When you work in a large organisation you can rarely say, “I“ as many are involved in the various activities but one exercise I recall with satisfaction was one I initiated and ran and that was an Anti-Rubella Campaign.
Rubella (German Measles) was a subset in the Deafness Foundation’s brief. I was interested to do a cost-benefit analysis of immunization. Would promotion reverse an upward trend? I pulled the program together and the program launch was held at the Melbourne Zoo reception centre. Nobel Laureate, Sir Macfarlane Burnet (“ Call me, ‘Mac’, Mr Dillon“) was the key note speaker. Then followed Premier and then the Minister of Health. I’d sweated blood in ghosting the politicians speeches and running them past their ‘minders’. On the day neither used my script but spoke extempore – and they were much more interesting than what I had written. And I learnt that maybe I was not as smart as I thought in successfully assembling all the media. Each of the speakers began by acknowledging the presence of the Patron of the Deafness Foundation, Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. I was the last to leave the venue after the launch when I came across her wandering around the zoo lost and looking for an exit. So I drove her to her next appointment in the city. What a great lady, she certainly played her part in reversing the upward trend in rubella infection at the time. Career-wise I had reached a plateau so things had to change and the elephant in the room for me was, could I cut it in the private sector. I left - and CSL began its inexorable march to the top of the ASX.
I joined a French company, Air Liquide (AL) to begin their medical division which was essentially basic manufacture and supply of hospital medical gases. A significant part of the business was in home care oxygen where we had about 1500 patients scattered around the state and Riverina. Probably the area which gave me the greatest satisfaction was when we won the first tender to manage Victoria’s ventilation services for the Bowen Centre at the Austin hospital. Both of these businesses were 24/7 which meant having personnel and systems in place to meet those daily and after- hour needs. Work was anything but a 9 to 5 job and, with good staff, we met those expectations. I became the national sales manager and that introduced me to a whole new world of business. The business spectrum included heavy industry such as furnaces/welding and cutting/fabricators/transportation – sea, land and air/pastry/wines, beers and soft drinks/food services and government business. Most people are familiar with (compressed) gas in cylinders but there is the bulk (liquid) market as well. This took me on a tremendous learning curve with gases and it’s never ending application in industry as well as grasping the different drivers and methodologies between industries. There was a constant however, and that was that successful companies are well led and I had a ring-side seat in meeting some of these people in their board rooms and this motivated me to try to do better - the halo effect if you will. Gas is lighter than a feather but we sold it by the tonne, truckloads of it nationally; be it liquid oxygen to hospital installations or carbon dioxide for the bubbles in the bottles or liquid nitrogen to manufacture the majority of those products in the supermarket cold cabinets. The thought crossed my mind more than once that I should have paid greater attention to Br Erny Smith when he taught Boyle’s Law and Charles’s Law in physics. I mean who would ever want to know this stuff? I was wrong Brother and it serves me right. Retirement sees us doing travelling and, as the Psalm said at our wedding on December 10 1969 at St Augustine’s in Bourke Street; “delighting in seeing our children’s, children”.
What are your favourite memories of your time at St Patrick’s College?
The operative word here is ‘memories’ but a contrarian view: I captained the 1st XV111 in its third defeat ever which was to Ballarat College in 1956. We had beaten them in a very close match over at College in the first round but met them in the return match with four of the first, say, six selection picks out through injury. College gave us the mother of all floggings. I just want to mention that out of respect for my team mates who played their hearts out that memorable day.
What teacher from your time at SPC had the greatest impact on you? Why?
In the mid 1950’s we were led by a magnificent group of Brothers who upheld their vows and gave exemplary leadership and example in every way. Br W.T. O’Malley, everybody’s favourite then those who had our respect like Brothers Coyne (I echo Reg Fenton’s comments), Brother Kelty, Brother Erny Smith and Br Ulmer. But while he did not actually teach me any class room subjects, the one who had the greatest impact on me was Brother John Lynch, B.A. Dip. Ed. (Principal). On reflection it seems that he was sent on a mission to straighten the place out – the students and the Brothers community. He went through the place like a packet of salts. Not always fair and rarely loved, he set about making change and did not deviate from his compass, he was constant in all things for us - best, not better. He was fair dinkum. I got into trouble and had to go before him; the word ‘expulsion’ had been floated. I got in first. ‘Brother, would Brother X have broken his vow of Obedience to you had he not reported me?”. Taken aback, he asked me why and I said, “Because Brother X has had it in for me from day one”. I was balancing lightly on both of my feet and keenly watching both his left and right hands with sharp vision. Then he did an amazing thing, he threw his head back and laughed. So Brother what’s the detention? Nothing he replied. From that time on Brother Lynch and I operated in at a different level. It was a revelation to me, an epiphany of sorts and opened my mind to consider things from his point of view. He was a tough one but he had to be to get the required outcome and it was not done without great personal cost to him. There was a lesson there. On leaving school he gave me my requested reference to give to potential employers; inter alia, in his copper plated, ‘Swan Blue’ ink handwriting he wrote , “....Brian has average ability, is industrious and persevering in his studies “ . Don’t gild the Lilly on my behalf Brother!, yet I treasury the document to this day. He shook my hand and with a whimsical look said encouragingly, “Perhaps you’ll be a late bloomer“. Over the years those words have heartened me. Yes, Brother it will get better, everything is possible. He died young in 1971 aged 57 years. Vale Jack Lynch, go in peace.
How has education shaped your professional life?
A tertiary education was essential to joining into the business conversations of my markets.
How has your time at SPC shaped your personal values and family life?
These came out of the bedrock of home. Boarding at St Patrick’s exposed me to an awareness that not everyone was as fortunate as I was, and this led to evaluation and testing of those concepts which is a process that never ends. It does not just happen, you make it happen.
If you could pass on one message to the students of today, what would it be?
Metaphorically: Cook what you mean to eat. It’s up to you.