Quinny cuts an energetic life
At 87-years-young, Pat Quinn has no intention of hanging up his tennis racquet. The octogenarian still practises against a brick wall most days to keep in shape for weekly matches with friends.
"I play with people 20 to 30 years younger than me, so I have to work a little harder than them to keep fit," the Shepparton identity said.
“I still play social tennis once a week but I have had one knee replaced and have asthma, so I’m not that flash. I don’t flit around the court!”
Pat, affectionately known as Quinny, has boundless energy. His daily routine is packed with exercise, piano practice "six times a day", and when COVID-restrictions allow, a coffee at his favourite café.
“I work very hard physically and mentally. Generally, I go for an hour’s ride – about 12km – every day, stretch in the morning, and walk around the block,” he said. “When the Shepparton tower is open, I like to do the tower walk."
As the son of a publican, a long-time hairdresser, jazz musician and non-retired tennis player, Pat's life is bountiful with stories.
He chuckles recalling his first teenage kiss with the pretty girl he met at a dance in the 1950s.
“It was like kissing a lamp post!”
“Clare was a very good, well behaved girl. I was as straight as a dye; I was unbelievably conservative.”
The pair met at Shepparton’s former dance venue The Star Theatre (now Star Bowl Tenpin Bowling) and despite the awkward first kiss, the romance blossomed. They married in their early 20s and settled in Shepparton where they raised three sons (Tom, Peter and Chris) and became proud grandparents of four.
They were happy, music-filled years, with Pat running his barber shop in Fryers and later Maude Streets until retirement, and a local identity in jazz bands and at Shepparton Lawn Tennis Club.
Pub "boots" to hairdresser
Born in Tatura on July 12, 1933, Pat grew up in his family’s pubs the Commercial Hotel and later The Criterion (now known as the Tatura Pub). Inevitably Pat began to help out in the family business as “the boots” until becoming a barber apprentice.
“The boots lit the fire in the morning, emptied the slop buckets from the kitchen and cleaned up if anyone threw up in the passage! In the wages book, the boots was under ‘those otherwise not provided for’.
“On Sundays we would go for a drive and sing ‘Goodbye Quinns’ Hotel’, because if we stayed at the pub after closing hours, we’d get people knocking on the back door asking for a couple of bottles of beer.”
Pat said he “didn’t have a shred of ambition” when looking for a job outside the family business.
“I looked up and down the street, and thought, ‘What could I get in to? If I was a barber, I’d have to buy a chair, a comb and scissors, so that will do.’ ”
He started his barber apprenticeship in Tatura in 1951, and after his father died the family moved to Numurkah where Pat’s mother and brother ran another pub and Pat continued his apprenticeship.
In 1955, Pat bought a barber shop next to The Aussie in Fryers St, Shepparton for 900 pounds, later moved to Maude St, and retired from the industry 46 years after nonchalantly choosing his trade.
A people person – with a renowned sense of fun – Pat enjoyed chats and light-hearted humour with customers, but has less fond memories of the impact Beatles mania had on his barber shop in the ’60s.
“The Beatles long hair [era], almost forced me out of business, because it wasn’t short back and sides, and then ladies’ hairdressers started cutting men’s hair,” Pat said.
His business also took a financial hit when a nearby hairdressers offered free haircuts to Katandra Footy Club players to give its apprentices more practise.
A service charges card from 1971 kept by the retiree shows prices of a bygone era: a minimum $1.50 for a men’s styled cut, $1 for a shave, and $1 for a boys’ haircut (Monday to Thursday) and $1.20 (Friday to Saturday). Eventually Pat travelled to Melbourne one night a week to complete a ladies’ hairdressing course to diversify his business until retiring in 1997.
Sharing the joy of jazz
A keen tennis player and runner, Pat had piano lessons as a child but said he “didn’t practise and wasn’t any good”. He joined the Tatura Boys Brass Band as a trumpeter which eventually led to a lifetime of playing in jazz bands and many social jam sessions, and out of necessity, learning to play accompaniment on the piano.
When Clare came onto the scene, she was encouraged to play piano with Pat’s various bands, including The Dapper Dans. The couple performed at balls and dances throughout the Goulburn Valley and southern NSW in bands or as a duo.
