Nicholas Gerard John Hespe
17th June 1950 – 21 December 2017

Nick Hespe (image: Phil Young)

Born in Sydney, Nick was given middle names of his respective grandfathers, and his surname derived from Carl Heinrich Hespe, who’d emigrated to NSW to work the Mogo and Araluen goldfields in the 1850s. Nick was the first born of parents Don and Col who initially lived in Concord, then Strathfield with their respective in-laws until they moved to Canterbury. Siblings Tony, born in 1952, Lyn in 1953 and Tim in 1955 were born there and Gerard, born in 1963 after they moved to Como Parade completed the family. The Hespes and their cousins from the Moore, Wadell and Keon clans developed close bonds. Camping trips down the south coast and to Araluen were traditions Nick continued with his children. Sense of place and memory, family and history were very important to him.

Nick attended St Patrick’s in Sutherland, then enrolled in science at Sydney University but didn’t last very long. He did, however, meet Deborah Fry at a first year social. Both their fathers, they discovered, had been working in London and Vienna with the Atomic Energy Commission. Don Hespe and Bob Fry had previously worked together at Lucas Heights in the 60s, and would later work together for the Office of the Supervising Scientist. Nick and Deb married in 1973 and Tom was born in January 1974. Around this time Nick began working with the Australian artist Dennis Adams, along with Bill Baverstock as an assistant. He always spoke fondly and proudly of this time of his life. He was a newly-wed young father who was enjoying working with men he much admired. Together they produced a number of works, many of which can still be seen today; the most notable being the bronze bas-relief memorial to the South East Asian Wars in Regimental Lane between George St and Wynyard Lane ( It was during this time that Nick was exposed to asbestos. It was an ingredient in the plaster that Nick would mix for moulds.

After he and Deb parted ways Nick embarked on a new stage in his life. He moved into a rambunctious share house in Watkin St, Newtown and began studying early childhood education. In the late 1970s this was a fairly radical move for a man but one that Nick readily embraced. He was a compassionate, inventive, intelligent man with a cheeky sense of humour, and found working with kids really rewarding. He had the uncanny ability to engage with children immediately and with ease. Nick worked for some time with the kids at Elsie in Glebe, the first Women’s Refuge in Australia, and did his first pre-school placement out at Moree in the NSW North West.

When the Magic Yellow Bus job came along it seemed custom-made for Nick. Who else could list Bus Driver and Pre-school Teacher on their resume let alone combine them for work? Loaded with craft equipment and supplies sourced from Reverse Garbage, the MYB would head off from Addison Rd each afternoon to an inner city park and set up outdoor after school care activities. He worked on the bus for four years and these were very memorable times. Nick’s co-worker on the bus was Annie Fitzgerald; Annie introduced him to her cousin Amanda Walton and thus began new chapter in Nick’s life.

In Mandy, Nick found a soul-mate. In 1984 he and Mandy moved to Maitland; Nick to work on a mobile community van, Mandy to take her first solicitor’s job in Wyong. It was a bold move for both of them. The fresh air and new start obviously agreed with them. Before long their daughters were born, Madeleine in 1985, Jo in 1986; the Walton-Hespes had arrived. The couple tied the knot the end of that year.

It was only two years before the family moved back to Sydney and settled in Mandy’s house in Watsons Bay. Nick got a job at the Bondi Cottage child centre before changing tack and working for a time in Blackwattle Bay, making parquetry floors. He loved being on the tools, in his shorts, covered in exotic fragrant sawdust. The attention to detail this job required appealed to his sense of order and design.

Before long, however, another change took place. Mandy’s uncle, Jamie McInnes was terminally ill, so Nick and Mandy and the girls relocated to Lindfield, and took on the roles of primary carers for Jamie’s teenage daughters Megan and Genevieve. Nick managed with his usual gentleness and practicality to make the process of relocation, co-habitation, loss and grief as smooth as possible for everyone. He became a second father to Gen and Megs. The Lindfield house was always full of laughter despite the heartache. Somehow during this time Nick managed, among other things, to complete a graduate diploma in conflict resolution whilst working in the Early Childhood sector on the Northern Beaches.

In 1996 the Walton-Hespes moved back to Watsons Bay. Devotion to his immediate and extended family and fulfilment through his work in the community sector coupled with the pleasure he got from cycling and creating things was to be the pattern for the rest of Nick’s life. Nick had it all; he really was very content with his lot and only a month before he passed away he told his son, Tom, how lucky he had been in his life and what a good life it had been – no regrets. Watching his parents age and pass, his children grow, the tragic loss of Genevieve; these were milestones to be respected and cherished, but Nick’s focus was always resolutely on the future.

When the ABC relocated from William St to Ultimo at the turn of the century Nick was given the task of designing the onsite childcare centre. He relished this opportunity, which in a sense was the culmination of his work in early childcare and one that paved the way for the next stage of his career; working for the City of Sydney. Nick’s calm and gentle nature, his attention to detail and the order of things, his diplomacy, empathy and good humour, coupled with the respect and support of his colleagues and the community allowed him to do such valuable work in the City, and in Glebe in particular. The major redevelopment and refurbishment of the Glebe Point Rd precinct, which began shortly after Nick came to Glebe in 2004, may have been considerably more problematic for residents and businesses alike had Nick not been on hand to mediate. The list of achievements he had a hand in is long, as is the list of people whose lives he touched. Nick’s friendship and support was something he would give unquestioningly to all people.

The last three years have been bittersweet for all the whole family. Nick’s diagnosis with mesothelioma was such a shock but he knew something was up. As with everything it was a process the whole family went through and something Nick tackled with his indomitable practicality and optimism. The cancer was something he would die with, not of.

The treatments knocked him around, he lost weight and was in constant pain which kept growing. He finally started to look his age rather than twenty years younger. Nonetheless, life went on; perhaps even more keenly that before. Cycling was essential as always, work was not a job but food for his soul and a pleasure, and something he continued in as long as possible. After resigning Nick continued to cycle to and visit Glebe on a regular basis. He became active in the community committee of the Glebe Society, and he and Mandy took trips to the US and Portugal, and participated in the annual family rail trail rides to Victoria. Madeleine and Dan’s wedding and, of course, baby Jude who arrived a day before Nick’s birthday contributed to his joy. As Mandy said, ‘Nick was so ready for Jude’.

Nick was very stubborn and resolute in his quiet way. He avoided hospital till the last day, and even then the family felt like they were at home. Nick slipped away peacefully and gracefully surrounded in love by his family, just as he lived.

Thank you to Nick’s son, Thomas, for sharing with Janice his eulogy for his late father.