As one who worked alongside Boak in the Cathedral for his entire tenure there, I was privileged to see first-hand one of those “unforgettable characters” whom you seldom find in life. Many found great pleasure listening to his deep resonant voice as he preached. Others were deeply impressed at his wonderful grasp on language. His colourful language at times! But it was his ability to preach familiar truths in rich metaphors. Christmas services were the occasion to hear the incarnation of Jesus described as “God with skin on!” He had many other sayings that made you think more deeply than you had ever done before on familiar passages. He had that rare ability to make complex truths simple to understand, while at the same time putting simple truths in such majestic language that you thought about his words for weeks afterwards.
The word “charm” was spelt “B.O.A.K!” He could charm people without realising how charming he could be. As one woman put it, “When he talked to you as an individual, he made you feel that you were really someone very special.” It was genuine. When the late Lawrence Bartlett of Australian Hymn Book and Australian Prayer Books fame worked with us on the Cathedral staff, it was like living between the covers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica such was the depth of their combined knowledge and their individual mastery of the complexities of the English language.
Boak will always be remembered for his dedication regarding the multi-million dollar Cathedral restorations in the year 2000. On countless occasions he would don his hard safety helmet and disappear into the dimly lit Cathedral to investigate the progress of the work. Perhaps no other person had the ability to raise the awareness and support for the financing of the whole project. It brought a crumbling building in some aspects into a modern, clean, beautiful edifice which was a pleasure in which to minister. But it took its toll on him as he spent so much of his time and energy on the project.
On those occasions when there were formal services in the Cathedral it was obvious that Boak was “the man” for the occasion. It was obvious who was running the show even when the congregation included many of Australia’s leading personalities. He ran a “splendid” show. “Splendid” was a word you heard frequently from his lips. He and his wife Di made a glamorous “splendid” couple who were a wonderful advertisement for the Cathedral. When I farewelled them from the Cathedral at a Staff luncheon I referred to them as “a class act”. They were. They were wonderful ambassadors for the Cathedral, but more importantly for the Lord they served. Boak will be missed by many, many people whose lives he touched for the Lord. Many people! Deeply!
My wife Carole and I join with hundreds of others around the world in assuring Di and their children, Lachlan, Ben and Sarah of our prayers for them at this very sad time for them in their unexpected loss.
Jim Holbeck. Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney from 1988 to 2006. (Presently Acting Rector, Anglican parish of Maclean, Northern NSW)
Blog No.090. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Monday 3rd September 2012