They were also familiar faces at impromptu jam sessions around “the lovely fire” at The Terminus Hotel’s Pippins Bar, Shepparton, where Clare entertained on piano and Pat on trumpet, along with other musicians and a jovial crowd singing along.
The Quinns are part of local legend at Shepparton Lawn Tennis Club, where they would on occasion put their piano on the back of a trailer and roll it into the clubhouse for a Christmas singalong, or a member’s birthday.
“I guess you could say, we liked a good party!” Pat said.
Cafe helps heal loneliness
Seven years ago, Pat took his wife of 56 years to the doctors after she complained of a sore back. Within 24 hours, scans revealed Clare had terminal cancer.
“It was untreatable and inoperable. Clare died in five weeks,” Pat said.
The grief was immense.
“Losing your partner is a terrible shock. About 10 o’clock every morning I would feel like the walls were closing in on me.”
To fill the void of loneliness, Pat walked daily to newly opened Italian café Little Lipari in Maude St, Shepparton.
“We started coming to Little Lipari when it first opened, but I became a regular after Clare died,” he said.
It was not long before owner/managers Joe and Claire Di Stefano and their staff all knew Pat’s name, order, favourite place to sit, and were sharing banter and stories.
Pat, whose former barber shop is coincidentally just six doors from the café, is part of the fabric of the many stories shared and lived inside the café’s four walls. For Pat, the social connections and sense of community have been immeasurable.
“Lipari is like a club – you come in here and the same blokes walk in at the same time every day; they sit at the same table and they say g’day to the same blokes. It’s a lovely spot,” he said.
These days, Pat’s daily jaunt to Little Lipari is usually with his devoted companion Helen – whose relationship started as a friendship born in the same café nearly four years ago.
The pair vaguely knew each from French classes at Shepparton’s University of the Third Age (U3A), and Pat knew his late wife had admired Helen’s personality and work as a local school teacher.
During his regular Saturday morning coffee at Little Lipari, Helen said hello, and asked “Do you mind if I share your table?”
Pat was “delighted” to have company, and as they chatted, he mentioned, “I’ve never met your husband, what does he do?’ ” to which Helen “replied “clerk of courts … he died.”
I said, “Oh I’m sorry, how long ago? And she said, “ ‘Three weeks ago,’ ” and started to cry.
“She was in the middle of everything then, it was actually three months since her husband had died, but she [accidentally] said three weeks.”
On that Saturday morning, as Little Lipari buzzed with families and friends at nearby tables, Pat understood the rawness of Helen’s grief, despite their casual acquaintance.
“I said, ‘I am available for you 24/7, any time of the day or night.’ I’m glad I said it.
“She rang me up on the Thursday and said ‘I’m going down to Lipari and I’d love a bit of company, and I said, ‘I will be there.’
“After that we arranged to meet on the Saturday but I had a heart attack and was taken by ambulance to Melbourne.”
While in hospital, Helen sent a get-well card and when Pat recovered, they met for coffee at Little Lipari.
Pat asked Helen how she was managing, referring to the loss of her late husband, and learned that she “was going okay, except for Sunday afternoons” when she would “get blue and down the dumps”.
Recalling “the walls closing in” on him at “10 o’clock every morning” in the loneliest moments of grieving his wife, Pat offered Helen support.
“I said, ‘I’ll fix that up.’ So, I picked her up every Sunday afternoon at 4 o’clock.”
As time went on the pair began to spend more time together and became much-loved regulars at their favourite café.
Having found companionship with Helen, Pat remains a rock-solid support for mates who are widowed.
“I’m cooking Bolognese today to share with a friend tonight,” he said.
“I don’t like people being lonely because I am not lonely, but I was for a while. That’s why I am so grateful to Lipari because I lived here.”
As he poses with Helen for a photo, she describes Pat as “generous, funny, extremely kind and much loved”.
“He keeps treats for dogs in his pocket! He has a great knowledge of music,” Helen said.
It’s clear they feel blessed to have met at Little Lipari as they recite lyrics which “really resonate” from Judy Holliday’s 1956 song Just in Time:
“Just in time you found me just in time
“Before you came my time was running low
“I was lost them losing dice were tossed … now you’re here now I know just where I’m going … you found me just in time.”