Tribute to Doug Foster
by Brian Willcock
This tribute was original delivered at Doug’s funeral on 23 January 2003 and is reproduced here with slight editing, and a few pieces of additional information.
On Thursday 16th January Doug Foster finally lost the proverbial endgame with Death. Some of us felt that this was against the run of play over the last few years, given the characteristically strong defence he had raised. Thus ended a rich and varied life of 84 years which had seen him leave his native London, serve in North Africa and the Middle East during WWII, work in Southern Rhodesia, and settle down in Brisbane in 1965. Here he eventually founded his own small business.
In December last year, a mere week or two before entering hospital, Doug was representing The Gap Chess Club in the Qld Teams Championship. He had not been enthusiastic about taking part, thinking that we would be cannon fodder for the more powerful and, I suspect, a little concerned about his state of health. But he turned up – club loyalty was too strong. For Doug loyalty to the club and to the state body was important, a value that he had ever sought to inculcate into the club. Once at the tournament his passion for chess and the essential vitality and gutsiness of the man took over. It was not enough for him to play his six games, each of which would probably have taken between half an hour and an hour – he seemed to spend the intervals playing social chess. Now let us remember this was a man in his mid eighties and feeling, as I believe, under a cloud, yet not all of us younger players could match his mental energy. At least one of his fellows twenty years his junior felt impelled to rest his brain and decline Doug’s invitation to yet another game. Doug played on of course, against other opponents.
Let me now take you back a decade or two. The Gap CC was faced with a demand for ruinously increased rent. A vote was taken and Doug and those who wished to stay on were beaten. However the majority were naïve and incautious enough to allow him another week before the decision was final. Doug used that week to good effect – claiming that the parents of members of the junior club had a vote, he used them to get the numbers he needed (and this despite the fact that the coaches of the juniors were determined to move). Doug was a terrier who would not accept defeat.
In the aftermath of his victory he showed his characteristic generosity. The core of the overturned majority left the club to found another in St Lucia. And it was Doug who gave them boards and sets from the club’s stores to set them on their feet. And I should add that such support to a new club was not an isolated incident.
To speak a little more generally, throughout the years of our friendship he exhibited a strong egalitarianism, a feeling that Jack was as good as his master. There were hints of this in his stories about his life in the Army in WWII but it was more evident in the policies he espoused in chess. Not for him the argument that Australia’s chess elite deserved perks and privileges – they should pay the same entry fee to tournaments as Joe Blow. He was a strong defender of amateur principles and fought any attempt to introduce prizemoney into club tournaments such as the Flood Cup. Similarly he was a great champion of the handicap principal within the club and secured for some years an internal handicap tournament with, in theory, all having the same chance of winning. In the chess world his egalitarianism is perhaps a doomed value. Doug did much for the chess world without any thought of recompense. He used his art and artistic talents to provide prizes, to design logos and print brochure/entry forms and not just for his own club. He served on the committee of his own club, for many years as president, and in various guises on the state body. He was also a pioneer in writing chess columns for the free local papers. In short he was as generous with his time as with his talents.
It will come as no surprise to you that Doug was one of the recipients of the medal for services to chess that the state body distributed on the occasion of the millennium, and that his club made him a life member. The Gap has named the club championship trophy after him, a fit tribute to a man who did so much for the club and played such a role in forming its peculiar culture.
But of course Doug was much more than a chess player and it would be wrong of me to try so to confine his memory. Others may tell you more of his activities in the fields of music and musical instruments, of cycling, bush walking, bird watching, and of course screen printing and visual art. But I must encroach on their turf and recount a story that illustrates the extent of his reputation as a guitar maker. One night he told me of how a man whom he did not recognise but is one of the stars of the local radio entertainment scene had called unannounced at his house and ordered a guitar from him. He had been searching for a Doug Foster guitar for some time. And such was Doug’s reputation and the quality of his instruments that he had ambitions, as late as last year, of breaking into the American market.
Given the range of his abilities I should not have been surprised, but most certainly was, when in one of our talks I learned of yet another skill he possessed. Doug revealed that he had coached one of our acquaintances in fencing. Only at the funeral service did I learn that he also had an interest in archery and characteristically had built his own bow.
In short Doug was one of the most remarkable men I have met, quite possibly the most remarkable. He was indomitable, almost indestructible, and in the breadth of his interests a Renaissance man.
Personally of course he was more. He was a friend and we used to enjoy our encounters on Friday nights when, after the serious games he would ask me whether I was ready for my chess lesson, and we would play sometimes outrageous games while carrying on light banter. And after chess we might carry on long conversations through which I would gain insights into his long and rich life.
I miss Doug. But at least we can all savour our memories of a man it was a privilege to know.