Why Ray Williams is still my hero
We wouldnt be able to do any of the stuff we
do with kids if it wasnt for the support we
get from local business people in our community.
This is not a shameless plug for our sponsors, just
recognition of the fact that whatever weve
been able to achieve in Dulwich Hill has been a
team effort between church and community.
People often ask me, I suppose the church
pays for all this, do they. I tell them
straight, that our little church in Dulwich Hill
has never been able to properly afford even the
minimum wage for their priest, and that the Church
with a capital C (ie. the Anglican
Diocese of Sydney) has contributed next to nothing.
No. Almost all our support comes from the three
local pubs the Gladstone, the Royal
Exchange, and the Henson Park Hotel and from
the local RSL club (Petersham). The rest of it we
pick up through the Christians vs. Lions fight
nights we put on, and through other community
events (eg. the Mayors golf day, the annual
community Street Fair, etc.).
It wasnt always this easy. In the early
years we really struggled to keep the Youth Centre
open. Then we caught the attention of one corporate
benefactor, who was able to keep us going long
enough for us to put the other support in place.
That benefactor was Ray Williams, former chief
executive of HIH insurance one of the most
gentle, caring, and humble men I have ever met, and
currently one of the least popular men in the
It amazes me when I think about it. Some of the
best people I have ever met are people with
terrible reputations. In each case of course their
reputations have been largely media-generated.
When my mate Jim got shot, one of the major
Sydney newspapers ran story entitled Evil
Villain Gunned Down. It featured a picture of
Jim carrying an automatic weapon. The picture had
been taken many years earlier during Jims
time with the Australian Army. I thought You
bastards! Thats not the man I know.
When Morde was on trail in Israel I read a
variety of articles that spoke about him as being a
sophisticated spy - working for the Arabs and out
to destroy his country. I thought You
bastards! You have no idea who you are talking
Now I read stories about Ray about how he
manipulated the market to line his own pockets and
how he deliberately defrauded millions of people,
and I think again You bastards.
Ray was sent by God to help us. I have no doubt
about that. I first met him through a fight I took,
though Ray himself was no fan of boxing.
The story of that fight was in itself quite
I had been sitting with the Archdeacon in my
office one afternoon. He was wagging his finger at
me and telling me that Id have to close down
the Youth Centre. You just dont have
enough money to keep it going he said. And he
was right. We were exactly $1000 short of being
able to pay our youth workers wage for the
next month. I was feeling rather nonchalant about
it all and was telling him to have more faith. At
exactly that moment Kon, my trainer, came to the
Dave, do you want to take a pro
fight? he asked. No was my
knee-jerk reaction. Id just completed my
fight career (Id thought) with a shot at the
NSW super-welterweight title in kickboxing. The law
in this state at the time was that you had to hang
up your gloves when you turned 35. I was 34 and
nine months at that stage. How much are they
offering? I asked Kon. $1000 he
said. I told him Id take it. We raised close
to $50,000 for the Youth Centre through that fight.
More than half of that money came through Ray.
A guy by the name of Jeff Wells wrote an article
about my fight that was published in the Sydney
Morning Herald one Saturday. After that, cheques
for as much as $1000 started arriving in the mail!
Then one morning a courier turned up with two
cheques one for $10,000 in the name of HIH
insurance, and another for $15,000 in the name of a
Mr R. Williams. I remember trembling when I
received these cheques. Id never seen that
much money before in my life.
I had never heard of Ray Williams, but his
business card was attached, so I rang the number
and got one of those classic receptionist voices,
saying Mr Williams is busy at the moment. Can
I take a message? Then I mentioned my name
and all of a sudden I was speaking to Ray.
do I know you? I
started. No. I dont think so, he
said. Youve just sent me cheques for
$25,000 I said. Yes he said.
are you a local from around here?
Have you been watching our work? I asked.
No he said. Well
connected with the church or with youth work around
here? No he said. Well
are you a fight fan? I asked,
scratching for some point of connection. Not
at all he said. I read an article about
you in the Herald and it looked like you needed
some help. Yeah, I do I said.
Well, will that help? he asked.
Oh yeah I said, thatll
Thats how our relationship began. Over the
years that followed Ray took a keen interest in our
work. As things at HIH became tighter, we
didnt receive any further support from the
company, but Ray himself would generally turn up to
our fundraiser fight nights, and he wouldnt
leave before slipping us a cheque from out of his
own funds. Its what kept us going while we
searched for more stable sponsorship from the local
community. We owe a lot to Ray.
And it wasnt just the money. It was the
man too. He was inspiring in his humility.
At the time of the first donation we had a guy
in our church who worked as one of the chief
accountants in the public hospital system. Oh
yeah he said to me one Sunday. If it
wasnt for Ray Williams, half the hospitals in
Sydney might be closed. And then he added
but he never likes to have his name
mentioned. He hates the limelight
We found this to be entirely true. We managed to
get him on stage once to present a trophy to one of
our fighters, but it was a tough job. He really
hated being at the centre of attention. Its
one of the things that makes this Royal Commission
so odious to him.
I still cant believe the way the media
have gone after him vigorously attacking him
for his generosity to hospitals and charities.
Its not as if he was giving away money that
should have gone to insurance claimants. If he
hadnt given it away, I guess it would have
slightly increased the dividend paid to the
shareholders, and he himself must have been one of
the largest shareholders. I still find it
preposterous to think that the media should have
acted so self-righteously indignant about the fact
that the poor shareholders were losing potential
income because it had gone to the childrens
hospital. Its just ridiculous.
But it wasnt only the media that crucified
Ray. Once the news about HIHs collapse became
public knowledge, former colleagues deserted him,
old friends and associates turned their backs on
him, and charities that hed been supporting
for years all of a sudden didnt want to know
him. Ray had been on the board of the
Childrens Hospital for as long as anybody
could remember. They sent him a letter saying
thank you but your services are no longer
required. Nobody waited for the results of
the Royal Commission. Nobody waited to see if
perhaps he wasnt the real villain in the
piece. Everyone distanced themselves, not wanting
their own reputations to be tarnished.
I seriously cant understand that attitude.
I know Im capable of doing some stupid and
selfish things, but deserting a mate in his time of
need is not one of them. When I think about all the
people that Ray must have helped over the years, I
just cant believe that none of them thought
to ring him up and say How are you going,
Ray. Perhaps its my turn to give you some
Anyway, my point here is not to spit my dummy.
And Ill be the first to admit that I
dont have a clue about big business,
insurance laws, or anything of the sort. But I know
a good man when I meet one, and Ray Williams is a
good man and someone whom Im proud to call my
friend. And Ill be buggered if Im going
stand by and listen to people pouring crap out on a
mate of mine without saying anything.
To be truthful, I dont expect that Ray
will ever fully regain his former reputation or
standing. I know too much about how the media works
and about how our court system works to ever expect
real justice. As with my friends Jim and Morde,
Im not holding my breath waiting for the
truth to come out. No. Ill look to the day
when the kingdom of this world will become the
kingdom of our Lord and Christ. When that day
comes, all the crap will be sorted out.
©2011, Rev. David B.
* * *
Never contend with a man who has nothing to
lose. - Baltasar Gracian
David B. Smith is a Parish priest, community
worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author of
the Ring & the Eucharist: Reflections on
life, ministry & fighting in the
inner-city and a
father of three. Get a free preview copy of Father
Dave, the 'Fighting Father's book when you sign up
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